With Media Day behind us, training camp starting, and the preseason merely days away, it's time to get my Western Conference predictions in now.
As far as I'm concerned, the West is already over. The Warriors are running the same squad back this year with DeMarcus Cousins in tow. Yes, he's injured and probably won't play till late into the season but he's still DeMarcus Cousins. Golden State just won 2 titles with Zaza Pachulia and JaVale McGee at center, even DMC at 50-75% of what he once was is a huge upgrade. The Warriors won't even be asking much of Cousins since they have arguably the best offense the NBA has ever seen, all DMC needs to do is not get into a fight with Draymond Green.
The Houston Rockets are going to be the best team to not make the NBA Finals due to them playing in the West with the superteazm in Golden State. Houston's biggest achievement this offseason was picking up Carmelo Anthony, which I still think will hurt them. The largest question this squad will face is how they'll be on the defensive end.
Oh boy this will be fun. The Thunder were probably the biggest disappointment last season after losing to Utah in the playoffs. They spent the summer immediately resigning Paul George, hoping Andre Roberson returns 100% healthy, and then snagging Dennis Schroder. This team is a lock for the playoffs and I put them 3rd because of what we know they can do. The biggest question marks are health at the moment, seeing how Westbrook recently had knee surgery and Roberson still isn't cleared for 5 on 5 drills. A slow start in the East isn't a problem, in the West it's quite possibly a death nail.
San Antonio has had the roughest off season for them that I can remember, yet they'll enter the season in good shape. This nearly exact squad won 47 games without a serious All Star in the gauntlet that is the West, now they'll have a legit first scoring option in DeMar DeRozan. Yes they lost a LOT of guys this offseason, but it's San Antonio, a team that can make even a last minute G League call up guy into a regular rotation player. There are questions about their defense, but the Spurs have always found a way.
There's a chance I'm expecting too much from Utah by putting them at number 5, but can you blame me? Utah shocked the NBA world by destroying the Thunder last post season and flying under the radar all season. Donovan Mitchell is the real deal and he played like it all season; coupled with the defensive monster that Rudy Gobert is, the sky is the limit here. The only worries are youth here and how much the NBA expects of this team.
The top 5 in the West are pretty much set in stone in my opinion; past those 5 teams, it's a total shot in the dark.
Minnesota was looking like a great choice to make back to back playoff berths for the first time in nearly a decade, but then Jimmy Butler decided he wanted out. Butler leaving most likely dooms the Wolves chances unless both KAT and Wiggins take huge steps forward.
You can argue the fact that adding Lebron James makes any team a playoff lock. This Lakers squad is one of the most interesting rosters ever put around Lebron and while I'm not sure it works perfectly, they'll still make the post season because of Lebron's greatness. Expect LA to be a 6 or 7seed, I'll be shocked if they're any higher.
The Trail Blazers are that team we love to watch in the regular season but get horribly disappointed in the post season. They're basically running it back with the same squad minus Ed Davis. I expect them to miss the playoffs and we'll slowly start hearing that the Damian Lillard era is coming to an end.
The Pelicans are not better or worse than they were last year. Losing Cousins and Rondo is huge, but at least getting Julius Randle helps mitigate some of the damage. It won't be easy for New Orleans to make the post season, but Anthony Davis has taken worse rosters to the playoffs before. Expect New Orleans to sneak in at the 8th spot.
Paul Milsap should be healthy, Jokic remains the real unicorn, Michael Porter Jr could be a huge draft steal, and the Nuggets are still lush with talent. Denver will be whatever spot the Lakers don't end up getting, whether that be the 6th or 7th seed. This team could be the dark horse in the West to upset a lot of fans.