What to Make of the Wild West After Free Agency
What to Make of the Wild West After Free Agency
Three All-Stars from the East have flown across the coast to head out West. The Minnesota Timberwolves and the Oklahoma City Thunder acquired Jimmy Butler and Paul George via trade respectively. Paul Millsap was acquired by then Denver Nuggets on a three year $90 million deal. The only star to head the other way was Gordon Hayward, who signed with the Boston Celtics. Surely that will weaken a 51-win team in Utah. The Clippers lost Chris Paul to the Rockets. Houston could be even better, while the Clippers may still be all right. They are choosing to re-tool instead of rebuild.
There is now a serious imbalance between the two conferences. An eight seed out West could be a four seed in the East. It will be a blood bath during the regular season and the playoffs. The West now is insanely deep. There are only four teams I would be surprised to make the playoffs. Phoenix, Sacramento, Dallas and the Lakers. Everyone else has a chance. In the East there are six teams in the Magic, Hawks, Pacers, Bulls, Nets, and Knicks. While the Warriors remain the prohibitive favorite in the West, they surely won’t go 12-0 in the Western Conference Playoffs again. If they do it will be incredibly impressive. Golden State has created an arms race; teams are gunning for the Warriors. While there are still some small moves to be made, this is how the West may play out.
1.Golden State Warriors:
The Warriors remain on top of the West and the league. They resigned key free agents in André Iguodala and Shaun Livingston. Kevin Durant took a $9 million dollar pay cut to make this possible. They also signed Nick Young, for more depth. Young will likely be a champion next year, what a world we live in. The only cost of this summer may be JaVale McGee. McGee may still resign, even though he is disgruntled. Zaza has returned on a friendly one-year deal. That shouldn’t be a problem. There is no reason to think this isn’t the best team in the league, still. A lot of their competition got better, but no one is on their level yet.
2.San Antonio Spurs:
San Antonio made some interesting moves this offseason. They signed Rudy Gay to a two-year deal with a player option. Gay is coming off a serious achilles injury, but he can help them play more small ball lineups to play with the Warriors. Remember this is a team that won 61 games and was up 23 points in-game 1 against Golden State. The bad part is they lost Jonathan Simmons to Orlando. They will miss him and his versatile defense. The good news is they kept Patty Mills. This is still a deep and very well coached team. You know they will defend at a high level. Kawhi Leonard could be the MVP this year.
3. Houston Rockets:
People think I should have them higher with the addition of Chris Paul. I love the move. I think him and Harden will make it work, but it will take time. In getting Paul they lost a lot of depth, and Ryan Anderson is still a defensive weakness at power forward. They win around 55 games again this year. Paul’s biggest addition will be in the playoffs. Houston desperately needed a secondary playmaker in the playoffs last year. Paul gives them that. He should improve their defense and make their offense less predictable and harder to defend. Houston also acquired P.J Tucker, Luc Richard Mbah Moute and Tarik Black. This should help their depth and make them more versatile and tough on defense. If they are able to flip Ryan Anderson for Melo, watch out!
4. Oklahoma City Thunder:
Sam Presti pulled the biggest rabbit out of the hat by trading for Paul George. It’s a risk as he may leave next year, but to me it’s worth the risk. Russell Westbrook might have left next year, too. Now you show him you’re serious about winning and that should increase the chances of him staying. The best part is you only gave up Sabonis and Oladipo to get him. That’s like trading an apple for Oreos in the cafeteria. On the court George is a great fit with Westbrook. PG can carry the offense when the Russ rests, and is a great catch and shoot player. OKC singed another great asset, Patrick Patterson. A great role player who makes them more versatile. OKC also signed Raymond Felton on a one-year deal to play back up point guard. Felton is a huge upgrade there. This will be a really good defensive team.
5. Minnesota Timberwolves:
This team has not made the playoffs for the last 13 years! 13! That should change this season. They got Jimmy Butler via trade, and gave up nothing. Kris Dunn, Zach Lavine and a swap of first round picks. Butler gives them the two-way star they need. Him being reunited with Tom Thibodeau will be great. Speaking of reunions, they also signed Taj Gibson. Gibson should also help improve a defense that was horrible last year. They traded Rubio to Utah, but got Jeff Tegue to fill his role in free agency. Teague has his limitations, but he’s solid. This team still needs shooting, but they will be really good on defense. Karl Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins, Jimmy Butler should be able to carry the offensive enough to make this work.
6. Denver Nuggets:
Denver has not been in the playoff picture for a while either. That should change this year. Millsap was exactly the kind of player they needed. He will fit perfectly next to Nikola Jokic. Mainly he will improve a defense that was awful last year. They did however lose Danillo Gallinari to the Clippers in a trade. Look for them to continue to be active, as they will try to trade Kenneth Faried. As for now this will be a great offensive team and an average defensive team. That should be good for sixth in the West. Jokic, Hernagomez, Millsap and Plumlee form one of the best big men rotations in the league.
7. Portland Trailblazers:
This team came on strong down the stretch last year. After addeing Jusuf Nurkic they went 14-5. Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum still form one of the best backcourts in the league. First round draft pick Zach Collins will give them depth up front. They have been quiet in free agency and I don’t think they will make any big moves going forward. This will still be an explosive team and with Nurkic they are formidable.
