Season Preview: Northwest Division
1 – Utah Jazz
I wasn’t entirely sold on the Jazz as conference contenders coming into last season. Last season saw the Jazz make a deep push into the playoffs that stretched all the way to the Western Conference Finals. Carlos Boozer and Deron Williams both elevated their respective games to superstar level. Consider my ass sold.
The consensus is generally that a team needs at least one great player, a go-to man, to be a contender. Before last season’s playoffs, one could easily argue Utah lacked that one go-to guy. Suddenly Boozer starts dropping 30 a clip and puts Utah on another level. No one has ever questioned the Jazz being a balanced, well rounded team, the knock on them was the lack of that one true star player. Boozer erased all that.
And then there’s Deron Williams, who stepped his game up just as much in the Western Conference Finals, against the Spurs no less. We all know the Jazz will be solid, but should Boozer and Williams continue the kind of play we saw from them in April and May, Utah could be in for a lot more than just solid.
The Allen Iverson trade last season was big story when it went down, but as many predicted then, it still didn’t make the Nuggets a title contender. Even with Carmelo Anthony and Allen Iverson sharing the ball and both playing well, the Nuggets were still taken out in the first round. And that puts them in an unfortunate situation – they have a good team, just not good enough.
Once Iverson joined mid-season, all the pieces seemed to be in place. And while the offense never looked better, the defense, outside of Marcus Camby, continues to be a weak point for the Nuggets. Denver is still a team to be reckoned with, but until some depth and some defense is added into the mix, they’ll continue to lag behind teams like Dallas, Phoenix, and San Antonio.
After the draft day moves Portland made, I boldly proclaimed they would be making a playoff appearance this season. I guess we’ll never get to know just how close to crazy I was. Once Greg Oden went down for the season, all the outlooks had to change. The hopes for a playoff birth got severely dashed when Oden went down.
Even minus Oden, however, the Blazers can still have themselves a decent season. Brandon Roy had a great rookie campaign, as did LaMarcus Aldridge; how much and quickly these two progress during the course of the season will have a lot to do with Portland’s success or failure. Channing Frye, who had an impressive rookie campaign himself with the Knicks, was also added to the mix as part of the deal that send Zach Randolph to New York. With Oden’s injury, Frye gets a chance to get some more court time, develop, and show his stuff. You put these young players together, and some good things can happen.
The playoffs aren’t likely, but regardless this can be a solid building year for the Blazers, in preparation for getting Oden back next year.
4 – Minnesota Timberwolves
Right from the moment Kevin Garnett was sent to Boston, I told people this Timberwolves team could be better than you expect. That doesn’t mean losing KG didn’t hurt, and that doesn’t mean Minnesota isn’t going to have some rough spots this season, but with Al Jefferson in place as the future cornerstone, there’s no reason why this shouldn’t be the start of healthy rebuilding process for the T-Wolves.
Randy Foye should continue to build off a good rookie season, and will do just fine running the point. What concerns me is Minnesota’s lack of shooters. This will be Jefferson’s first year as the clear-cut go-to guy, and when those double teams start coming, he’s going to need a solid cast of shooters to net some jumpers from deep.
There will be some growing pains for the Timberwolves this season, but there will be growth. And with some added pieces, they could start to look promising down the road.
5 – Seattle Supersonics
Make no mistake about it, the player I’m most excited to watch this season is Kevin Durant. If you ever saw him playing at Texas, then you know why. Of course Durant is still trying to deal with a badly sprained ankle, suffered against Golden State in the preseason. We can only hope that heals quickly. The sure to be Rookie of the Year, is sure to be stunning to watch and a highlight reel all season long. That, however, may be the only reason to watch the Sonics this season.
The Sonics traded away Ray Allen to Boston and let Rashard Lewis get away. The reigns of the team are now left to rookie Kevin Durant. I’m confident Durant will have a great rookie year, but there are certainly going to be some rough spots along the way, and with little else to fall back on, the Sonics will feel each bump in the road.
Don’t expect to see much in the way of wins this season for the Sonics, but do expect to see the beginning of the magnificent career for Durant.