By Hocine LOUKKAF on 10/16/2019
With stars like Davis, Leonard, Westbrook or George changing teams, the Western Conference offseason may have been the busiest of the last decade. The Clippers seem to be leading the polls but at least five other teams could derail their plan.
#1 Los Angeles Clippers
After a promising 18-19 season where they reached the playoffs, the already good Clippers’ roster has been upgraded with Paul George and Kawhi Leonard, two of the ten best players in the NBA including probably the real MVP. The backcourt has lost SGA but with Shamet, Williams, the returning Beverley, it remains solid. The wings are even more stacked as PG13 (who may play time at the SG) and Kawhi can count on Mo Harkless as their back up man. Inside, The rookie Kabengele may have the tools to grab some minutes behind a solid trio made of Green, Harrell and Zubac. Doc Rivers has been done a great job last year without any superstar and may achieve greater success this year.
#2 Denver Nuggets
Like the Clippers, the Nuggets have a team first mentality with every player knowing its role. The roster has been stable but the staff still managed to improve it. Murray and Morris form a complementary duo at the PG spot and will once again be paired with Barton and Harris. While the Nuggets mostly started Torrey Craig, a solid defensive player, they will have to make a choice as once projected first pick Michael Porter Jr sems healthy again and has elite offensive potential. At PF, the aging Millsap will be in competition with the underrated Jerami Grant, a perfect fit alongside Jokic with his athleticism and improving outside shot, and Vanderbilt, a great rebounder who can lead the fast break. Inside, the Joker handles the paint and plays secondary PG. He could give some advice to Bol Bol, the most polarizing prospects of the last draft and maybe Nuggets’s biggest steal.
#3 Los Angeles Lakers
After Lebron’s first year without playoff since the 2006 season, the Lakers have recruited the required pieces to win a title. Yet, they already lost one of them with Demarcus Cousins’ injury. At PG, Rondo, who played less than 50 games last year, will be helped by Quinn Cook, a solid back up for the Warriors over the last two years. At SG, coach Vogel will have a tough time switching between Bradley, KCP and Danny Green without hurting their ego. It will be hard in this situation to give playing time to rookie Talen Horton-Tucker, another promising recruit. Lebron will of course start at SF while Kuzma could play both forward spots. Of course, the top recruit of the year for the Angelinos is Anthony Davis, the top PF in the league. Let’s hope he could play a full season withouy injury as he already got injured in a preseason game. AD may also play minutes at the C position, a center position which welcomes back Dwight Howard, in search of his first ring, to pair with Javale McGee.
#4 Portland Blazers
After a great season during which they reached the Conference Finals for the first time since 2000, the Blazers had to find a way to upgrade the roster around the most underrated duo in the league. The hearts and souls of the franchise, McCollum and Lillard are signed for at least two years, probably the time they will be given to reach the Graal and win another title for Portland. Sophomore Anfernee Simmons has proved he was worth the risk out of prep school while vet Kent Bazemore can play solid minutes at both SG and SF spots. By the way, with Al Aminu, Harkless, Turner and Layman gone, the SF spot may be the weak link. Besides the aforementioned Bazemore and the inconsistent Hood, Portland receives the help of Croatian forward Hezonja and once top 5 projected pick Nassir Little, an athletic 6-7 rookie with a 7-2 wingspan who will need some time to reach the expectations. In the paint, Collins may start at the PF while solid vet Tolliver will bring his defense and outside shot. The center position has also been upgraded with Whiteside and Gasol to join Nurkic and make up for the departure of Kanter.
#5 Houston Rockets
Can the Rockets win it all in the tougher-than-ever Western Conference. As the Harden/Paul duo didn’t seem to mesh that well, Daryl Morey decided to break it to create and even more audacious duo by trading for Westbrook and creating the most dangerous (in every sense of the word) backcourt of the league. Rivers and Gordon will play the back ups and may even associated with them for some three-guard lineup. With Green injured for several months, House, Sefolosha and Tucker (who can play some small ball four too) will get the whole playing time at the SF spot. At the PF spot, Houston welcomes back sharpshooter Ryan Anderson who has played only 25 games the 2017-18 season. Finally, at C, Capela will be helped by two solid vets, Nene and newcomer Tyson Chandler.
