In West, who slides out and sneaks in?


VIDEO: What are the Spurs’ chances of repeating next season?

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – In our Wednesday Blogtable, the NBA.com staff agreed — with the lone exception of esteemed colleague Aldo Avinante in the Philippines office — that the Los Angeles Lakers, even with the return of a bullish Kobe Bryant, will not make the playoffs.

This seemed like a pretty easy call. Carlos Boozer and Swaggy P. just don’t scream Showtime. Meanwhile, the Western Conference threatens to be more ferocious this season than last.

But what if the question had asked if the Phoenix Suns will make the playoffs? Or if the New Orleans Pelicans with ascending star Anthony Davis can break through? Or if a Ricky Rubio-Andrew Wiggins combo can end the Minnesota Timberwolves’ long postseason drought? Or if the don’t-sleep-on-the-Denver-Nuggets, with Danilo GallinariJaVale McGee (don’t laugh) and others coming back from injury, plus the return of near-All-Star Arron Afflalo, can climb the ladder? Sorry Kings fans, but I’m leaving out the (maturing?) DeMarcus Cousins and Co. in this discussion.

Would any of these teams have lessened the majority of naysayers?

Perhaps not.

For one team to sneak in, one must slide out.

The regular season in the West might only be good for a reshuffling of last season’s top eight. An argument can be made that among those eight only Houston came out of the summer weakened, and even then some contend that swapping of Chandler Parsons for Trevor Ariza will aid the Rockets’ lacking perimeter defense and thus make it a better overall outfit.

The Spurs return their championship squad in full to attack the task of repeating for the first time in the everlasting Tim Duncan-Gregg Popovich era. Oklahoma City will welcome a full season of a fully healthy Russell Westbrook. The Clippers are pumped to play for an energetic new owner. The talented Trail Blazers added veteran depth.

At positions six through eight, Golden State is free of last season’s distractions, the Grizzlies cleaned out the front office and solidified coach Dave Joerger. The Mavericks stole offensive flamethrower Parsons from Houston and added defensive anchor Tyson Chandler.

So which of those teams possibly falls out?

And if one does, which team is poised to snag the spot?

Here are my choices for the teams that will be circling:

1. New Orleans Pelicans

Everybody in The Big Easy is knocking on wood. Surely this team is in store for good health after last season’s injury apocalypse. The Pelicans added rim-protector Omer Asik and coach Monty Williams will presumably start Asik — disgruntled as a reserve in Houston — alongside Davis. That could cause some lane cloggage, but it would finally allow Davis to become entrenched at power forward. Sharpshooter Ryan Anderson, who played in only 22 games last season, point guard Jrue Holiday, an All-Star for Philadelphia two seasons ago but played in only 34 games last season, plus combo guards Tyreke Evans and Eric Gordon all have plenty to prove. The hope is good health and continuity will produce a dynamic offense and improved defense to fuel this young team into the playoff picture. Knock on wood.

2. Phoenix Suns

For as surprising and spectacularly entertaining as the Suns were last season, there are concerns that they can improve upon a 48-win season that left them one game out of the eighth spot. Phoenix lost stretch-4 Channing Frye in free agency and it’s only proven offseason addition was diminutive point guard Isaiah Thomas in a trade with Sacramento. Thomas presumably will be used to initiate instant offense off the bench behind the starting backcourt of Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe. Only at this moment we don’t even know if the talented (but feeling disrespected) Bledsoe will be with the team as the restricted free agent seeks a much bigger deal than the Suns are willing to pony up. The Suns are loaded with young prospects and picks to make an in-season deal, but such trades can be difficult to make work within the flow of the season.

3. Denver Nuggets

Considering the injuries and adversity (i.e. Andre Miller saga) Brian Shaw faced in his first season, that the Nuggets won 36 games seems something of a minor miracle. The return of Gallinari after missing all of last season with an ACL injury suffered late in the 2012-13 season, will be huge. Affalo was a nifty reacquisition, Nate Robinson will be back healthy and I still hold out hope (fool me once, fool me twice…) that basketball’s Benny Hill, the 7-foot McGee, will see the light. Point guard Ty Lawson and forward Kenneth Faried (now looking to nail down a spot with Team USA) had excellent seasons under Shaw. With Randy Foye, Wilson Chandler, Timofey Mozgov and J.J. Hickson, Denver, which should easily improve upon its 22-19 home record) could quickly find itself back in the mix.

