The Northwest Division had immense success last season, with three teams making it to the playoffs (surpassed only by the Southwest, which had four), including the Oklahoma City Thunder, who went to the Finals.
This season, the Kevin Durant-led will likely win the division title for the third straight year, but could they face some serious competition for it?
Oklahoma City Thunder
PG: Russell Westbrook
SG: Thabo Sefolosha
SF: Kevin Durant
PF: Serge Ibaka
C: Kendrick Perkins
Bench: James Harden, Nick Collison, Cole Aldrich, Eric Maynor, Perry Jones, Lazar Hayward, Daequan Cook, Perry Jones, Hasheem Thabeet, Reggie Jackson, Hollis Thompson
While their season ended abruptly in the Finals last season, the Thunder had little reason to make major moves in free agency, especially with the ridiculous contracts being thrown around by NBA teams. With Durant and Westbrook locked up in long-term contracts, OKC simply needed to upgrade in a few areas and keep payroll low for the impending contract discussions with Harden and Ibaka.
This team was good enough to make it deep in the playoffs already, but they added athletic combo forward Perry Jones III in the draft and took a waiver on Thabeet, the #2 draft pick just three seasons ago. Both of them come with questions – Jones’ injury worries and Thabeet’s continued inability to adapt to the NBA – but with time, both could be helpful. For a team looking to make frugal additions while keeping payroll consistent, not much negative can come from these types of signings.
PG: Ty Lawson
SG: Andre Iguodala
SF: Danilo Gallinari
PF: Kenneth Faried
C: JaVale McGee
Bench: Andre Miller, Corey Brewer, Wilson Chandler, Anthony Randolph, Kosta Koufos, Evan Fournier, Timofey Mozgov, Jordan Hamilton, Quincy Miller
Despite being a filler team for the blockbuster Dwight Howard deal, the Nuggets made out as a bigger winner than the Magic did. They acquired a defensive-minded superstar (albeit an underrated one) in Iguodala who will become the cornerstone player of their young and athletic squad. Faried, McGee and “Iggy” will form a solid defensive trio, while Lawson and Gallinari will provide long-range offense.
Along with Miller, Iguodala will be looked upon as a veteran to help lead the team into their 10th straight playoff appearance. Despite that decade-long streak, the team has made it out of the first round just once. The former Sixers should be able to use their previous playoff triumphs and help move the Nuggets into the second round – or beyond. While the rest of the Western Conference is stacked, few teams can match up athletically, meaning Denver could surprise next season.
PG: Mo Williams
SG: Gordon Hayward
SF: Marvin Williams
PF: Paul Millsap
C: Al Jefferson
Bench: Randy Foye, Derrick Favors, Enes Kanter, Alec Burks, DeMarre Carroll, Jamaal Tinsley, Earl Watson, Jeremy Evans, Raja Bell
While the Jazz snuck into the playoffs as an eight seed last season, they were quickly dismissed by the red-hot Spurs, who were in the middle of a 20-game winning streak. That’s not to say they aren’t capable of more next season.
For a team this loaded in the frontcourt, it’s hard to say they won’t be competitive. Millsap and Jefferson alone are a bruising duo in the post, with Favors being an athletic counter-punch and Kanter being a solid rebounder. Few teams can boast that much size in their big men, and the Jazz would be wise to use that fact should they need to make a trade to upgrade their guard situation.
Mo Williams and Foye both helped their stock with solid performances last season, with both averaging at least 11 points and 40% shooting from 3-point range. With the ability to stretch defenses, that type of offense should create match-up problems for opposing players next season.
Will the Jazz be able to make the playoffs next season despite increased competition in the Western Conference? Sure. The challenge for head coach Tyrone Corbin will be to push them over the hump into the upper echelon of the conference.
PG: Ricky Rubio
SG: Alexey Shved
SF: Andrei Kirilenko
PF: Kevin Love
C: Nikola Pekovic
Bench: Luke Ridnour, Chase Budinger, Derrick Williams, J.J. Barea, Greg Stiemsma, Malcolm Lee, Dante Cunningham
Before Rubio got hurt last season, this was an exciting team with a young duo and a bright future. Fans actually began to enjoy watching the perennial bottom-feeding team, which hadn’t had a marketable star since Kevin Garnett left.
That’s not to say that this offseason totally killed all of that momentum. Rubio should be healing up as the season begins, giving the team back their best playmaker; he’ll once again pair with Love, who continued to show a tenacious rebounding ability last season and into the Olympics.
Kirilenko returns to the NBA after a stint in Russia, where he only played in 17 games but averaged 14 points, 7.5 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 1.5 steals, and 1.9 blocks in 30 minutes a game. During his time with the Jazz, those are the types of numbers he would post – the Timberwolves are certainly hoping that a return to those numbers happens with “AK47″ in a Minnesota jersey.
This team is one of the many teams that likely won’t make the playoffs, but with Rubio and Love on board, they’ll certainly be an exciting team to watch. What management must do, however, is keep them in the North Star State for the majority of their careers.
Portland Trail Blazers
PG: Damian Lillard
SG: Wesley Matthews
SF: Nicolas Batum
PF: LaMarcus Aldridge
C: Meyers Leonard
Bench: J.J. Hickson, Nolan Smith, Ronnie Price, Jared Jeffries, Victor Claver, Elliot Williams, Luke Babbitt, Sasha Pavlovic, Will Barton
There aren’t many stars in the NBA that are under-reported upon that Aldridge. Despite averaging 18 points and 7.5 rebounds in his six-year career, the former Texas Longhorn has just one All-Star selection. Whether that’s because of the quality big men in the Western Conference or because his teams haven’t won as much is debatable, but either way, Aldridge is one of the true under-30 team cornerstones and should once again post top averages.
Outside of the 27-year old Aldridge, however, there aren’t many proven commodities.
Lillard rocketed up NBA draft boards this past season with his dynamic play at Weber State, but can he run a team in one of the most competitive divisions in the NBA? As a head coach, you’d love for him to have a veteran point guard to learn from, but that presence isn’t available on this roster.
Matthews and Batum, who were paid $20 million combined over the next three seasons, are solid perimeter players who can score, but with such a small sample size of games, it’s hard to see them as more than complementary parts.
The lack of a “bad” contract on this team means that they’ll probably have financial flexibility in the next few offseasons; will they use it wisely?
Tags: Al Jefferson Andre Iguodala Denver Nuggets James Harden Kevin Durant Kevin Love LaMarcus Aldridge Minnesota Timberwolves NBA NBA Offseason Northwest Division Oklahoma City Thunder Portland Trail Blazers Ricky Rubio Russell Westbrook Utah Jazz