And we start out West. Why? because Oregon was pretty awesome when Sarah and I went.
Portland will have a tough time this year.
Fact: They started the rebuilding process when they traded Gerald Wallace to New Brooklyn. LaMarcus Aldridge plays well now, but he's also an injury risk, making it questionable to build around him. Nicolas Batum was able to convince Minnesota to overpay for him to get his money, but now he's got to be a #2 guy (Terraun's 7 ways to kill a franchise staple). I'm not sure that's the best role for him. The true X factor for this team is Damian Lillard, a lithuanian, tall PG who can be really good, but needs a lot of seasoning. As long as Portland accepts this as a growing year, they should be fine.
The Denver Nuggets are the exciting team in the West.
Fiction: I get a little leary when everyone jumps on the bandwagon. I like what they have done. Andre Iguodala can play well in Denver where the expectations will be lowered for him and he can fill his best role as the ultimate utility guy. Ty Lawson is a jetpack and Danilo Gallinari is a shooter. The problem I have with this team is they have too many 1-tool guys and unproven commodities on their team. When your team success hinges on an athletic-yet-basketball-stupid-mama's-boy, you have to be a little nervous. So I have their ceiling a little lower than most, but I like their future, which matters too.
Minnesota is already screwed.
Fact: One of the reasons why I wait to do this is because injuries early in the season can change the shape of the season. As many guys as they have on this team, Ricki Rubio and Kevin Love are the two guys they cannot afford to lose to make the playoffs. And Rubio likely will not play this year and Love is out until late November. The interesting thing is it will give them time to play Derrick Williams in order to either build his confidence, or build his value for a trade. They have the right team for a trade to get a superstar and I am convinced that Josh Smith can still be had for the right package. As a team, though, it's weak in terms of guys you can go to war with, making this another playoff-less team.
Utah will build on their success from last year.
Fact-ish: I think they are too deep in the front court and not deep enough in the back court. In fact, here is my trade-that-makes-no-sense. I'd go after Brandon Jennings and trade Enes Kanter for him. Mo Williams and whoever else they have are nice stop gaps, but they need Favors and/or Kanter to play more or trade one of them. Al Jefferson is more tradable when he's in his contract year. Gordon Heyward and Jeremy Evans are pretty exciting as wing guys. They get an average PG for this team and they are a top 6 western conference team.
OKC is the team to beat.
Fact: L.A. is interesting (more on them later), but did you see Russell Wilson and Kevin Durant in the Olympics? They are going to be great, and Perry Jones III will have a nice rookie season. Eric Maynor will come back. Whew! I like what I am seeing out of Durant in terms of learning how to post and gaining about 10lbs. That's just enough to make him able to post, but still be able to play like a 7' guard. All they really need to do is settle the debate and say "this is Durant's team" and get out of his way.
Fact: Yeah. I'm not sure what to say. The entire offseason was changed by Shark Tank (I actually like the show). They went from Howard and Deron to...uhhh...Elton Brand and O.J. Mayo? That was worse than NYC during The Year of The Decision. Their success will hinge on Mayo, Daren Collison, and Dominique Jones as the young contingent. In fact, if I'm Dirk, I just take the year off and backpack or something. He gets tired anyway. I see this team falling back to Earth for one season.
Houston should just mail it in now.
Fact: Is it just me or can I only see 5 teams making an 8 team playoff? I have to really think about these teams to pick some playoff teams. If Dallas struck out swinging, Houston struck out looking, tripped on the way back to the dugout, and announced they are going on the 15 day DL. When Jeremy Lin is the elder statesman, you have a problem. This team has so much youth, I can't even figure out if this team is a rebuilding effort or a beautiful accident. Royce White will distract everyone with his paralyzing fear of flying (it's not funny so folks need to stop) and Jeremy Lamb is the guy to watch. No playoffs, but lots of Linsanity and Harden!
Memphis will be back.