4. Minnesota Timberwolves

If this were a movie we’d all be watching with a box of Kleenex and desperately awaiting the happy ending. I had this bunch pegged as a playoff team the last two summers. Yet any joy in Mudville might still be a couple years away. Kevin Love‘s days with the franchise appear down to single digits. The good news for glum Wolves fans is the return brings the optimism of youthful and athletic No. 1 pick Andrew Wiggins. Rubio showed toward the end of last season that he’s finally overcome the mental hurdle of his devastating ACL injury from a couple seasons ago. Glancing at Rubio, Wiggins, Kevin Martin, Nikolai Pekovic, Corey Brewer, exciting 2014 first-round pick Zach LaVine and the emergence of 2013 first-rounder Gorgui Dieng, and the Wolves might at least hold down a top spot on the League Pass must-watch list.

38 Comments

  1. mike says:

    I can see dallas, Houston, and Memphis falling out. NOP, Denver, phoenix, Lakers, t wolves can make some noise

  2. Ryan says:

    I think Lakers have a chance. You have to think, yes Kobe is old, but the dude doesn’t need to be quick and athletic to dominate. Yes he had a few bad injuries recently, but he’s been the most durable player since joining the NBA. Then look back at the 2005-2006 season, that team was way worse off than what he has now, he had Lamar Odom as his help, and we all know how inconsistent he was. Kwame Brown was their starting power forward, enough said, he has Carlos Boozer which I think will benefit the inside better than Gasol, since Boozer is a banger down low and his numbers were better than Gasols last season. Young is hit or miss, he’s a knockoff of a Jamal or a J.R. but he can still put up points in a hurry if he’s hot. Nash is old but he never played with athleticism and speed, if he can stay healthy he can still be somewhat of what he was 2-3 years ago. Randle looks promising as well, Lakers can surprise some people this year if they stay healthy, they will be a first round exit but they can get 8th seed. People have written kobe off for the last 2-3 years and the dude still managed to score 27.3 ppg while not including 3’s, shot 51% inside the arc. Never write kobe off until he retires, he’s too fundemantally sound to ever fall off the charts as one of the best players in the league.

    • charless702 says:

      Yes but not only was Kobe in his mid to late 20’s but look at the Western Conference in 05-06. How many really good teams were there that season? Spurs and Mavs. 4 of those teams for sure 100% wouldn’t have made the playoffs this year and the 5th seeded Grizzlies (4th best record but because division winners automatically get 1, 2 and 3 seeds they ended up at 5. Even the Mavs ended up as a 4th seed even though they had the second best record in the West) had the same record as the Mavs this year. The Lakers have at best a 1% chance of making the playoffs. Kobe will have to be MVP and The Warriors, Grizzlies, Pelicans, Nuggets, Suns, T-Wolves (which is likely) will all have to struggle severely. I mean none of those teams can be over .500. It’s funny that you bring up a sorry team from when Kobe was 27 years old as a basis for your comparison. Why don’t we bring up the 2012-13 Lakers. I know he got injured at the end but let’s look at the facts of that season. He played 2 less games than 05-06. He played pretty well and averaged 27 PPG. Now let’s look at his team: Dwight 17 PPG and 12 RPG, Pau 13 and 8, Artest 12 and 5, Nash 13 and 7 APG. That team is like the Dream Team compared to 05-06 or 14-15 and they barely made the playoffs. If I remember correctly it went down to the last few games and they ended up tying, record wise, for the worst record among Western Conference Playoff teams. Kobe has written himself off. He’s upset Tim Duncan got his 5th ring. Young Kobe wouldn’t have been upset because he’d know he could still get another. Today’s Kobe is upset because he knows he’ll never even come close to another ring, unless he listens to lbj and joins up with Lebron and future Hall of Famer Matthew Dellavedova.

  3. Dom says:

    The WEST will go like this

    1. SAN ANTONIO – If the Spurs can still retain that excellent ball movement they displayed in the Finals, even with the addition of Kyle Anderson, then the Spurs shall remain the top of the league.

