NBA team-by-team guide: Western Conference

Jay Asser 11:47 28/10/2015
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Another NBA season for the stars to shine, but who will be the brightest?

The Western Conference is once again so loaded that one of any number of teams could reach the NBA Finals, but the easiest answer remains the most obvious one.

The Golden State Warriors are the reigning champions for a reason after a historically dominant season culminated in the franchise’s first banner in 40 years.

DALLAS MAVERICKS

Head coach: Rick Carlisle

Star man: Dirk Nowitzki
Last season: 50-32, seventh in conference, lost in first round of playoffs
Key ins: Jeremy Evans, Wesley Matthews, Zaza Pachulia, Deron Williams, Justin Williams (rookie)
Key outs: Monta Ellis, Rajon Rondo, Tyson Chandler
Strengths: Offence should continue to space the floor and be proficient.
Weaknesses: Defence is leaky and they’re banking on good health for their key players.
Verdict: Won’t be bad enough to keep their draft pick (top-seven protected) or good enough to make playoffs.

HOUSTON ROCKETS

Head coach: Kevin McHale
Star man: James Harden
Last season: 56-26, won tiebreaker for second in conference, lost in conference finals
Key ins: Ty Lawson, Marcus Thornton, Sam Dekker (rookie), Montrezl Harrell (rookie)
Key outs: Josh Smith
Strengths: Have the most efficient shot selection in the league, relying on 3’s and free throws.
Weaknesses: Ceiling is tied to the health of Dwight Howard, who is only getting older.
Verdict: Are balanced and capable of beating anyone in the West, but will fall one playoff round shorter this year.

MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES

Head coach: Dave Joerger
Star man: Marc Gasol
Last season: 55-27, won tiebreaker for fifth in conference, lost in conference semi-finals
Key ins: Brandan Wright, Matt Barnes, Jarell Martin (rookie)
Key outs: Kosta Koufos
Strengths: A grind-out style of play that wears down opponents with non-stop defence.
Weaknesses: Still haven’t solved their lack of outside shooting to complement their post game.
Verdict: Are always competitive and tough to put away, but have obvious limitations that stunt their championship aspirations.

NEW ORLEANS PELICANS

Head coach: Alvin Gentry
Star man: Anthony Davis
Last season: 45-37, won tiebreaker for eighth in conference, lost in first round of playoffs
Key ins: Chris Douglas-Roberts, Kendrick Perkins, Quincy Pondexter, Nate Robinson
Key outs: Monty Williams (coach)
Strengths: Had one of the more efficient attacks despite stale play-calling.
Weaknesses: Couldn’t defend the rim last season and start the year severely banged up.
Verdict: The Brow can single-handedly bring this team to the playoffs but doesn’t have enough help to contend yet.

SAN ANTONIO SPURS

Head coach: Gregg Popovich
Star man: Kawhi Leonard
Last season: 55-27, lost tiebreaker for fifth place in conference, lost in first round of playoffs
Key ins: LaMarcus Aldridge, Rasual Butler, David West
Key outs: Tiago Splitter, Marco Bellineli, Aron Baynes, Cory Joseph
Strengths: The precise offence that functions like clockwork only got better with offseason acquisitions.
Weaknesses: Age is bound to catch up to them at some point.
Verdict: Slightest of margins will keep them from topping Golden State for West representation in the Finals.

DENVER NUGGETS

Head coach: Mike Malone
Star man: Danilo Gallinari
Last season: 30-52, 12th in conference
Key ins: Mike Miller, Emmanuel Mudiay (rookie)
Key outs: Ty Lawson
Strengths: Always have an advantage playing in the high altitude at home.
Weaknesses: Struggle to defend on the perimeter and give up plenty of points.
Verdict: A finish in the basement of the West is to be expected with this assortment of parts, which should be shipped out to contenders by the trade deadline.

MINEESOTA TIMBERWOLVES

Head coach: Sam Mitchell
Star man: Andrew Wiggins
Last season: 16-66, last in conference
Key ins: Tayshaun Prince, Andre Miller, Karl Anthony- Towns (rookie), Tyus Jones (rookie)
Key outs: Anthony Bennett, Chase Budinger
Strengths: Young and athletic core provides flashes of excitement.
Weaknesses: Youth also means inexperience and raw talent yet to be molded.
Verdict: They’re full of promise, but nowhere near ready to win consistently in the West.

OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER

Head coach: Billy Donovan
Star man: Kevin Durant
Last season: 45-37, lost tiebreaker for eighth place tie in conference
Key ins: Cameron Payne (rookie)
Key outs: Jeremy Lamb
Strengths: Have two of the top 10 players in the league, with both capable of exploding offensively on any given night.
Weaknesses: They have options at shooting guard, but no clear-cut answer.
Verdict: With Durant in the last year of his contract, they’re desperate for a title. If OKC stay healthy, they’ll be on the cusp of the Finals.

PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS

Head coach: Terry Stotts
Star man: Damian Lillard
Last season: 51-31. Won Northwest, fourth in conference, lost in first round of playoffs
Key ins: Mason Plumlee, Ed Davis, Al-Farouq Aminu, Gerald Henderson, Noah Vonleh
Key outs: LaMarcus Aldridge, Robin Lopez, Wes Matthews, Nic Batum
Strengths: Backcourt play-making.
Weaknesses: Replaced their wings with suspect shooters.
Verdict: After having the team gutted, expectations should be kept very low.

UTAH JAZZ

Head coach: Quin Snyder
Star man: Rudy Gobert
Last season: 38-44, 11th in conference
Key ins: Trey Lyles (rookie) Raul Neto (rookie)
Key outs: Dante Exum (out for the season to injury)
Strengths: Stingy defence, highlighted by supreme rim protection at the rim by Rudy Gobert.
Weaknesses: Frontline of Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert clogs the lane, shrinks the floor.
Verdict: Will continue to improve with a top defence and sneak into the playoffs.

GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS

Head coach: Steve Kerr
Star man: Stephen Curry
Last season: 67-15, first in conference, won NBA Finals
Key ins: Jason Thompson, Kevin Looney (rookie)
Key outs: David Lee
Strengths: Great on both ends of the floor, but their firepower in the backcourt is unmatched.
Weaknesses: Have very few flaws, but were fortunate to remain healthy all of last year.
Verdict: It’s extremely difficult to repeat in the NBA, but Golden State are the clear favourites and the ones to beat.

LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS

Head coach: Doc Rivers
Star man: Chris Paul
Last season: 56-26, lost tiebreaker for second in conference, lost in conference semi-finals
Key ins: Paul Pierce, Lance Stephenson, Josh Smith
Key outs: Matt Barnes, Spencer Hawes
Strengths: Boast an extremely efficient and multi-faceted offence.
Weaknesses: The bench has previously held them back and though it has improved, it still needs to be proven.
Verdict: It’s now or never for them to get past the second round of the playoffs. For whatever reason, they haven’t been able to clear the hump and that will continue.

LOS ANGELES LAKERS

Head coach: Byron Scott
Star man: Kobe Bryant
Last season: 21-61, 14th in conference
Key ins: Lou Williams, Roy Hibbert, Brandon Bass, D’Angelo Russell (rookie), Larry Nance Jr (rookie), Marcelo Huertas (rookie)
Key outs: Ed Davis, Jeremy Lin
Strengths: Perimeter scoring and playmaking.
Weaknesses: Frontline will struggle to stretch defences with only mid-range shooting.
Verdict: Kobe in the twilight of his career will be interesting to watch and their young backcourt is promising, but a return to playoffs isn’t coming anytime soon.

PHOENIX SUNS

Head coach: Jeff Hornacek
Star man: Eric Bledsoe
Last season: 39-43, 10th in conference
Key ins: Tyson Chandler, Mirza Teletovic, Sonny Weems, Devin Booker (rookie)
Key outs: Marcus Morris, Gerald Green
Strengths: Up-tempo, spread out attack spearheaded by their duo of combo guards.
Weaknesses: Need development from their wings and forwards.
Verdict: They missed out on big hitters in free agency, but still landed Tyson Chandler who can sure up the interior defence. Unless there’s more chemistry and cohesion, it’s hard to see them looking like the 48-win team of 2014.

SACRAMENTO KINGS

Head coach: George Karl
Star man: DeMarcus Cousins
Last season: 29-53, 13th in conference
Key ins: Rajon Rondo, Marco Belinelli, Kosta Koufos, Willie Cauley-Stein (rookie)
Key outs: Jason Thompson, Carl Landry, Derrick Williams, Nik Stauskas
Strengths: Have a bunch of individually talented players.
Weaknesses: Cohesion is missing for a team that has been thrown together.
Verdict: They’re hoping for a Rajon Rondo revival, but if the overall situation continues to go south, things within the organisation will get ugly.

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