A new NBA season is upon us after yet another wild offseason. In particular, the western conference had a major shake up. Demarcus Cousins joined the current Warriors dynasty, Lebron James made his way to LA, and Kawhi Leonard left the San Antonio Spurs after a long dispute over his health. The western conference will be very different from last year. However, even with the addition of Lebron James to the conference, it is still Golden State’s conference to lose. Here is what I expect the western conference playoffs look like when the regular season comes to an end.
1. Golden State Warriors: The Warriors are looking to be the first team to three peat in the NBA since the Shaq and Kobe Lakers. The addition of Demarcus Cousins to an already loaded roster will certainly help their case. With Steph, KD, Klay, and Draymond still on the team, look for more of the same from the Warriors this season. It is safe to say this season is championship or bust for them.
2. Houston Rockets: The Rockets managed to finish first in the conference, but could not hold off the Warriors in the western conference finals a season ago. Unfortunately for them it seems like the Rockets lost more than they gained this offseason as well. They let free agents Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute, while adding Carmelo Anthony. Carmelo is in a well documented decline in his career, and Chris Paul is not getting any younger either. But, as long as the Rockets have James Harden they will be in position to finish near the top of the western conference.
3. Los Angeles Lakers: The Lakers became the winners of the offseason when they added the best player in basketball, Lebron James. The combination of adding Lebron, and the progression of their young talent should equate to the best season the Lakers have had in years. Look for a breakout year from Brandon Ingram. Overall, I believe the Lakers will out perform expectations.
4. Utah Jazz: Most people might have thought the Utah Jazz would take a step back last year after losing star forward Gordon Hayward. But, it was quite the opposite as rookie sensation Donovan Mitchell was able to lead the Jazz to an impressive second round playoff appearance. The Jazz have one of the deepest most consistent rosters in the game along with an underrated head coach in Quin Snyder. I expect another impressive campaign from this rising Jazz team.
5. Oklahoma City Thunder: The Oklahoma City Thunder’s best offseason move might just be letting Carmelo Anthony walk. He was a liability on defense and took too many mid-range jumpers, which hindered last years Thunder team. They made a key offseason acquisition when they acquired Dennis Schroeder, and as long as they have Russell Westbrook they will be a solid team. However, in a competitive, deep western conference, a fifth place finish is all they can expect.
6. San Antonio Spurs: Thankfully for the San Antonio Spurs the Kawhi Leonard drama is now over. Unfortunately, they were not able to keep him on the roster. But, they did add DeMar DeRozan through the trade with the raptors. The Spurs managed to win 47 games last year basically without Kawhi. It will be more of the same from one of the most consistent franchises in sports, as the Spurs will return to the playoffs yet again.
7. Portland Trailblazers: Last season the Trailblazers were bounced from the playoffs in the first round in a huge disappointment. The Trailblazers seem to be a dead end team who is just good enough to make the playoffs every year, but are not making any major moves to get better. They are lead by stars Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum who will lead this team to another first round playoff exit.
8. Denver Nuggets: The Nuggets are a young team on the rise. Last year they nearly missed out on the playoffs, but expect them to make it this year. Nikola Jokic is one of the best big men in the game, and Jamal Murray is an under the radar young talent. Adding Michael Porter Jr. with the 14th pick could be a steal if he lives up to his potential. Overall, look for the Nuggets to build on the momentum they had last season.