    2. OKLAHOMA CITY – Kevin Durant is going to be Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook is going to be Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka is going to be Serge Iblocka. The Thunder are an excellent team when it comes to both sides, they could be a title contender if Westbrook stays healthy.

    3. PORTLAND – I can see the Blazers out playing the Clippers for the 3rd seed with the emergence of Damian Lillard and the overall star power of LaMarcus Aldridge. With that Lillard/Aldridge combination and some very talented players to back them up. The Blazers can actually be scary.

    4. L.A CLIPPERS – The Clippers will fall off slightly as a title contender. Let me tell you why. I’m not knocking against the starting lineup the Clippers have except Matt Barnes. But if you look down the bench now, your only true options are Spencer Hawes and Jamal Crawford. Your backup point guard in Jordan Farmar is kind of injury prone and likely won’t last the entire season. Big Baby Davis has gotten huge and slowed down tremendously.Reggie Bullock is still a mystery and C.J Wilcox (who I think is a great player) was a mistake.

    5. GOLDEN STATE – The Golden State Warriors will continue to get better. Steph Curry will continue to be a great offensive player. Klay Thompson and Andre Iguodala will be themselves. David Lee is still here. My only question about Golden State is Andrew Bogut and Harrison Barnes. Also the Warriors added a “decent” backup in Shaun Livingston.

    6. DALLAS – Personally, I think the Mavericks took it up a notch this off season. Although Tyson Chandler is not the defensive prowess he was in 2011 and Raymond Felton might have to fight for his starting position. The Mavericks earned themselves an easy 6th seed with a healthy Monta Ellis and Dirk Nowitzki. With Shawn Marion gone will mean that Al-Farouq Aminu will have to step in as the secondary defender.

    7. L.A LAKERS – Okay, let’s not mess around here. If I was to grade this Lakers team. It would be a B-, let me explain. The Lakers have a 100% Kobe Bryant (110% he says). Who cares if Kobe is 36, Kobe is Kobe. Okay moving on, Byron Scott is a perfect fit for the Lakers and easily makes this team better DEFENSIVELY, something the Lakers lacked horribly. Jeremy Lin wasn’t in the best situation with the Rockets under Kevin McHale. Carlos Boozer is more of an offensive player and a secondary defender and he was on a Bulls team who was all about defense. Julius Randle, if healthy, will be a candidate for ROY. The couple knocks on the Lakers is Steve Nash, Nick Young, and JIM BUSS. Nash is In his 40s now and is a lot slower….still he has a very capable jumper. Nick Young you can’t complain offensively but DEFENSIVELY…get your act together Nick.

    8. NEW ORLEANS – With the loss of Chandler Parsons, Jeremy Lin, and Omer Asik, the Rockets will be knocked from the playoffs for this year atleast. Replacing them will be the Pelicans. I said the other day, that (when Kobe retires and LeBron gets older) Anthony Davis will be the best in the league at some point. Check it out, Davis is 6’10 or something…with a large wingspan. Excellent ball-handling, a very good mid-range jumper, and just enough athletism to keep up with Blake Griffin in terms of dunking. Now besides Anthony Davis, you still have Jrue Holiday which is good, Omer Asik he will protect the rim with Davis, Eric Gordon….eh well when healthy he’s good.

    NOT GOING TO MAKE IT: HOUSTON – Nope, the Rockets will not make it this season. They got rid of 3 of their key players: Parsons, Asik, and Lin. And replaced them with Trevor Ariza. Not good enough Houston.

