Coast to Coast is my new bi-weekly column here at Fansided. Each week I’ll be taking a look at an interesting topic in the NBA, and giving my own spin on it. Feel free to disagree, because you most likely will anyways.
For the past few years, the Western Conference has been viewed as the much stronger, deeper conference. The East has been viewed as top-heavy, having their 8th seeds be under .500 on more than one occasion. Now, with the Bulls, Heat, Pacers, Knicks, Nets, and Hawks projected to be over .500 this season, the power is seemingly beginning to even out. But make no mistake, the Eastern Conference will be “Tank City” this season, so the West should still hold the crown as the better conference. It wasn’t long ago, that the 2009-2010 Thunder won 50 games, but finished with the 8th seed.
This season appears to be no anomaly, as the West may be as deep as ever. There are 6 locks to make the playoffs this season (in no order):
- Oklahoma City Thunder
- San Antonio Spurs
- Los Angeles Clippers
- Memphis Grizzlies
- Houston Rockets
- Golden State Warriors
That leaves 9 teams battling for 2 spots in the playoff race. Now, you can eliminate a few of those teams —The Suns, Kings, and Jazz. So, there will be 6 teams battling for the final 2 spots in the conference. Lets take a look at their chances:
- NEW ORLEANS PELICANS-
I’m sure you could spend all day arguing about how New Orleans isn’t in the western part of the United States, but neither is Memphis, so don’t waste oxygen. The Pelicans had an off-season that mirrors that of Detroit’s—just grab talent and see what happens. They added Tyreke Evans, traded for Jrue Holiday, and also signed Anthony Morrow and Greg Stiemsma. Add that with the players you have—Anthony Davis, Ryan Anderson, Al-Farouq Aminu, and Eric Gordon, and you have a talented, but identity lacking team. This is a make or break year for coach Monty Williams, as he has only accumulated a 94-136 record in New Orleans. It will be up to him to assign roles, and find an offense to fit these new players. Tyreke Evans, who is looking to prove he can be a star, has said he’s willing to come off the bench. If anything, this team should be fun to watch, and fun to play on NBA 2k14.
- MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES
The Timberwolves were thinking playoffs last season, and all that hope was squashed by a set of knuckle push ups. Kevin Love broke his hand, and was never able to really get healthy. Love played only 18 games last season, and add that together with Ricky Rubio’s ACL recovery, Chase Budinger’s injuries, and essentially the whole team being hurt, and you get a 31-51 record. Coach Rick Adelman was uncertain to return, due to an illness with his wife, but he is back for next season, which means thankfully his wife is ok. They added some nice pieces this summer, signing Kevin Martin and Corey Brewer, re-signed Chase Budinger and Nikola Pekovic, and drafted Shabazz Muhammad and Gorgui Dieng. Oh! They also made the best move by getting rid of David Kahn, and bringing In Flip Saunders. Overall they had a nice off-season, and barring any crazy injuries, they should be much improved.
- DALLAS MAVERICKS
I feel bad for Mark Cuban and the Mavericks. Every year since their championship back in 2011, they have cleared cap space for a big time free agent. Last year, they swung and missed on Deron Williams, and this summer, they missed on Dwight Howard. They had a lot of cap space, but ended up using it on Monta Ellis, Devin Harris, Jose Calderon Samuel Dalembert, and Wayne Ellington. They drafted Ricky Ledo and Shane Larkin as well. This team seemingly doesn’t have much success coming their way this season, but when a healthy Dirk returned, they were in it for the 8th seed ’till the end. Having a fully healthy Dirk should mean they won’t be terrible, but having to settle in free agency doesn’t bode well for them. Rick Carlisle is a good coach, so there is always a chance.
- PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS
The starting 5 for Portland was pretty good last season, but their bench was a different story. Having basically the worst bench in the league meant a bad season for the Blazers, but they did have the Rookie of the Year in Damian Lilllard to build off of. They did an excellent job in free agency, signing Mo Williams, Dorell Wright, and Earl Watson. They also traded for Robin Lopez and Thomas Robinson. Portland added some good pieces through the draft in CJ McCollum and sharpshooter Allen Crabbe as well. Now, coach Terry Stotts has a good young core, and a much improved bench to work with. Sadly, they lost Luke Babbitt, and without that type of franchise player, they might as well sell the team. In all seriousness, with an improved Lillard and a great young team, they are in prime position for a playoff spot. Also, with rumors of wanting out involving LaMarcus Aldridge, they will have to make the playoffs in order to keep the all-star forward happy.
- DENVER NUGGETS
The Denver Nuggets won 57 games last year, and went 38-3 at home. They were as good as anyone was during the regular season, and when they got out and ran, watch out. With Ty Lawson, Andre Iguodala, and a lot of good talent around them, they were supposed to go deep in the playoffs. Well, they met up with a hot Golden State team in the first round, and got beat. After that, the dominoes began to fall. The Nuggets fired George Karl, the 2012-13 Coach of the Year, and soon after, their GM Masai Uijiri left for Toronto. The Nuggets then realized they would lose their key player in Iguodala, so they agreed to a sign and trade with Golden State. Heck, if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. They then hired Brian Shaw to be their coach, and signed JJ Hickson, Nate Robinson, and ended up with Randy Foye and Darrell Arthur. Danilo Gallinari will be rehabbing a torn ACL this season, and with losing a lot of their core guys, the season ahead is filled with unknowns. What kind of system will Shaw run? Can they get good production from their new players? Will they be able to defend at all? There are too many questions surrounding the former number 3 seed to call them a lock. Don’t worry though, we will be seeing a whole lot of JaVale McGee this season, and his new mid-range attack.
- LOS ANGELES LAKERS
Ah, the Lakers. They certainly made some noise this off-season, but not for the ways they wanted. They posted “Stay D12″ billboards all over LA, but in case you missed it, Howard is now a Rocket. So what’s next for the Lakers? They actually did an OK job in free agency, signing Chris Kaman, Nick Young, Wesley Johnson, Jordan Farmar, Xavier Henry, and Shawne Williams all on the cheap. Those aren’t knockout players, but they are nice for the minimum contract(Kaman got the tax payers mid-level exception). Of course with a healthy Steve Nash, Pau Gasol, and a possibly healthy Kobe Bryant, you have some talent–old talent– but talent nonetheless. Kobe Bryant is a big question mark, coming off of a torn achilles, but I expect him to suit up on opening night. I won’t bet against Bryant until he finally proves me wrong. With a full training camp under D’Antoni, better team chemistry, and if they avoid the insane amount of injuries they had last season, it isn’t crazy to think they can’t match last season’s win total of 45. They won’t be able to guard a middle school team, but the Lakers did get 29 nationally televised games, so they will be interesting to watch. They also drafted a stretch 4 in Ryan Kelly, so that will only add to the amount of 3 pointers they take.
PROJECTED WESTERN CONFERENCE STANDINGS:
- Trail Blazers
Those will probably be terribly wrong, but then again everyone picked the Lakers to win it all last season. So there’s that. I think Portland and Minnesota made the most strides towards making the playoffs, and if they stay healthy, they should find themselves playing in May. It will be a close race though, it certainly is a Wild, Wild West.
Topics: Dallas Mavericks, Denver Nuggets, Dwight Howard, Kevin Durant, Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers, Minnesota TImberwolves, New Orleans Pelicans, Oklahoma City Thunder, Stephen Curry, Western Conference