The 2014 NBA season is now less than one week away. Every NBA fan across America is counting down to opening night Tuesday night on TNT. This preseason has already changed the landscape of the West with the Kevin Durant injury. Although the biggest NBA off-season move happened in the East, the West had its fair share of free agent acquisitions as well. Some of the headliners are Vince Carter to Memphis, Chandler Parsons to Dallas, and Zoran Dragic joining his brother in Phoenix. Without wasting anymore time, my 2014 Western Conference predictions:
1: San Antonio
The Spurs are still the king of the West. With Duncan, Ginobli, and Parker still together, and the emergence of Kawhi Leonard as an outstanding perimeter defender and a solid scoring threat; the Spurs are still too much for the rest of the West. Oh, and don’t forget they still have the best coach in the NBA. NEVER pick against Pop!
2: L.A. Clippers
I originally had L.A. finishing third this year, but the Kevin Durant injury should be enough to push the Clips ahead of the Thunder in the standings. Doc Rivers proved last year that he can improve the Clippers. DeAndre Jordan had a huge year last year, and I think Doc Rivers had everything to do with that. Blake Griffin and Chris Paul are going to continue to step up this year and lead the Clips to another solid season. Look for J.J. Redick to have a monster year.
The Grizzlies quietly had a huge off-season. They re-signed Zach Randolph to a three year deal, and they stole Vince Carter away from the Mavs. The Grizz also had an outstanding draft where they picked up Jordan Adams and Jarnell Stokes. I originally had Memphis fourth and just ahead of Houston for the last home-court advantage spot, but the K.D. injury bumped them up to third. This could be the best year ever for Memphis. Marc Gasol and Mike Conley are the future for the Grizz, but this year and next year are probably the last two years for Memphis to be legitimate contenders with this team we have all become familiar with in the Bluff City.
The loss of Chandler Parsons hurts the Rockets but not as much as some people think. Houston still has James Harden and Dwight Howard. Houston will probably miss Parsons early on in the season, but Durant’s injury still puts them past OKC. It is important to note that if Kevin Durant can return earlier than expected, the Thunder will probably finish ahead of the Rockets, but if everything stays the way it looks now, Houston should have the last home-court spot for the playoffs.
5: Oklahoma City
The Durant injury really hurts OKC. The Thunder will still make the playoffs, but it probably costs them home-court advantage. A few weeks ago I had the Thunder finishing second just behind the Spurs. The only positive coming from this is Russell Westbrook can take all the shots he wants. For at least the first few weeks of the season nobody will be blasting Westbrook for not passing to Durant enough. Oklahoma City is good enough to survive and make the playoffs, but the season will obviously be much more difficult.
6: Golden State
Steve Kerr is a huge off-season get for the Warriors. The splash brothers are the best outside shooting threat duo in the league. Steph Curry and Klay Thompson are can light it up from three point land, and Draymond Green and Festus Ezeli have proven to be solid NBA big men. The biggest problem with Golden State is their lack of defense. The warriors can get into a shootout with anyone, but they fold in physical games when the can’t run and gun.
The casual NBA fan learned who Damien Lillard was last spring. He proved that he is clutch and a very valuable young point guard. Nick Batum and LaMarcus Aldrige had huge years last year as well. Portland over-preformed last year, but they are still a playoff team. Blazers fan have high hopes for this season and would be let down by finishing seventh, but seventh in the West is still great. Seventh in the West is probably good enough for second or third in the East.
Chandler Parsons was a big pickup for the Mavs. His ability to spread the floor is extremely valuable to any NBA team. Rick Carlisle is still a top 5 coach in the NBA, and they still have Dirk. Dirk, Parsons, and Carlisle will keep the Mavs a playoff team. They’re a playoff team this year at least, next year may be a different story.
This is a tough spot putting the Suns at nine again, but who are you going to put them ahead of? Are you really going to put the Suns ahead of Dirk? Phoenix is definitely a playoff caliber team, but I just can’t put them ahead of the Mavs right now. It would not be shocking at all for Phoenix to sneak in, but I just can’t pick them over Dallas right now.
10: New Orleans
The Pelicans have a very bright future ahead of them. Many people think New Orleans would have made the playoffs last year if the injury bug had not have killed them. Anthony Davis will be a superstar and nobody will want to play the Pelicans in a few years. I think the Pelicans are one year away from the playoffs, and when they make it they will stay a playoff contender for a long time. The biggest thing going against them this year is that they are in the toughest division in basketball.
The Nuggets messed up by firing George Karl and trading away Kosta Koufos. Brian Shaw is a good coach, but George Karl is probably a top 10 NBA coach. Denver is not a horrible team at all, but look at all of the teams ahead of them. The West is just brutal. Denver has a legitimate shot at the playoffs if they are an Eastern Conference team.
Trading away Kevin Love made this season a little rough, but they setting themselves up for a great future. All eyes are going to be on Andrew Wiggins this year. Hopefully Wiggins and Rubio will be a good fit and play together for a long time. Flip Saunders has proven himself in the past, and now he has the opportunity to develop a potential superstar. The results probably won’t be there this year, but there is plenty to be excited about in Minnesota.
The Kings are getting better. Boogie Cousins has emerged as a top big man in the NBA. Micheal Malone is proving that he knows how to coach a not-so-great roster. Rudy Gay is a good fit with Kings because he can shoot terrible shots and it not make a difference. Boogie Cousins is the future of Sacramento, and that future is still a few years away from being good.
14: L.A. Lakers
The Lakers are going to be terrible. They are going to be absolutely painful to watch this year. Kobe will be back, but that won’t help them too much. The additions of Ed Davis and Carlos Boozer show how truly committed they are to tanking. The only reason they are not last is because I just could not pick Kobe Bryant to finish last.
Gordon Hayward and Trey Burke are key to the Jazz’s future. Utah is not going to be great this year, but it will still be hard to go on the road and beat the Jazz. The fans are great, and they always support the Jazz no matter what.
It is important to note that Kevin Durant’s injury can change everything!