Western Conference In-depth: Lottery Teams

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By Andy Weise

Goodbye, Seattle. The Supersonics are officially no more for the first time in 40 years but already there’s been news that the Sacramento Kings, New Orleans Hornets and Memphis Grizzlies could be relocating to Seattle. My guess – the Grizzlies. But for now, let’s focus on the year ahead. The Western Conference is in for a bit of shake up as some of the younger teams like Portland, New Orleans
 

15.  Sacramento Kings (2007-08:  38-44; 2008-09: 18-23 wins)

For Reggie Theus’ crew, it’s going to be a very interesting year. The big summer move was trading away Ron Artest to Houston in exchange for former King sixth man Bobby Jackson, Donte Green and a #1 draft pick. Brad Miller is still around, Shareef Abdur-Rahim is now an assistant coach, John Salmons and Francisco Garcia are talented, but still very young and it looks like Kevin Martin will have to score 30 or more for the Kings to be in the game. Spencer Hawes, Shelden Williams, rookies Green and Jason Thompson are all nice young post players, but it’s going to take awhile for this team to gel. At least Beno Udrih somehow fell into their hands a year ago.
 

14. Oklahoma City Thunder (2007-08: 20-62; 2008-09:  19-24 wins)

I’m still bitter that this franchise landed Kevin Durant. Durant is obviously the franchise player, but they better start building towards something otherwise Durant could look to bolt (pun not intended) in a few years. Jeff Green is a nice piece to have alongside Durant and rookie Russell Westbrook should be a mainstay in the backcourt for many years. Nick Collins and Chris Wilcox are nothing to get too excited about but I’m sure the honeymoon period for OKC will last for awhile. They sold out their season tickets in like 45 seconds or something.

Interesting facts – Desmond Mason was with the Hornets when they were in OKC and now he’s back, just with a different franchise. The Sonics were originally the team he broke into the league with too. And he’s played for the Bucks twice. It’s just a circular motion for Mason.

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13. Memphis Grizzlies (2007-08: 22-60; 2008-09:  22-27 wins)

Memphis just hasn’t found much to be proud of as a franchise. Yes, they finally made the playoffs a few times this decade but they’ve found themselves back near the bottom again. The draft night trade with Minnesota landed them the much coveted guard O.J. Mayo. With Mike Conley Jr. (2007 1st rounder) and Rudy Gay (2006 1st rounder), they represent a good mix of the 1, 2 and 3 positions for the Grizzlies. Marc Gasol is an intriguing player at 7’1” and rookie Darrell Arthur and Hakim Warrick are nice forwards too. They flirted with trading for Zach Randolph but if I were the Grizzlies, I’d stay away from him. Zach never seems to find himself in good situations. Iranian center Hamed Haddadi will be another guy to watch for this year. Good young core for this team but still awhile away from doing much.

12. Los Angeles Clippers (2007-08: 23-59; 2008-09:  25-30 wins)

What looked like a genius plan (when Elton Brand opted out giving the Clippers cap space to sign Baron Davis and then resign Brand) all fell apart when Brand decided the Eastern Conference might be an easier route to success. Davis comes from Golden State and Marcus Camby comes over in a salary dump from Denver (what were the Nuggets doing?!).  Al Thornton should benefit from playing next to Davis and Chris Kaman can focus on offense now that he has Camby blocking shots. The starting lineup with those four and Cuttino Mobley is solid but after that, rookies Eric Gordon and DeAndre Jordan are two question marks and the rest of the bench is like this: Ricky Davis, Tim Thomas, Brian Skinner, Jason Hart and others. Jason Williams retired so this team is a Baron Davis injury away from being the worst team in the league.

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The Kings will be awful, but at least their dance team will be “interesting” to watch this year 

11. Minnesota Timberwolves (2007-20:  20-62; 2008-09: 30-35 wins)

The draft night trade with Memphis definitely split some of the fan base in Minnesota. There were those that were extremely happy with O.J. Mayo, a national talent for the last 6-7 years. The other side somehow put their trust back into the front office led by Kevin McHale, Forbes #1 GM… yes. As a Wolves fan, I liked the trade. Kevin Love and Mike Miller form a nice core with Al Jefferson and the other younger pieces on the Wolves team. McHale might not have gotten the Wolves a title with K.G. but he started over in a way with Jefferson, who by the way makes half of what Garnett makes per season. Jefferson is a superstar in the making but will need others to emerge. Love and Miller are good shooters, but guys like Randy Foye, Rashad McCants and Corey Brewer need to prove they are part of the rebuilding project in Minnesota. McHale, known for throwing in first round picks when making trades, somehow collected three extra first picks that might all come through next summer. Stay tuned.

10. Golden State Warriors (2007-08:  48-34; 2008-09: 34-39 wins)

When Don Nelson left the Warriors in ’95, they went through about 8 coaches within the next 10-11 years. Nelson must feel some attachment to this group, probably because they run, run a lot and don’t stop running. Baron Davis is gone, the keys handed over to Monta Ellis who… couldn’t handle the vehicle? I’m not getting into that. Ellis is gone for probably half the season, Corey Maggette comes over from L.A. and the Warriors gave big money to Andris Biedrins so fans should expect something good. If Marcus Williams (coming from the Nets) or NBA D-League star C.J. Watson can hold the team together, the Warriors could be interesting. Rookie Anthony Randolph and second year forward Brandan Wright are the future building blocks – they might as well give them a lot of playing time right away and try to deal Stephen Jackson and Al Harrington. Outside of Portland, I think the Warriors have the best young talent in the West.

9. Denver Nuggets (2007-08:  50-32; 2008-09: 40-45 wins)

As I said earlier, I really disliked the trade of Marcus Camby to the Clippers as a salary dump. I realize the Nuggets were in that luxury tax area where everything costs double but how do you show your team and your fans that you’re committed to winning by doing that? You got nothing back! This franchise is most likely to crumble this year and George Karl could be the guy who takes the fall. Carmelo Anthony was reportedly shopped around and Allen Iverson is in the last year of his deal, so what is going to happen with the Nuggets? Nene has played a combined 81 games the last three years and Kenyon Martin played 70+ games for the first time in three years but is nowhere near the level of play he was at when he signed the monster deal with the Nuggets four years ago. Linas Kleiza and J.R. Smith are exciting players but the Birdman Chris Andersen is not. Denver implodes before the end of the year.

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very interesting to watch this year

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Comments

  1. paulmbanks says

    When you see the bottom-feeders of the West and how bad they are, you see the East has somewhat caught to the West in relative conference strength

  2. Oops, Nick Collison — for whatever reason I wrote Collins. Ha (Under OKC)

  3. Peter Christian says

    A) Just because the worst of the East isn’t as bad as the worst of the West does not mean the East is as strong as the West. Cleveland was the 4 seed with 45 wins last season. If they were in the West, they would have missed the play-offs by 5 games. The West will still have 6 teams with 47+ wins this year, the East will have no more than 4.

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