Despite the Denver Nuggets adding Al Harrington and Shelden Williams, they somehow have fallen behind Dallas, Oklahoma City, San Antonio and Utah in the West, at least according to many of the so-called experts, who once again see the Nuggets as an afterthought to compete with the Los Angeles Lakers.
Dallas has swapped Erick Dampier for Tyson Chandler, Utah has replaced Carlos Boozer with Al Jefferson and Oklahoma City has added Cole Aldrich and San Antonio has brought over Tiago Splitter. However, it is hard to see many of these moves providing much separation from the Nuggets this offseason.
- LOS ANGELES LAKERS – LAST SEASON: 57-25 (16-7 postseason). KEY ADDITIONS: Steve Blake, Derrick Caracter, Devin Ebanks. SUMMARY: The Lakers lost eight more games last season, and came dangerously close to losing to the Boston Celtics in the NBA Finals. While Ron Artest’s heroics in Game 7 are remembered, he was a bad fit for the Lakers and had a pretty poor performance in the playoff (Game 2, 3 and 5 of the NBA Finals). Andrew Bynum is still recovering from an injury and outside of Odom and newly acquired Steve Blake the Lakers have/had a pretty weak bench. Blake should fit in nicely for the Lakers and if Caracter continues to impress Los Angeles’s bench should at least improve from last season’s squad which included DJ Mbenga and Josh Powell. However, with Kobe Bryant battling more wears and tears each year the Lakers could continue to decline, but with a better bench (Blake and Caracter), the Lakers again are still above the rest.
- DALLAS MAVERICKS - LAST SEASON: 55-27 (2-4 in postseason). Key Additions: Tyson Chandler, Ian Mahinmi and Alexis Ajinca. SUMMARY: Dallas made the smart move of replacing Dampier with the 27-year-old Chandler, they also added the 23-year-old Mahinmi and Ajinca, who is 22. But none of these moves push the Mavs into competition with the Lakers. Chandler has missed 68 games over the previous two seasons, and the Mavericks gave Brendan Haywood a $55 million contract that would pay him until he is 37. Chandler’s best season was in 2007-08 when he averaged a double-double – 11.8 points, 11.8 rebounds and Haywood’s career-high in points was 10.6. Not exactly in line with Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum. It doesn’t help that Dallas’s core group is a year older (Haywood, 31; Kidd, 37; Marion, 32; Nowitzki, 32; Terry, 33). Mavericks will doubtfully match last season’s win total, especially with an aging unit. But if Chandler can stay healthy and Mahinmi can show some potential, they should once again be in the upper end of the West.
- PHOENIX SUNS – LAST SEASON: 54-28 (10-6 postseason). KEY ADDITIONS: Hakim Warrick, Josh Childress, Hedo Turkoglu. SUMMARY: With Amar’e Stoudemire jumping ship and going to New York, Phoenix may look like an easy team to overtake, but one of the reasons why the Suns were so successful last season was because of their bench, which featured Goran Dragic, Channing Frye, Louis Amundson, Leandro Barbosa and Jared Dudley. Dudley, Dragic and Frye return, and will be joined by Childress and second-year player Earl Clark as Phoenix’s second unit should once again be dangerous. The Suns wins will probably decline as Phoenix deals with not having a threat like Stoudemire in the lineup and the team will likely battle with inconsistencies (Frye and Clark), but the doesn’t mean the Suns aren’t a playoff team and shouldn’t be competitive.
- DENVER NUGGETS – LAST SEASON: 53-29 (2-4 postseason). KEY ADDITIONS: Harrington, Williams. SUMMARY:Denver’s team was hit hard last season when George Karl had another bout with cancer and if he is healthy enough to return to the bench the Nuggets could be back fighting in the Western Conference Finals. Another problem with the squad last season was its lack of depth as it was gutted by injuries. The additions of Harrington and Williams should help upgrade this area, both are better than the likes of Petro and Malik Allen. Both should help the squad as it deals with injuries to Kenyon Martin and Chris Andersen to start the season. Renaldo Balkman may be healthy enough to see playing time – that is if Karl is willing to trust Balkman’s services. Harrington gives Denver another consistent scorer, which it was missing last season and if K-Mart (if he isn’t traded) can be healthy before January, the Nuggets should at least match last season’s wins or surpass it.