#6 Golden State Warriors
It’s going to be a strange year for the Warriors. After losing Klay Thompson to injury during the Finals, Golden State has lost some of its more important pieces including Iguodala, Livingston and of course Kevin Durant. Will the new recruits be enough to reach the Finals once again? At PG, Curry will probably have a record year stats wise as he will have total freedom to take the shots he wants. Even if he’s not as good as Klay, the signing of Russell offers at least a secondary scorer behind Curry. Rookie Jordan Poole could also have his chance as he had several nice outings in the preseason. The SF spot may be the position which has suffered the most with only Glenn Robinson Jr and McKinnie to fill in the void left by Durant. On the contrary, Draymond green is still here at PF and could give some tips to sophomore Spellman and rookies Paschall and Smailagic. After the sad Cousins’ experience, Golden State welcomes Willie Cauley Stein, hoping he could be the rim protector/finisher it needs around its shooters.
#7 Utah Jazz
It’s hard to put the Jazz this low with the solid players they have at every spot, let’s just say they are the ultimate outsiders in the Western Conference. Thr first spot the Jazz upgrades is the PG with Conley back at his level after being sidelined for almost a year. Despite his age and fat contract, he still averaged 21pts and 6as last year. Mudiay will take Neto’s spot as the back up PG where he’ll bring more size and athleticism. Mitchell has proven to be the man and will still be asked to lead the team in scoring and in the clutch time. The roster remains stable at the SF with Ingles but we can question the signing of Bojan Bogdanovic, who kind of duplicates Ingles. Inside, Favors has left for New orleans but Ed Davis and above all Jeff Green could add more versatility.
#8 San Antonio
San Antonio’s offseason has been pretty quiet compared to its opponents, yet the Spurs will try once again to reach the playoffs and witchcraft of their own. At PG, Derrick White proved to be another finds after Murray’s injury as he was one of the best defensive PG. Murray is another pest defensively and if he has improved as much as it has been said from outside, they could form a deadly backcourt with microwave Patty Mills coming from the bench. DeRozan should start at SF where he will be asked to shoot more from outside while vets Rudy Gay and Demarre Carroll could switch between both forward spots. Inside, Poeltl has allowed Aldridge to play at his more natural PF spot but the bench is limited in talent with Lyles, Metu and rookie PF Samanic as the only options.
#9 Phoenix Suns
After nine seasons without playoff including the last four with less than 25 wins, could this offseason mean the rebirth of the Arizona franchise? The managing staff has changed most of the roster by bringing more experience and filling weak spots like the PG and the PF positions. Rubio may never become a great offensive player but he brings stability and someone who can create for his teammates, starting with his backcourt mate Devin Booker, who has been waiting for help for many years. The bench is also much more interesting with Tyler Johnson, second-year Okobo and Jevon Carter and complementary rookies Jerome and Lecque. With much more options at the four spot, Oubre will be more used at his natural SF spot while second-year Bridges has displayed the ability to be an excellent three and D down the road. Cameron Johnson was not expected to be picked that high but maybe the Suns know something we don’t. Last year’s team was almost devoid of a real PF with Richaun Holmes the only player to get more than 15min in more than 50 games. With Saric and Kaminsky now in the roster, Ayton will have much more space to operate inside and prove he can be dominant on offense but above all on defense. Improved shooter Baynes and defensive-minded Diallo brings solid rotations at the C spot.
#10 New Orleans Pelicans
It was hard to make a pick between Dallas, OKC and the Pels but depth and talent made it easier. Besides getting Zion, New Orleans benefited from other smart draft picks, the Davis trade and nice signings to form one of the most promising rosters in the NBA. With Lonzo Ball, Jrue Holiday and surprising rookie Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Alvin Gentry has size, defense and some offensive talent at th PG position (Holiday and NAW can play both backcourt spots). As if it wasn’t enough, Reddick, Moore and Hart could potentially start in many teams in the league. The SF is also getting much better with Ingram having an open path to log minutes with Miller and Williams solid back ups behind him. The Pels may have lost the best PF in the league but are lucky enough to welcome the #1 draft pick and potential crowd favourite Zion Williamson. Zion will have to adapt to the length and strength of NBA vets but his insane athleticism and physical tools make him a freak even at this level. Favors, Italian PF Melli, Okafor and rookie Hayes, another great draft pick, could be enough to form a solid frontcourt alongside Zion.