NBA: Western Conference Noise

First and foremost, King James reaching the NBA Finals for 7 straight years has made everyone flee to the Western Conference. The East has surrendered as a whole.

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Houston Rockets

The Houston Rockets got charged up after trading for elite point guard Chris Paul. James Harden is no stranger to playing with all-stars, which is more of a reference to his days in Oklahoma City, as opposed to Dwight Howard’s pit stop in H-town.

With that said, CP3 is no stranger to playing with all-stars, either. A lot of people believe that he turned David West into an all-star during their days with the Hornets. And, most recently, he created Lob City when he was traded to the Clippers to play with Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan.

Is this going to work? Paul and Harden, two ball-dominant players. Just keep in mind that both are elite. Having two distributors, guys that create their own shot, takes a load off of one player having to be miraculous in every game to come out on top. It’ll allow them to play off the ball for some 1 on 1 looks, where the help defense isn’t entirely keyed in on them at the top of the key. They’ll get some off-ball cuts, screens and mismatches on the wing. And, they do have the reigning Coach of the Year.

The addition of P.J. Tucker gives them another defender down the road, competing at the highest level in the West. Tucker provides a second athletic body to guard multiple positions, along with Trevor Ariza. Although, Ariza is in the final year of his deal so the Rockets have covered themselves at this position in that regard. As of right now, that’s two guys to throw at Kevin Durant in a 7-game series, while Paul and Harden match up against the Splash Brothers.

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Los Angeles Clippers

Apparently, CP3 was leaving Los Angeles no matter what, which is why I like what the Clippers were able to get for someone they had no say in leaving or staying: Patrick Beverley, Lou Williams, Darrun Hilliard, DeAndre Liggins, Montrezl Harrell, Sam Dekker, Ryan Kelley, Kyle Wiltjer, Tim Quarterman and a 2018 first-round draft pick.

Lou Will is a former Sixth Man of the Year. Beverly was just named to the All-NBA First Defensive Team. Dekker is a young stretch-4. Before Liggins got let go by the Cavaliers last season, he did have 19 starts during an injury period. Some of the other guys have non-guaranteed contracts, hence, more cap space. But they did acquire some pieces that will get minutes in the rotation.

The Clippers’ current roster looks like this, before shedding some salary:

PG: Austin Rivers, Raymond Felton, Jawun Evans

SG: Patrick Beverly, Jamaal Crawford, Lou Williams, Sindarius Thornwell, DeAndre Liggins, Darrun Hilliard, Tim Quarterman

SF: Luc Mbah a Moute, Wes Johnson, Alan Anderson

PF: Blake Griffin, Brandon Bass, Sam Dekker, Montrezyl Harrell, Brice Johnson, Ryan Kelley

C: DeAndre Jordan, Mo Speights, Diamond Stone, Kyle Wiltjer

Honestly, I see a lot of signs from Rivers that shows he’s a NBA rotational player. If he winds up starting, the opportunity could put him in the Most Improved Player of the Year conversation, if he takes advantage of it. Felton is a good backup guard. Beverly will draw the assignment of defending the best guards. Crawford and Williams are both Sixth Man award winners with firepower. Evans and Thornwell are the rookies in the back-court. By the way, Thornwell turned me into a fan during the NCAA Tournament.

Mbah a Moute is a solid veteran, probably better suited coming off the bench. He’s more of a defensive body than anything. Johnson is athletic and another guy that is better suited to sub in. Anderson is a veteran that once averaged 10 points in 20 minutes per game. Bass and Speights are backup bigs that you can call upon to contribute some points. Dekker is can stretch the floor. Harrell is a defensive player.

The Clippers’ offseason revolved around retaining Griffin and they were able to do that. We better see the Clippers running their offense primarily through Griffin as a playmaker from the high post. I see a little Karl Malone in him and some LeBron James to a lesser degree. He should be back in the MVP conversation.

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OKC Thunder

Russell Westbrook will have this team in the playoff picture alone, but it’s obvious that help was needed and it’s on the way. Paul George, come on down. If only for one season, the Thunder to perennial contenders again. There’s more to the offense than just Mr. Triple-Double again, even though it was only for one season between Kevin Durant and trading for PG-13.