8. New Orleans Pelicans:
The poor Pelicans. They have two of the best big men in the league and they will likely be the eight seed. Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins didn’t do that well together last year. With a full training camp they should be better. Luckily the Pelicans re-signed point guard Jrue Holiday. Without him it would have been a disaster. However they still have very little depth, and are weak on the wing. The lack of shooting around Davis and Cousins is a concern. Recently they acquired Rajon Rondo on a one-year deal to back up Holiday. Rondo played well with Cousins in Sacramento. They should be a good defensive team. Davis and Cousins are good enough to carry this team to a playoff berth.
9. Los Angeles Clippers!
On one hand the Clippers are devastated they lost Chris Paul. One the other hand, they have to be happy that they got a l ot in return for him. Now they will re-tool instead of rebuild. They also just acquired Danillo Gallinari from the Nuggets. A starting five of Patrick Beverley, Austin Rivers, Gallo, Blake Griffin and Deandre Jordan is good enough to fight for a playoff spot. Here’s the problem, Blake may not be ready until December. With the West being this tough, missing that much time may prove to be costly. Also when he gets back, Gallo will have to play the three instead of the four. At this point in his career he should be playing the 4. The Clippers also signed euro league sensation Milos Teodosic to a two-year deal. His passing is elite and should be a good back up to Beverley, and they can play together a lot as well. Just today they also signed Willie Reed to a one-year deal. A great under the radar move to give them more depth.
10. Utah Jazz:
Poor Utah! They did everything right and they lost their star player. They also lost George Hill to the Kings. However, they should still be a respectable team next year. A starting five of Rubio, Rodney Hood, Joe Ingles, Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert is solid. I am particularly excited to see the Rubio/Gobert pick and roll tandem. They still have a great coach in Quinn Snyder. I would not be shocked if this team made the playoffs. Rodney Hood’s health is the biggest question mark.
11. Memphis Grizzlies:
The Grit and Grind era looks to be coming to an end in Memphis. Zach Randolph has already signed with the Kings. Tony Allen looks to be on the way out as well. There are even rumors Memphis may blow it up and trade Marc Gasol. Memphis had no money to be active in free agency and no first round draft picks either. Meaning they had no way to get better and were stuck in seventh seed land. They should take a step back this year, and if they trade Gasol, a huge step back. Hopefully at least Chandler Parsons can come back healthy and useful. RIP to the girt and grind Grizzlies!
12. Dallas Mavericks:
We know Rick Carisle will get the most out of whomever he coaches. I love their first round draft pick in Dennis Smith Jr. He has a real shot to win rookie of the year. A starting five of Smith, Wesley Matthews, Harrison Barnes, Dirk Nowitzki and Nerlens Noel (if he re-signs) is solid. They still lack depth and fire power. They will play hard every night and that should get them a few extra wins. A long shot to make the playoffs. The West is simply too loaded.
13. Los Angeles Lakers:
Lonzo Ball! and hopefully not LaVar Ball should make the Lakers an exciting team. Trading for Brook Lopez should help them up front. Lopez, Ball, Julius Randle and Brandom Ingram should be a decent core. Although Ingram has a lot of work to do after a horrible rookie season. Also they need more depth. Signing Kentavious Caldwell Pope to a one-year deal was a great singing. He solidifies the two spot. They still have more questions than answers and are young. They will be fun and exciting though. Lopez’s health is huge for this team. Sorry LaVar, but this team is not going to be in the playoffs.
14. Phoenix Suns:
The Suns were in lots of free agency rumors. They were looking for a big fish. It didn’t pan out. It may be better for them. They need to keep developing their young players. First round draft pick Josh Jackson should fit in well with their core. They still be looking to make moves. I know they would like to trade Tyson Chandler and Brandon Knight. That will be tough. They may still try to trade Eric Bledsoe as well. Either way they are a long way from contending. Hopefully their young players especially Devin Booker continue to take steps forward.
15: Sacramento Kings.
The Kings signed George Hill and Zach Randolph so far in free agency. I get the Hill deal a bit, they need a veteran point guard to mentor first round draft pick De’Aaron Fox. The contract is not that bad. Randolph’s is and it’s unnecessary. They should be using that playing time for Willey Cauley Stein, Harry Giles and Skal Labissiere. The Kings will be awful next year. They are young, lack depth and have a huge hole at small forward. Hill and Randolph may help them win an extra few games, but they will still be very bad. At least they can mentor the young kids. Like the Suns you hope their young kids take a few steps forward.
The West is loaded and very deep. There will be some snubs on the all-star team this year. While the conference may be tougher and deeper, the result should still be the same. Golden State is still the best team and likely to win the championship again. The playoffs won’t be a breeze this year though for them. Expect great series next year in the playoffs. If it plays out like I think, we could have Anthony Davis and Cousins vs the Warriors, Kawhi vs Lillard, Harden vs the Joker and Westbrook vs Jimmy Butler all in the first round. I can’t wait. When does the season start again?