    • mitch Knows best says:

      i agree with this 100%… great points across the board… especially for the Lakers. we getting in this year

  4. lee says:

    1. Thunder
    2.spurs
    3.blazers
    4.clippers
    5.rockets
    6.warriors
    7.mavs
    8.grizz

    I think the bottom 4 is really interchangable but I still think the will all go to the playoffs I really think the grizz and warriors have the best chance of falling out warriors have so much talent but their idiots for getting rid of mark Jackson I like what the mavs have done but don’t know if it will be enough blazers our a real up and comer and have added good vets to the bench rockets will drop off some on offense but improve a lot on defense wish the would trade for Ryan anderson already the need a stretch 4 the grizz our getting older prince is no longer a great defender and shoots to many bad shots tony Allen is getting older and the have no true superstars on their team one thing about playing ruggid hard nosed defense you start to look older quicker get beat up more and start getting Injured if anyone falls out barring some crazy injury no one could’ve guessed it will be Memphis and new Orleans will take their place I dont see phoenix even being close this year to what the was last year and the should make that trnade for hibbert if Indiana will take bledsoe instead

  5. SourPatch says:

    People who keep saying how Memphis will tremendously slip out of the playoffs need to calm their tits. I’m not a Memphis fan, but they did almost beat OKC in the first round. PLUS they had injuries during the reg. season. Don’t doubt Kobe either, I don’t THINK they’re gonna make it but aye a lot of people don’t like swaggy P, but I do. Carlos Boozer was decent for Chicago too. If Kobe is amazing, they’d have a chance at eighth, but idk what happens from then on.

  6. Kevin says:

    There are at least 10 teams from the West that I would love to see in the playoffs. Can we shift some of them to the East?

  7. filip says:

    there is a 0% chance of pelicans getting in the playoffs. there are too many questions with their roster and bench. Even if anthony davis plays good it wont matter, just look at love’s numbers in minnesota. Suns are the only legit contender to make it only if bledsoe is still on the team. But if they can get a good big man for him they still might have a chance. its hard to tell who if anyone of last seasons playoff teams will drop out

  8. Joseph Fraedrich says:

    Folks slept on the BLAZERS last year, gonna do it again this year… We are used to it.

    Nevermind that LILLARD is the best young point guard since STEPH CURRY…

    Nevermind that LAMARCUS ALDRIDGE is arguably the best power forward in the league (honestly, who is better than ALDRIDGE right now? GRIFFIN doesnt have the range or versatility, DUNCAN is still boss…. Who else is there that can touch ALDRIDGE?)

    We got a great starting 5! The stat stuffing BATUM, the defensive freak WES MATHEWS, and the newly revamped ROBIN LOPEZ….

    CHRIS KAMEN is going to have a career year, because, like ROLO, he finally has a reason to play hard.

    PORTLAND lost to a SPURS team that man handeled the HEAT… THats called experience!

    Keep hating on RIP CITY!!! We are coming for all of you!

    Holler back all! and thank goodness we got some NBA coming back!

    JF

    • charless702 says:

      Trust me, no one is sleeping on your team. They actually remind me a little bit of a younger Spurs team. As a Spurs fan I was actually hoping we’d tank the end of the season and let OKC take the #1 seed. I guess it doesn’t matter much now but I felt like that end of the bracket would have been a lot easier. I knew Dallas would be tough because they’re always tough. Then after that it was either Portland or Houston, both teams I thought were better than anyone in the bottom part of the bracket (2, 3, 6 or 7) and then OKC or the Clippers. Anyway back to your team, they’re going to definitely be title contenders for the next few years. Blake definitely isn’t close to Aldridge. Love, IMO, is probably his closest competition but I’d pick Aldridge over Love every time. Lillard is only going to get better and more experienced over the next few years, which is kind of scary to think about.

  9. cshav10 says:

    Steve Kerr will drive the Warriors to the bottom of the west. He’ll get some kind of brainstorm like he had when he brought Shaq to the Suns to play with Steve Nash. Bizarro coaching choice.

    • charless702 says:

      What happened the year after Steve Kerr was no longer GM? If I’m not mistaken his last year they made it to the Western Conference Finals and haven’t made the playoffs since he left. The true facts are the Suns didn’t have what it took to get over the hump. For years the Suns got beat down by the Spurs. Kerr did everything he could do to try to get them past the Spurs. He finally put together a team good enough to beat the Spurs (mostly because key Spur’s players retired the year before and because of health/injuries) and the Lakers knock them off. Kerr came in as GM from 07-08 to 09-10. That team already proved it couldn’t win a title, again and again, with the roster as it was. It’s not like Kerr ripped that team apart. That team was still playoff bound when he stepped down. Amare killed the Suns by opting out of his contract a few weeks after Kerr left. Anyway Kerr took a gamble on Shaq and it didn’t pay off, however it’s not like they were going to win a championship those years so it really doesn’t matter too much.

