Who Sits Atop of the West?
*Photo via USA Today
The Even Wilder West…
Let that championship banner hang! Cherish the moment on opening night when you receive your championship rings but don’t let it blind you, mighty Warriors of Golden State. This year’s road to victory will be significantly more difficult as the wild Western Conference of the NBA will be even wilder this season.
In any sport, after you reach the mountaintop and experience the almighty feeling of triumph, you have a target on your head. No longer are the Warriors the bottom feeders of the West, they are now the champions of the entire NBA. In the past 33 years, only nine teams have won an NBA title. What’s dooming for the Warriors is that only four of those teams have been able to repeat.
Though the Warriors’ past season was one of the most statistically impressive in history, the insanely stacked West will be even more improved this year. In old western terms, one could say the Warriors have a bounty on their head, and a number of U.S. Marshals are seeking a major payday.
San Antonio Spurs
The Spurs will arguably be their toughest challenge. Although they lost in the first round of the playoffs, San Antonio managed to lure the biggest target in this summer’s free agency, LaMarcus Aldridge. Aldridge gives the Spurs a younger Tim Duncan while still retaining Tim Duncan. This duo can easily be the most formidable frontcourt in the NBA this coming season.
The Spurs also added David West (whom would be a starter on a number of other teams) for the veteran’s minimum. West will come off the bench along with the ancient Manu Ginobili (man, this is one deep squad). Not to slight, the Spurs also retained Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green. Watch out, Warriors.
Los Angeles Clippers
The team who beat the Spurs in a seven-game, first round match-up was the Clippers. This hard fought victory was in vain, as they lost the next series in seven games to the Houston Rockets after leading 3-1, one of the most monumental playoff collapses in recent memory.
Since then, Clippers fans have been on a rollercoaster ride that ended with a big exhale and elation rather than vomit. By retaining DeAndre Jordan, the Clippers remain a top team in the West. Yet, that single ‘move’ won’t get them over the hump and neither will their new, ugly uniforms.
To combat an improving Western Conference, the Clippers swiped Josh Smith from the Rockets, reunited Paul Pierce with Doc Rivers, retained key players such as Austin Rivers, and added much-needed depth with the likes of Lance Stephenson (via trade, an upgrade over Matt Barnes), Wesley Johnson, and Cole Aldrich.
Riding the strong shoulders of James Harden all the way to the Western Conference Finals, Houston seemed to be a few pieces away from putting together a contender.
While Houston lost a key piece to their deep playoff run in Josh Smith, they retained Patrick Beverly, Corey Brewer, and KJ McDaniels. They’ve also added Marcus Thornton to back up Harden and took a (semi) risk in attaining Ty Lawson. If all works out, the Rockets could be back in the same position next season, but only time will tell if these moves made Houston a legit title contender or not.
Oklahoma City Thunder
Remember when everyone was raving about the fantastic job Sam Presti was doing? Yeah, well when you have three top-5 draft picks in consecutive years you’re bound to put something decent together.
Now the Thunder are wondering what could’ve been if they kept James Harden. They inked a max deal with Enes Kanter who is a great low post scorer but an abysmal rim protector. The Thunder have been thinning their roster ever since their 2012 Finals appearance and the only thing keeping them in contention is Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.
And Finally, Your NBA Champion, Golden State Warriors
The Warriors have spent their offseason keeping their championship team together. They resigned Leandro Barbosa, Draymond Green, Brandon Rush, and Marreese Speights.
Also, in an expected move, the Warriors granted David Lee’s wish and traded him to the Boston Celtics for Gerald Wallace and Chris Babb. The Warriors are hopeful (and rightly so) that Wallace will bring yet another versatile presence to an essentially position-less team. He can come off the bench and play both forward spots and he’s still a capable defender.
The Warriors remain atop the West, not so comfortable in their throne. The Spurs are eyeing a title within the next two years (length of Tim Duncan’s contract) and beyond. The Clippers have added significant depth and are looking to be where critics said they should have been for the past two years. I believe the Thunder are a dying dream, only still alive because of their ridiculously talented duo but ultimately team basketball will win. The Rockets don’t quite have enough as these other teams, but are still capable of making noise. Fall can’t come soon enough.
Free agency information courtesy of NBA.com