- UTAH JAZZ – LAST SEASON: 53-29 (4-6 postseason). KEY ADDITIONS: Jefferson, Gordon Hayward, Raja Bell. SUMMARY: The Jazz replaced Boozer with a bigger, more skilled, younger and more motivated Jefferson. They replaced Korver with a less experienced and not as good of a shooter in Hayward and they replaced Wesley Matthews, who was overpaid by the Blazers, with a veteran version in Bell. While most of these moves are sideways, it is hard to see the Jazz losing a step this next season.
- PORTLAND BLAZERS – LAST SEASON: 50-32 (2-4 postseason). KEY ADDITIONS: Matthews, Luke Babbitt and Elliott Williams. SUMMARY: The Blazers were beat up by injuries last season (Brandon Roy missed 17 games; Greg Oden, 61; Nicholas Batum, 45; Rudy Fernandez, 20 and Joel Pryzbilla, 52). Portland shouldn’t get hit by another rash of injuries again this season, but the Blazers are ready. They have one of the deeper squads in the NBA, but not as talented as many of the playoff teams in the West. Brandon Roy, LaMarcus Aldridge, Marcus Camby and Andre Miller give the Blazers a good lineup, but not a great one.
- SAN ANTONIO SPURS – LAST SEASON: 50-32 (4-6 postseason). KEY ADDITIONS: Tiago Splitter, James Anderson. SUMMARY: Once again it looks like the Spurs had another impressive offseason, bringing over Splitter to beef up their frontline next to the always solid Tim Duncan. Richard Jefferson resigned and Anderson will split time with Manu Ginobili. Unlike teams like the Lakers and Mavericks, whose core is aging, the Spurs keep adding younger pieces (Splitter, George Hill, DeJuan Blair and Anderson). The Spurs always seem to make moves that make sense and Splitter could have the same impact that Ginobili had years before – especially on the defensive side of the ball.
- OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER – LAST SEASON: 50-32 (2-4 postseason). KEY ADDITIONS: Cole Aldrich, Morris Peterson. SUMMARY: The Thunder have become everybody’s favorite team in the West, partially because of how tough they played the Lakers last season. And since they are also a young squad, Oklahoma City is the team that many have predicted to win the Northwest. However, the Thunder are still lacking a low-post threat and for all the good that Russell Westbrook brings to the floor, he still isn’t a true point guard and an inconsistent shooter. He is great in the open court, but lacks the skills in a half-court offense and thinks more to drive than shoot. Jeff Green also isn’t an ideal power forward and struggles to guard larger big man. While Aldrich helps, there are still questions that he isn’t athletic enough for the NBA. When all is said and done, the Thunder do have Kevin Durant and should still be better than last season’s squad.
- HOUSTON ROCKETS, LAST SEASON: 42-40 (missed the playoffs. KEY ADDITIONS: Patrick Patterson, Brad Miller. SUMMARY: With Yao Ming missing most of last season the Rockets missed the postseason. But with Yao expected to at least be healthy enough to play the Rockets have the pieces to make an impact. Luis Scola resigned after having a career season. The Rockets also added depth in case Yao goes down again, bringing in Miller and Patterson. They also have the services of the always explosive Kevin Martin and second-year big man Jordan Hill for the entire season and they hope that Trevor Ariza can jell better after two seasons with the team.
(Photos by Jonathan Maness)
Topics: Al Harrington, Al Jefferson, Amare Stoudemire, Carmelo Anthony, Chauncey Billups, Dallas Mavericks, Denver Nuggets, Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers, Nene Hilario, Oklahoma City Thunder, Phoenix Suns, Portland Trailblazers, San Antonio Spurs, Tyson Chandler, Utah Jazz