  10. Sam Reyes says:

    Mavs got better, they got defense and even more offense, jose calderon wont be missed with 3 pgrds, houston lost attack weaponds and pgrds.

    Mavs Over rockets,

    Portland lost MO william, also added Kaman who is negative most of the time, so, they also got worse.

    Mavs over portland too.

    SAS kept the same team so so.

    Mavs Vs Spurs unpredictable, but Epic. i will love to see the first game. :D

    and to finish i leave GSW out of playoffs

  11. dustydreamnz says:

    I voted Rockets to drop out, Pelicans to get in but the West is so tight more than 1 team could drop out.

  12. John says:

    Everyone always sleeps on the Grizzlies man. People for get they took OKC to 7 games and arguably their best player was not allowed to play in the last game. Just watch.

    • SG says:

      Anyone who is counting the Grizzlies out are fools.

      They were a BS suspension call away from going toe-to-toe with the Spurs. They had injuries last year and finally got a chance to gel. They will be back.

  13. bucksfan1992 says:

    Lakers = 2015 NBA Champions. no doubt.

  14. KEVIN says:

    im biased cause i live in Portland but im hoping we can make it to spot 4 from last years 5…and i think pelicans have a good shot barring a repeat of injury after injury to get some postseason love. Lakers not even in the conversation weakest teams that might slip out i think would be griz, dallas, or GS.

  15. mee(a)t says:

    Rockets are dead imo…i will be shocked if they stay in the top 8

    • SG says:

      ?!? What do you base this upon? They are going to better this year with Ariza, but they are still a solid defensive player away from being a Championship team.

  16. kenny says:

    thunder spurs clips warriors houston blazers mavs suns

  17. Baldwin jr. says:

    I think the New Orleans Pelicans are likely to make it to the play off cause of the effect this team has. I also believe that Anthony Davis will earn Defensive Player of the Year award or even an MVP award, but it highly unlikely he has the potential caliber as either Kevin Durant, Lebron James or even Kwahi Leonnard.
    But I’m pretty sure that Davis will carry this team into the play off which I’ll be looking forward to.

  18. Khoi Le says:

    They really need to move like 4 western teams to the east

  19. USS Proteus AS19 says:

    Obvious maybe’s….after all, we’re still guessing at this point
    A guess for the Rockets (with some hopeful thinking)….
    Lin was hard to watch day in and day out….always hoped he’d stay in a groove (yep, hard to get that groove when coming off the bench)…..plenty of explosions, plenty of implosions…..good luck Jeremy (you’ll be replaced)
    Asik pouted 3/4ths of the season….sure, I might have felt discarded….but adding Howard is a no brainer.
    No Rockets fan wanted to see Asik go, but the 2 big man lineup didn’t fare well (exception: Portland series)
    D-Mo just might fill those Asik shoes with more scoring and just maybe learn defense….hard to call
    Parsons was loved plenty in Houston…..hard to not wish him well, but we’ll have to see if Ariza fills those shoes and perhaps brings some much needed D to a team that can shoot lights out….jury’s out on this one (lots of emotion still floating in the air up and down Interstate 45 between Houston and Dallas….will make for great reality TV in Texas!
    Overall, lost some good bench players, but resigning Garcia is a lift, and the young talent might step up and have their moments…..one or tow could have a somewhat breakout first and second years (always a roll of the dice no matter what NBA team is short of talented starters)
    The top three teams are obvious to everyone….SA, LA Clippers and OKC…naturally
    The next three are almost vague…..GS, Dallas, Houston, Portland….I’d venture to say Dallas has the toughest schedule with plenty of back to backs in 2014-2015….all their Houston games are on 2nd day of BTB’s…..plus their defense isn’t as sharp as some might think. Agree with Ranger on Portland…..could be a drop off (can they really do it again without injury, lack of bench and the most starting minutes in the NBA??)…even young legs get tired later in the season
    Wow, what a commentary I’ve got into here….taking day off, so here’s my best guess (impartial Rockets fan….I’ll try)
    1) OKC (upgrades in summer helped, healthy Westbrook dangerous as hell, KD is KD…bench is stronger, 2015 champs?)
    2) Spurs (hard to duplicate last year, but if anyone can, it’s these crafty veterans plus best NBA coach)
    3) Clippers (new owner brings stability, powerhouse team if focused will be tough on both ends, CP3 healthy??)
    4) Rockets (lots of distractions, lots of missing players from last year, decent replacements, it will be the H&H show-is it enough with a questionable bench….I could see Rox going 4th or as low as 7th….for now, 4th is my guess)
    5) Portland (can they stay healthy with all those starter minutes? Core talent is there, bench is ? mark)
    6) Warriors (Thompson staying is great for team chemistry-new coach will have learning curve-health of big men?)
    7) Mavericks (Parsons will fare well, but not all star caliber-defense will be somewhat in question-Dirk healthy all year?)
    7) Grizzlies (tie for 7th….hard team to figure out. Biggest spoiler of last year…boring, but oh so effective)
    8) toss up. Suns are right there if pieces are kept together (lost Chandler Frye) Denver has the tools (can they balance their game night in, night out?)
    No Way: Lakers (Kobe is Kobe…still not enough) Wolves (still cold at the North Pole) Kings (please) Pelicans (I like the sea birds, still a year away….they’ll be in the conversation and stay a while year after next) Jazz (who?)

