NBA Western Conference Preview

Last week’s Maroon-News featured a preview of the NBA’s Eastern Conference, and now the attention shifts to the West. Paced by the defending champion Lakers, the West is clearly the deeper of the two conferences. One game in the standings ended up separating last year’s second seed from the fifth seed, and this year is likely to be just as fiercely contested. Without further adieu, here is how things will shake out in the Western Conference:

L.A. Lakers: In Los Angeles, the mighty have only gotten mightier. Kudos to Lakers’ GM Mitch Kupchak for pulling off the unlikely and convincing Ron Artest to hop to the Lakers as a free agent while simultaneously re-signing Lamar Odom.

San Antonio: The addition of Richard Jefferson adds versatility and a bona fide scorer in his prime to the aging Spurs, who are looking forward to hopefully having a healthy Manu Ginobili for an entire season. But does Jefferson bring enough to the table to enable the best power forward of all time – Tim Duncan – to make a serious run at his fifth ring?

Denver: Much of the Nuggets’ run to the Conference Finals last season was attributed to the Billups-Iverson swap, but the real reason behind their success has more to do with the maturation of Carmelo Anthony. When he is determined, Carmelo’s inside-outside abilities make him practically impossible to stop.

Dallas: Some maintain that adding Shawn Marion, Quinton Ross, Drew Gooden and Tim Thomas has immediately thrown the Mavs into the debate regarding the top team in the West. If it were 2004, a starting five consisting of Marion, Jason Kidd, Josh Howard, Dirk Nowitzki and Erick Dampier would certainly strike fear into the hearts of opponents, but unfortunately the year is 2009 and this line-up is past its prime. While the Mavs are now one of the deepest teams in the league, they do not have enough overall balance to go toe-to-toe with the Lakers, Denver, or San Antonio.

Portland: Can Greg Oden mature into a consistent performer on both ends of the floor? Can Andre Miller find a way to mesh with his new teammates? Are there enough minutes to go around to ensure the development of their deep stockpile of young and promising prospects? Until these questions are resolved, Portland will continue to fall just short of being a top-four team in the West.

Houston: The big three of Yao, McGrady and Artest is history; replacing them is the trio of Brooks, Scola and Ariza. While this year’s Rockets squad has experienced none of the expectations and hoopla that floated around Houston last year, they make up for it with determination and grit. Despite losing both Yao and T-Mac to injury, the Rockets were the only team to take a series with the Lakers to a seventh game, and this has given them the confidence they need to be able to compete this year as well.

Phoenix: After shipping ‘The Big Cactus’ out of town for virtually nothing in return, Phoenix is now looking forward to a return to their signature run-and-gun style under the leadership of Steve Nash. Channing Frye and first-round pick Earl Clark are two newcomers whose versatile offensive skills should fit right in on the Suns.

Utah: For a franchise that has been a model of stability for the last two decades, the Jazz find themselves in considerable turmoil this year. Despite having one of the best pure point guards in the game and the same starting line-up that advanced to the Western Conference Finals in 2007, Utah’s uncertainty about their future direction may hinder their performance and prevent them from making much noise this season.

New Orleans: Without a dependable wing player to complement Chris Paul, the Hornets are bound to struggle in the loaded West. They have a nice frontcourt in David West and Emeka Okafor, but the rest of their roster gives them virtually nothing in the way of production.

Oklahoma City: The Thunder are the league’s youngest team, and perhaps its most promising for the future. While in the East the determined efforts of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Jeff Green would be rewarded with a playoff spot, the West is simply too deep for that to happen this season.

L.A. Clippers: #1 overall pick Blake Griffin’s knee injury provides only the latest evidence in support of the theory that LA’s other franchise is truly jinxed. And it really is unfortunate, because adding him to a talented core of Baron Davis, Eric Gordon, Chris Kaman and Marcus Camby just might have been enough for the Clippers make a run at the playoffs.

Memphis: Of the league’s 32 teams, Memphis might have been the worst possible destination for Allen Iverson. No matter how you look at it, a young backcourt that needs minutes to mature is not going benefit from an aging superstar with declining skills.

Golden State: It seems that it is time for Don Nelson to finally hang up his clipboard in Golden State. The 2007 playoff run was truly special, but he has failed to recapture any of that magic in the two seasons since.

Minnesota: The Timberwolves have long been considered among the most inept franchises in the league, and that was before the Ricky Rubio debacle of this summer. Minnesota traded away two of its most productive veterans (Mike Miller and Randy Foye) for an 18-year old Spanish prospect that will not even see the NBA hardwood until 2011 at the earliest. It seems the ‘Wolves have inadvertently resigned themselves to a least a few more years of misery.

Sacramento: Back in his days with the Lakers, Shaq used to refer to his archrivals from Sacramento as the “Queens.” This moniker is probably more apt these days, as the Kings probably could not beat most WNBA teams with their current roster.

Contact Edan Lisovicz at [email protected].