Top 4 Teams in the West
By: Steve Rawnsley
With the rosters mostly set, now is a good time to start evaluating where each team can finish. First we will look at the Western Conference. This conference is easily better all around than the East. The western conference will be very wild this year. It looks like it be jam packed where you could climb or drop a few spots in a day, similar to the 2007-08 season where the 2-6 seeds were separated by one game. However, here are the teams that I think will be looking at home court advantage out west.
Oklahoma City Thunder
“You have to lose, to learn how to win.” This is the motto of the Oklahoma City Thunder. You do not get to the mountaintop without going through the pain of the climb. It was amazing how many times the Heat referenced losing to the Mavericks in the finals as something that had to happen for them to win last season. The Thunder are now in a similar position to where the Heat were last season. For the most part, this team has stayed the same. The one big plus is getting backup point guard Eric Maynor back healthy. Even with Derek Fisher, the Thunder had a whole at PG after Westbrook.
The one drawback for them is the contract situations of Serge Ibaka and James Harden. However, if they can find a suitor for Kendrick Perkins, they should be able to keep both Harden and Ibaka, and stay under the luxury tax, but that is a whole different topic, for a different time. They will grow from last year’s experience, and be better.
San Antonio Spurs
Just like the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Spurs have remained in tact. Tim Duncan has taken a significant pay cut, to help the Spurs cap situation. The downside of this team is the aging of their big three. However, how many years have we been talking about their age? On the flip side, outside of their big three, they are a young team. The growth process of the rest of the team has helped negate the aging big three’s decline.
The Spurs finished the year in historical fashion that had many, including me wondering if they could be beat. They finished winning 21 of their last 22 games where they did not rest their big three, and went 38-7 after the rodeo trip. A lot of that has to do with depth. In the playoffs though, depth is not all that important. The question remains can they win when all of the eyes are on them, in the playoffs?
In Hollywood fashion, the Lakers made maybe the biggest signing of the offseason. Steve Nash, is not the MVP of a few years ago, but he is probably still a top five point guard. We are focusing on the regular season here, and he will definitely help during the season, however, come playoff time, there comes problems.
Nash is bad defensively. He has never been known for his defense. Who are the Lakers biggest competitors in the west? Those teams are lead by quick speedy point guards, in Parker and Westbrook. (You can throw in Chris Paul as a third big threat.) Now, Kobe will probably be forced to guard them. For all of the energy Nash will save Kobe by being the primary ball handler, Kobe will use up that energy and more on defense. Can he guard the quick point guards at this stage of his career?
Back to the regular season though. This team has four hall of famers, if Bynum can keep his head on strait. Throw in the Antawn Jamison signing, and this team will be a very good team. The move to the Princeton offense, will definitely help Gasol out, as they will use his skills more like they did when they ran the triangle offense.
Okay, this is where it really gets interesting. The last home court advantage spot, could go to a number of teams, but we will go with the Clippers. Lamar Odom is back in LA. He was one of the best 6th men, if not the best when he was with the Lakers. Hopefully, from the Clippers point of view they get that Odom, and not the Odom, that played in Dallas. Also, they might get back a healthy Billups. He has vowed he will come back, and he will be with the Clippers, however, how much can he recover from the torn ACL at his age?
The bench could be very very good. Already mentioned that Odom could be the leader of the bench unit. He will be followed by the improving Eric Bledsoe, and newly acquired pieces Jamal Crawford, and Grant Hill. Eric Bledsoe needs more playing time, and therefore losing Mo Wiliams is not a big loss. However, the biggest key will be health, with Blake Griffin’s knee injury in pre-Olympic training, and Billups recovery from his torn ACL. If they can stay healthy, this team will be very dangerous. That is a big if though.