The Northwest division is likely to see the most change from last season. Every other division got better, while the teams in this division either stayed the same or shed themselves of multiple key components, as the Utah Jazz did with Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap. Despite the falloff, this division is still likely to be led by Oklahoma City, who will be without point guard Russell Westbrook for the beginning of the season. The Nuggets had one of the more perplexing off-seasons. They rid themselves of the Coach of the Year, George Karl, the Executive of the Year, Masai Ujiri, and their best player, Andre Iguodala. Who knows what direction they are heading in? It will interesting to see how the bottom half of this division plays out, as it will likely impact the lottery draft picks.
Oklahoma City Thunder (Last Season 60-22):
The Oklahoma City Thunder were eliminated in the 2nd round by the Grizzlies. The scoring burden fell almost entirely on Kevin Durant, as Russell Westbrook suffered a torn Meniscus earlier in the playoffs. In that second round, it became apparent how much the Thunder miss the playmaking ability of James Harden. One of the key pieces of that trade, Kevin Martin, left to Minnesota as free agent, and general manager, Sam Presti, did nothing to fill void. Now, with Westbrook still expected to miss time, the Thunder will look internally to second-year player, Jeremy Lamb, to help Durant. While Lamb did have an encouraging Summer League, he struggled in the preseason. It is unfair to expect much of Lamb. The pressure will force players such as Serge Ibaka and Reggie Jackson to step up and aid Durant as they try to weather the early season roller coaster.
Key Additions: SF Ryan Gomes, C Steven Adams
Key Subtractions: SG Kevin Martin, SF Ronnie Brewer
Biggest Question: How long will Russell Westbrook be out?
Prediction: 3rd seed of 8 seeds in the Western Conference
Denver Nuggets (Last Season 57-25):
In one off-season, the Denver Nuggets dismantled their front office and let their best player walk to Golden State. George Karl won 57 games and Coach of the Year, yet upper management believed that was not enough to warrant a new contract. Instead, they went out and hired first-time Head Coach Brian Shaw. Shaw has held the position of “Associate Head Coach” with the Indiana Pacers for the last few years, and has been a disciple of Phil Jackson, an adamant supporter of the triangle offense. However, point guard Ty Lawson, the catalyst for Denver’s high octane offense, is still on the team. We will see if he can still get his teammates, such as Javale McGee, to run with him as he pushes the tempo. All in all, the moves Denver has made this off-season are perplexing at the very least, and the team should have a significant drop-off in relation to last season.
Key Additions: SG Randy Foye, PF J.J. Hickson, PG Nate Robinson, PF Darrell Arthur, Head Coach Brian Shaw
Key Subtractions: SF Andre Iguodala, SG Corey Brewer, C Kosta Koufos, Head Coach George Karl
Biggest Question: What will happen to Denver’s fast paced offense, now that Brian Shaw, a student of the triangle offense, is at the helm?
Prediction: 7th seed of 8 seeds in the Western Conference
Portland Trailblazers (Last Season 33-49):
Last season, Damian Lilliard took the NBA by storm as he won the Rookie of the Year award, and with that he paints a bright future for Portland. Lilliard and Lamarcus Aldridge give the Blazers a formidable duo, but the biggest problem last season for the Blazers was their lack of the depth. They actively filled those holes by acquiring Robin Lopez, Mo Williams, Dorell Wright, Thomas Robinson, and drafting Lehigh standout CJ McCollum. (McCollum will be out a significant period of time with a broken bone in his foot.) These moves were also moved in an attempt to placate Aldridge, as he has been growing more and more frustrated with the lack of postseason appearances. This season is a very important one for the Blazers. They may see their cornerstone, Aldridge, force his way out if progress is not made.
Key Additions: PF Robin Lopez, PG Mo Williams, SF Dorell Wright, PF Thomas Robinson, PG CJ McCollum
Key Subtractions: PF J.J. Hickson, PG Eric Maynor
Biggest Question: Will the off-season acquisitions be enough to keep Aldridge happy in Portland? Or will he soon be on the way out?
Prediction: 12th in the Western Conference
Minnesota Timberwolves (Last Season 31-51):
The Timberwolves are a very confusing team. They have had a decent lineup on paper the last several years, but they have never translated that lineup to success for various reasons. Last season, they had Andrei Kirilenko, Kevin Love, Ricky Rubio, and others, but injuries took their toll and it was another lost season for the franchise. Another problem is a lack of direction by upper management regarding the future of the team. For example, drafting two point guards, Johnny Flynn and Ricky Rubio, in the first six picks. This is where Flip Saunders comes in. Saunders, their former head coach, has joined the franchise as the president of basketball operations. He is looking to leave his mark and give the team stability. Saunders’ first task should be to surround Love with talent and convince him to stay after his contract runs out in 2 years. However, this season seems to be another developmental season for the Wolves as they try to establish a foundation to build on.
Key Additions: SG Kevin Martin, SF Corey Brewer, PF Ronny Turiaf, SF Shabazz Muhammad, C Gorgui Dieng
Key Subtractions: SF Andrei Kirilenko, PG Luke Ridnour, C Greg Stiemsma, SF Brandon Roy, PG Malcolm Lee
Prediction: 13th in the Western Conference
Utah Jazz (Last Season 43-39):
After the trade of superstar point guard, Deron Williams, it seemed that the Jazz were poised for an instant rebuild—they had young talent in Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors and the veteran leadership of Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson. However, that plan never came to fruition. Utah has spent the seasons since the trade as a borderline playoff team, just missing out in back to back seasons. Now management has decided to go into full rebuild mode. They let Millsap and Jefferson leave via free agency and absorbed overpaid players, Richard Jefferson and Andris Bierdrins, from the Warriors in exchange for multiple draft picks. This should allow the Jazz to focus on their youth; they have Kanter and Favors, along with first round pick Trey Burke, former first rounders Alec Burks, and Gordon Heyward. They will continue to add cheap pieces from the draft. This is nothing more than a rebuild season for the Jazz.
Key Additions: PG Trey Burke , PF Rudy Gobert, SF Brandon Rush, SF Richard Jefferson, PF Andris Biedrins
Key Subtractions: PF Al Jefferson, PF Paul Millsap, PG Mo Williams, SF Randy Foye
Prediction: 14th in the Western Conference
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