1. Denver Nuggets: On paper, the Nuggets are a team that looks like they should be hanging with the Mavs and Spurs as the best in the West. But in typical Denver fashion, the Nuggets always seem to underachieve, even though they have the likes of Carmelo Anthony, Allen Iverson, Kenyon Martin and Marcus Camby.
2. Utah Jazz: The Jazz proved last year that they have great team chemistry and a balanced core in Mehmet Okur, Andrei Krilenko, Deron Williams and Carlos Boozer. The Jazz are a very talented defensive team and the variety of offensive weapons they possess immediately makes them a serious threat in this division.
3. Portland Trailblazer: The Blazers finally thought they would erase memoreis of Sam Bowie with the selection of Greg Oden. Unfortunately for the Blazers, Oden has already had season ending microfracture knee surgery, ending all hopes of renewed life to a Blazers franchise that hasn’t seen a successful team since the turn of the century.
4. Seattle Supersonics: The Sonics lost both Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis this past off-season. This is a team that has great upside with the likes of Durant, Luke Ridnour, Jeff Green and has lots of raw talent.
5. Minnesota Timberwolves: The loss of Kevin Garnett to the Celtics signals the end of an era in Minnesota. Besides the fact that Antoine Walker is a cancer in the locker room, this team lacks veteran leadership. Don’t be surprised if they finish in last place in the Northwest.
1. Phoenix Suns: Last year, the Suns won this division by 19 games. Expect much of the same this year. Not only do the Suns return Steve Nash, Amare Stoudamire, Leandro Barbosa and Shawn Marion, but they also acquired veteran leader Grant Hill and picked up two talented rookies in Wisconsin’s Alando Tucker and Maryland’s D.J. Strawberry, who can provide a spark off the bench. They will win the West.
2. Golden State Warriors: The Warriors are coming off their best season in over a decade. Last postseason, Baron Davis proved that he is one of the premier players in this league and steady offensive production from Al Harrington and Stephen Jackson seems to be a recipe for success.
3. L.A. Clippers: he Clippers can legitimately contend for second in this division. Despite losing Elton Brand and Shaun Livingston to injuries, Corey Maggette and Cuttino Mobley still provide the Clips with a very athletic squad. To offset the loss of Brand, L.A. drafted rookie-of-the-year dark horse Al Thorton.
4. L.A. Lakers: The Lakers, amidst the Kobe drama are on the outside looking in at a playoff spot. They lack cohesiveness and legitimate scoring options outside of Bryant and Lamar Odom.
5. Sacramento Kings: The Kings, who won’t have Ron Artest for the first seven games of season due to suspension, or Mike Bibby for 10 weeks due to injury, can once again expect to finish in the basement of this division.
1. San Antonio Spurs: The Spurs are the Spurs; they always fly under the radar and use their crafty veterans and experience to take home the crown. They are a team in the truest sense of the word. Tim Duncan may be the best power forward ever, yet he demands no attention onto himself. Manu Ginobili is an incredibly effective swingman and Tony Parker may be the best point guard in the league when it comes to finishing around the hoop. The Spurs superior defense is what has made them successful in postseason play, and it is what will propel them to the division crown this year.
2. Dallas Mavericks: Last year, the Mavs swept through the regular season, winning the division by nine games. They return nearly the same team, built around reigning MVP Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Terry and Josh Howard. Howard is emerging as one of the brightest young stars in the league.
3. Houston Rockets: The Rockets very quietly finished with the fourth-best record in the conference last year, increasing their win total by 18 from the 2005-2006 season. Now in their forth full year with Tracy McGrady, Houston will continue to improve their record and can legitimately contend for this division title. Yao Ming continues to improve, and when you combine his efforts with the likes of Shane Battier, Steve Francis and Bonzi Wells, the Rockets look to be very good on both ends of the floor.
4. NO-OK Hornets: Chris Paul is good. No one else on this team is.
5. Grizzlies: Pau Gasol is good. No one else on this team is.