Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Sizing Up The West

With the recent news of the Houston Rockets obtaining Ron Artest via trade, I couldn't resist but think of how incredibly tough the Western Conference continues to become. The arms race presses forward with each team still trying to "best" the other. Will the Jazz be able to keep up?

As I begin to size up the Western Conference (mid-summer), this is how I see the teams playing out this coming year:

1. Los Angeles Lakers

Until otherwise beaten, the Western Conference champs remain the champs. The Lakeshow will return every noteworthy player back from last years squad (except for the Rockstar energy of Ronny Turiaf). In addition, the Lakers get back young center Andrew Bynum, who was looking like a legit, daunting force in the paint last season until he got hurt. Who knows how good Bynum will become? In essence, with the addition of Bynum to the frontline of Odom and Gasol, and Kobe playing out on the wing, there's no question that these guys are the team to beat.

2. Houston Rockets

I hate to admit it, but if this team is fully healthy...look-out! Artest gives the Rockets a comparable big three to that of Boston. McGrady, Yao and Artest, all of the sudden become a scary contender. The Rockets also boast an impressive supporting cast with Battier, Scola, Alston, Landry and new acquisition Brent Barry. In the 2007 and 2008 playoffs, the Rockets took us to 7 and 6 games respectively. With a healthy team and the addition of Artest, the Rockets overcome our dominance over their playoff suckitude.

3. New Orleans Hornets

I believe Chris Paul is honestly good enough to get this team even further. With some established continuity and improvement from the other players, the Hornets could be just as good or better than last season. James Posey will help provide some additional shooting, defense and experience to an otherwise in-experienced team.

4. San Antonio Spurs

The Spurs have remained essentially the same this summer. Only, they're getting another year older. Gone so far are Barry, Finley and Horry. There's still time to advance their cause with additional FA signings, but many of the preferred free agents are falling to other teams. Duncan, Ginobili and Parker will keep the Spurs playing at a high level. But, they need to infuse the team with younger talent. We'll have to wait and see what else transpires this summer.

5. Utah Jazz

Perhaps I need to be more optimistic regarding the Jazz? For two years straight, we've finished in 5th place for playoff seedings. The West coninues to get better while we stay the status quo. I like our talent, especially with Deron Williams being a legit superstar, but something needs to happen for us to improve upon last year's performance. Boozer and Kirilenko, in particular, need to step-up bigtime or else we need to make an earth-shattering, groundbreaking trade.

6. Phoenix Suns

The Suns could actually finish better than 6th next year. With Shaq, he'll only become better acquinted with his teammates. Amare Stoudamire is turning into an amazing frontcourt star... legit powerhouse. And because of it, Shaq doesn't have to carry his team anymore (nor is he able). He and Nash may be getting older, but there's still enough impressive talent on this team to make one last run.

7. Portland Trailblazers

Here's the surprise team! I believe the Blazers have the makings to become a monster. Roy and Aldridge are already playing at a high level. Oden, although young and a rookie, will provide them some defense, at the very least. And the rest of the team is extremely talented...Webster, Outlaw, Frye, Bayless and Fernandez. This will be a playoff team.

8. Dallas Mavericks

I'm not sold on the Mavs. I think they have enough experience to make the playoffs, but I believe they're definitely on the downward slope of their run. Dirk can play at a high level still and Josh Howard is pretty good, but can Jason Kidd lead the team every night? He's starting to get older himself. They'll battle for the last spot in the playoffs with the Nuggets.

9. Denver Nuggets - Traded Camby away for nothing! Don't play defense.

10. LA Clippers - Baron Davis isn't enough to get them there, even with a team-overhaul

11. Golden State Warriors - Too young and inexperienced.

12. Sacramento Kings - Starting over with a new cast of characters. It's Kevin Martin's team.

13. Minnesota Timberwolves - Will be slightly improved with Kevin Love and Mike Miller.

14. OKC - Long ways to go!

15. Memphis Grizzlies - Yuck! These guys will be downright awful.

How do you size up the West? Go Jazz!


Orlando said...

Great post. I basically agree with everything.

To me, there are two big wildcards in the west: Phoenix and Houston. (I think Portland is two years away from competing, although I agree that they make the playoffs this year).

Phoenix is a weird team, but they have two legitimate bigmen, something only the Lakers can claim. The Suns are going to play a different brand of basketball next year, no more small ball, three-point fests. It will be a slower, big-man oriented affair. It probably won't work, but if it does, they could be a legit team.

I'm still not sold on the Rockets. i love Artest, but the Rockets need him to come in and gel quickly with two other superstars, one of which I suspect is on the downside of his career. Ron might make them a title team, but it could just as easily blow up. I feel more comfortable picking the Spurs than the Rockets.

The Golden Griff said...

Talent-wise, I think the Rockets are definitely #2, and maybe even #1 in the West. However, given Artest's track record of destroying every team he has played on, I am real skeptical about their chances to be a legitimate contender.

Pasty Gangsta said...

The problem with the Rockets is the following: McGrady is soft, Yao is injury-prone, and Artest is crazy. So on paper, yes, they have talent, but in reality at least one those three is likely going to be choking/in a cast/at a strip club with a gun come playoff time.

I am not at all worried about Portland this year. Talent, yes. Experience or ability to win tough, close games in the playoffs, no.

As usual though, the West is stacked. The Lakers are going to be VERY good and any other number of teams -- including our Jazz, thankfully -- could be right there with them if they stay healthy and produce.

Tucker McCann said...

McGrady will not get out of the first round again, I guarantee it!

JC said...

There has been a knee-jerk reaction to Artest since the MOMENT it was announced. A large majority of people claimed it made the Rockets a title contender. Let's not get ahead of ourselves, as we've seen from the Spurs and Pistons (several times each) there is something to be said for savvy playoff experience. And, as we all know, the Rockets have little of that. Artest makes them a little better, but they won't win 22-straight again; so, IMO, it's a wash, no better than 4th or 5th next season.