Ranking the Western Conference
I have been catching a little heat for only writing about East Coast teams so far (NJ, NY, Phi, and Was) so I thought I would take a look at the Western Conference today. We all know how deep the West is, and how many talented teams are battling for the 8 playoff spots, here is how I rank the teams as of today:
1. LA Lakers – The defending champs are only getting stronger due to the return of Andrew Bynum. They have a talented second line and a motivated Kobe, who should be hungrier than ever after getting out-played by Paul Pierce in the NBA Finals.
2. New Orleans – They are bringing back the same rotation except for the addition of key bench player, James Posey. We all saw how valuable he was in last year’s playoffs. The Hornets needed scoring off the bench and found the right guy.
3. Houston – I love what Ron Artest brings to this team on the court. They needed another perimeter player who can score consistently and Artest obviously also brings the team some defense/toughness. Donte Greene is also going to be a valuable scorer off the bench.
4. Utah – The Jazz are a young, athletic team who wasn’t quite ready to knock off the Lakers last year but should be able to give a better run at the top teams in the conference this season. I’d like to see them add a little more scoring off the bench.
5. San Antonio – I like the addition of Roger Mason Jr. for outside shooting but they are still weak off the bench and getting nothing but older. Before you go crazy about the Spurs being number five, remember there could very well be 1-3 games separating the top five teams in the West at the end of the year.
6. Phoenix – How much do Shaq and Grant Hill have left in the tank? What can they get out of Robin Lopez and Matt Barnes off the bench this year? Will they play any defense?
7. Portland – I can’t wait to watch this team play this year. You have to love the starting five with Greg Oden coming back into mix alonside Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Alridge. Jerryd Bayless should be lethal off the bench, and beyond that they have solid depth with Travis Outlaw, Rudy Fernandez, and Channing Frye.
8. Dallas – Has the window closed on this group or can Jason Kidd make one last run with Dirk? I wouldn’t be shocked to see them miss the playoffs this year.
9. LA Clippers – Yes it hurts losing out on Elton Brand, but this team isn’t in that bad of shape. They have a very strong front-line with Marcus Camby, Chris Kaman, and Al Thorton, they have Baron Davis and they have Eric Gordon working off the bench.
10. Denver – It remains to be seen if one of the worst defensive teams in the league can replace their best defensive player in Marcus Camby. I don’t think the AI/Carmelo combo is going anywhere in this Conference.
11. Golden State – They are going to struggle without Monta Ellis during the first stretch of the year. They need Brandan Wright and Anthony Randolph to grow up fast.
12. Sacramento – They are probably a playoff team in the Eastern Conference, but in the West they will again struggle to be .500
13. Oklahoma City – Seattle, I mean Oklahoma City has some young talent. You hope to see some improvement from last season and the promise of building around Durant, Jeff Green, Chris Wilcox, and now Russell Westbrook.
14. Minnesota – Al Jefferson is good, we know that. They will compete on most nights but are very young, and lack the fire-power to win games with any consistency in the West.
15. Memphis – Rudy Gay and OJ Mayo could be a very scary duo sooner rather than later. If Mike Conley can develop into some kind of point guard, they will only be a few big men away from competing.