Quest to be best of the rest in the West

Tom Clarke Roar Rookie

By , Tom Clarke is a Roar Rookie

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    The Golden State Warriors are the NBA champions, and will be for the foreseeable future.

    Their Western Conference rivals would have been forgiven for going into rebuild mode and waiting out the Warriors’ glory years, but instead the free agency period has been a frenzy. Every Western Conference team has spent the post-season busily resigning and adding key pieces that they think will give them the best chance to remain competitive in their ridiculously stacked side of the league.

    So while LeBron James should cruise comfortably towards his eighth consecutive Finals campaign in a severely weakened Eastern Conference, let’s take a look what teams have been willing to do in order to finish second to the Warriors next season…

    1 – Golden State Warriors
    Last season finished first in the Conference, NBA Champions

    Golden State crushed all comers last season. They are a basketball behemoth and they’re only getting better! In free agency, GSW managed to resign league MVPs Steph Curry and Kevin Durant, held onto key role players Andre Iguodala and Shawn Livingston, and signed Nick Young from the Lakers, a move that will improve their already insane ability to space the floor and shoot unimaginable amounts of threes.

    2 – San Antonio Spurs
    Last season finished second in the Conference, lost in Conference Finals

    San Antonio have had a quiet post-season (aside from re-signing Patty Mills to a $50 million contract), mainly reflecting their belief that they already have a championship-calibre team. That’s not unreasonable either – after all, the Spurs won 61 games last year, and had a 23-point lead in the Conference Finals against the Warriors in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals with under eight minutes remaining in the third quarter before Kawhi Leonard was injured by Zaza Pachulia.

    Leonard is a future MVP, and Gregg Popovich is a savant. Never rule out the Spurs.

    Kawhi Leonard for the Spurs

    (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

    3 – Houston Rockets
    Last season finished third in the Conference, lost to Spurs in Semi finals [bold]

    Under Mike D’Antoni, the Rockets became a very good basketball team. James Harden, while still a defensive liability, was very nearly the MVP following a season where he produced an offensive masterclass every week. And in a staggering free agency move, the Rockets have managed to lure Chris Paul to Houston.

    Paul is one of the top-ten point guards of all time, and he just joined an offensive juggernaut that values ball movement above all else. Even if they can’t beat the Warriors, it’s going to be incredible to watch them try.

    4 – Oklahoma City Thunder
    Last season finished sixth, lost to the Rockets in first round of playoffs [bold]

    The Thunder was a one-man team last season, and still managed to finish sixth in the Conference. Russell Westbrook played at constant unrelenting breakneck pace, averaging a triple-double for the season and cantering towards a well-deserved MVP award, while the rest of his team stood around and watched.

    And then, in a genuine shock move, the Thunder added Paul George. George is a two-way superstar who should fit with Westbrook beautifully. This team is going to be amazing fun to watch.

    Oklahoma City's Russell Westbrook

    (Wikipedia Commons)

    5 – Minnesota Timberwolves
    Last season finished 13th

    Minnesota should make a huge leap next season. Karl Anthony-Towns and Andrew Wiggins are former No.1 draft picks who are developing nicely, and could well be All-NBA players in the next couple of years.

    Most significantly though, Minnesota just landed Jimmy Butler in one of the best trades of the post-season. Butler is a phenomenon, who was as wasted in Chicago as George was in Indiana. Pairing Butler with the Wolves’ young guns should see this team shoot up the ladder.

    6 – Los Angeles Clippers
    Last season finished fourth, lost to the Jazz in the first round of playoffs

    The Clippers are the NBAs almost-team. They’ve been so close to contending seemingly forever, and have flamed out in the playoffs each year. And now they’ve lost Chris Paul to Houston. Lob City is over. However, don’t expect them to plummet too far.

    DeAndre Jordan remains a solid option at centre (and was All-NBA just two seasons ago!). Meanwhile, Blake Griffin, if he can stay healthy, may finally be able to unlock his potential as a facilitator, rather than just a dunking machine.

    He has the best passing of any big man in the league; all he needs is permission to properly unleash his skill set. A good coach would reinvent the team around Blake as a giant point guard, unfortunately Doc Rivers is not that coach.

    7 – New Orleans Pelicans
    Last season finished 10th

    Anthony Davis is a top ten talent in the world. And top ten talents do not hang around in garbage teams for long before they go looking for a chance to actually compete. Last season, New Orleans added DeMarcus Cousins and are trying to make Twin Towers work in the era of small ball.

    They’ve just handed Jrue Holiday $126 million contract hoping he is the point guard to get Boogie and the Brow to meld effectively. If the Pelicans don’t make the playoffs this year, they can expect to lose the greatest asset they’ve ever had in Davis. I suspect they know this.

    8 – Denver Nuggets
    Last season finished ninth
    Denver should make the leap into the playoffs this year. Nikola Jokic is a very talented player who jumped from “potentially great” to “actually great” last season, and the Nuggets added Paul Millsap from Atlanta in free agency.

    Millsap has the least hype and least personality of any superstar in the league, but he is a big deal. He’s been an All-Star for the last four years and should assist Jokic greatly in the front court.

    And the rest…
    The Jazz finished fifth last year, but they lost Gordon Hayward in free agency to Boston, and Rudy Gobert (as impressive as he is) isn’t the kind of star you can build a contender around.

    The Kings, Suns and Mavericks remain those teams (read: bad). The Blazers have reached their ceiling and done nothing in free agency to indicate a change in direction.

    The Lakers are a couple of years away from contending, though Lonzo Ball was a great addition from the draft. And Memphis, well, you forgot Memphis was even in the Western Conference, right? Sorry, Mike Conley.

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