    • DRAGONFORMVP says:

      I can tell you are a big Rox fan by the barb at the jazz. I don’t see how the Grizz are boring (with exception to the strech without gasol) physical games are enjoyable. my order moves something like this
      !.Spurs or Okc
      2.Okc or spurs
      3. Clippers
      4.Warriors
      5.Rockets or Mavs
      6.Portland
      7.Mavs or rockets
      8.New orleans or if they have bad injury trouble then either suns or T’wolves (sorry homer addition)

  20. Juraj Žunec says:

    Rooting fo Minnesota…god things could happen this (and following) seasons! Starting lineup looks very interesting…now if only they manage to get team chemistry rolling!

    And it is Nikola not Nikolai Pekovic :)

  21. Rangers says:

    I can see a trailblazer drop off. They had too many career years last season with minimal injuries. Mathews/batum/Lopez, and even Aldridge/Lillard (even they I trust them to repeat) all had their best seasons. No bench and only Kaman added isn’t exactly an earth shattering upgrade

    • Rangers says:

      Also, I may be in a minority, but I think the Lakers have the best chance to go from lottery to playoffs. They add kobe, lin, randle (all 3 can be starters) and ed davis whom is extremely undertated.

  22. dgsdgfdhdfhd says:

    1. Spurs
    2. Thunder
    3. Clippers
    4. Warriors
    5. Mavericks
    6. Blazers
    7 to 8. tossup between Rockets, Suns and Nuggets

    Grizzlies, TWolves and Pelicans still need a LOT of improvement on various departments to be playoffs-relevant

    • Mavericks & Warriors over the Blazers & Rockets??? U gotta be kidding me.

      • TTKIN says:

        HOU got worse. Ya they got Ariza to replace Parsons, but Ariza is mainly at his best when his contract is expiring. Which it wont for awhile. They got rid of their backup Center, and one of their main guards.

        Kerr knows about offense. And that was where GS struggled to stay consistent (ironic considering the weapons they have haha). Their defense will still be top notch (I think it was top-5 last yr). Plus all their young guys are a year older and wiser (and a couple of which are playing for USA right now which experience tells us, greatly improves a players performance).

        DAL def got better with Parsons and Chandler. They still have good PGs on their staff.

        And Idk that POR got better. They had no bench last yr which you absolutely must have to win. I know they got Kaman, but didn’t Mo Williams leave? I don’t remember, but if he did, then ya, POR got worse.

  23. jake s. says:

    If the Suns retain Bledsoe and everyone stays healthy (enough)… I say that the light shines bright for Phoenix next summer.

  24. harriethehawk says:

    The Rockets and Memphis Grizzlies are at risk; and the New Orleans Pelicans are knocking on the 8th seed door.

  25. Hak of howard2 says:

    So there saying the rockets will do better