Fact: I think so anyway. I think Mayo will miss Memphis. The concern I have as a Memphis fan (my #2 team behind Cleveland) is that Gay and Randolph appear to not be able to play with each other and they both are getting paid...a lot. This team will only thrive if they can figure this out. I like Gay as a player more than Randolph, but Randolph is more effective. Plus, this team is deep up front. They can afford to break up the front court if needed. A point of interest is Mike Conley Jr. I've always been high on him and he...eventually...proved me partially right. But he may have plateaud as a player. Not a lot of new blood on this team but if Wayne Ellington and Jerryd Bayless gives them anything, they will be fine as a playoff team.
San Antonio's days are done.
Fiction: I think this team can fall asleep and back into the playoffs. That's not the issue. I listened to Bill Simmon's podcast with Jalen Rose and Jalen said something that made sense for me. Tim Duncan needs a big partner He's never really had that like he was for David Robinson. He's 36 and ailing and can't do it forever. Pop is able to make anything you throw at him a competitive team, but until they get their next Duncan, they are screwed a little bit. Manu is older and slower and Parker's prime is about 2 more seasons and then he'll fall off the cliff. I really like Kawhi Leonard, but not like Boris Diaw, especially for a single Parker as they both troll for booty a lot.
New Orleans is looking at a brighter future.
Fact: Good coach? Check. Franchise-altering player? Check. Unloaded bad contracts? Check. Austin Rivers, Eric Gordon, and The Unibrow (coming off the Olympic invite) will be great for the team and the city. And forget about Eric's "don't match" stuff. He was upset at getting low-balled. He's paid now so he'll be fine. Ryan Anderson was a smart move and Al-Faurouq Aminu can play defense. I like where this team is going...but they'll suck this year!
Fiction:Chris Paul aka CP3, aka Man crush #2 (Grant Hill was the original man-crush) will be great as always. Blake Griffin will be better. They got an overweight Lamar Odom (apparently very depressed over the past year or so). They picked up a suspect Jamal Crawford. Something doesn't smell right with this team. I think when they put this team together, they assume Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, and 13 other stiffs can make a run. And they probably can...until LAL or OKC comes calling. This team would still get their butts kicked! They'll make the playoffs though.
LAL will be the best of the West.
Fiction: #2 is good, right? OK. The Dwight Howard thing in 1 sentence. It was a great trade for LA and Dwight, a dumb trade for everyone else, especially Orlando, it saved LA's season, and Kobe will be able to coast into retirement. Steve Nash will not be as effective with this team as everyone assumes, because it's not his team. He's unselfish, but it's a selfish guy's team. Ron Artest is in great shape, and Pau Gasol can stop getting yelled at by Kobe because Dwight's goofy ass will get yelled at. This team will be awesome, but I still think OKC will be better in the regular season. I reserved judgment for the playoffs.
Phoenix is a work in progress.
Fact: Sure it is. I'm not sure where this team is going. This is a team that is hoping that Houston's backup PG and waived PF can be their centerpieces. Seems strange to me. Michael Beasley is done. He has no other honed skills other than scoring and only does that when he's feeling ok. Not the professionalism you want. I do think Kendall Marshall will work, but I feel bad for another guy I was hgih on in college ala Jared Dudley. He really looked up to Nash and now he's gone. Hopefully he stays away from the sugar and stuff. Oh yeah, this team sucks.
Sacto will move south.
Fact: I mean this team is uninteresting so I figure I'd talk about their liberation. I don't understand why this team will go to Anaheim when it should go to Vegas. That's the only place that makes sense other than San Diego, which won't work because the winter is when the weather is the nicest! On to the team. I'm out on Tyreke Evans and DeMarcus Cousins. Both are talented. Both are temperamental. Both are a little too erratic. Jimmer Fredette has to break out since he lost his starting chance to a kid who was named after an NBA player because of his Dad's stupid bet. Thomas Robinson has his work cut out for him!