It is well worth the risk for OKC. PG-13 will look like a man with a plan if he leaves for Los Angeles and the Thunder will come out looking good because of all that cap space. Or, they could make a run to the Western Conference Finals and George could reconsider. Win-win.

Trading Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis is a very fair trade for both parties. Oladipo goes back to his home state and the Pacers get a talented but raw big to play next to Myles Turner.

Another name linked to the Thunder is Rudy Gay, a talented win that can start or play in a Sixth Man role. Gay can get you 20 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists and shoots 85% from the stripe. Although good, he is coming back from an achilles injury entering his age 31 season. I would consider him a good acquisition for any team. Adding Griffin and Gay could be enough for them to compete for 2nd in the West. However, the lack of 3-point shooting will be their demise again. Unless, Doug McDermott steps up.

Starters: Russell Westbrook, Andre Roberson, Paul George and Steven Adams. The 5th spot, depending on if they go big or small, would be Kanter

Bench: Enes Kanter, Doug McDermott, Kyle Singler, Jerami Grant, Alex Abrines, Terrance Ferguson and Nick Collison.

That’s a strong 13-man group right there. At the moment they have 10 of them.

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Minnesota Timberwolves

The core is in tact: Andrew Wiggins, Karl-Anthony Towns and Gorgui Dieng.

More talent was added: Jimmy Butler, Jeff Teague and Taj Gibson.

They still have project players to development: Nemanja Bjelica, Tyus Jones and rookie Justin Patton.

Former Coach of the Year Tom Thibodeau spent a year getting to know the young stars in Towns, Wiggins and Dieng. Wiggins went on a long streak for consecutive 20 point games. KAT feels snubbed for not making an All-NBA Team and he should. Thibs used his voice and landed a pair of his former players from Chicago, Butler and Gibson. He likes Dieng a lot and the T’Wolves refused to include Bjelica in trade talks. Teague is a battle-tested point guard that has yet to miss the postseason as he enters his 9th season.

Rather than predict what team will fall out of the playoff picture, take your pick, I’m just going to flat-out tell you that one of my favorite teams since drafting Towns and signing Thibs is a lock to make the postseason. The trio of Teague, Butler and Wiggins sounds like I’m playing NBA 2K, let alone having KAT wreck the league. The real big three here is Butler, Wiggins and KAT. Snagging Gibson from the rival Thunder certainly helps, another veteran that contributes on both ends and knows how to play for the coach and with the best player. That being Butler, who gets a boost as a MVP candidate on a better team.

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Denver Nuggets

I also like how this rebuild is going. Nikola Jokic is one of my favorite players and Paul Millsap just joined the Nuggets. As is, this is the deepest front-court in the league with Kenneth Faried, Wilson Chandler, Trey Lyles and Darrell Arthur coming off the pine.

Along the perimeter are Jamaal Murray, Gary Harris and Juan Hernangomez. Hernangomez will play for Spain this summer and the team is strongly supporting the extra playing time. Also in the rotation are Emmanuel Mudiay and Will Barton. The veterans of the group are Jameer Nelson and Mike Miller. Malik Beasley is the developmental project that could make Mudiay or Nelson expendable as a backup.

Danilo Gallinari is expected to leave town as a free agent. That would result in a committee effort between Hernangomez, Chandler, and Lyles, who is someone they like a lot as a stretch-4. This team missed playoff contention by one game last season, where Portland snagged the final spot, and they finished 3 games behind the 7th-seeded Grizzlies. Millsap is a high-level player on both ends of the floor that averaged 18 points and 7 boards last season.

Initially, I would expect the Nuggets and T’Wolves to replace the Jazz and Trail Blazers in the postseason bracket.

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Sacramento Kings

Not everyone can sign Kevin Durant or trade for Chris Paul. Whether you realize it or not, Sacramento is making offseason noise. The Kings have moved on from several veterans in recent memory: DeMarcus Cousins, Rudy Gay, Tyreke Evans, Caron Butler, Rajon Rondo, Darren Collison and Ty Lawson. This team is extremely young but their rebuild looks solid on paper.

PG: De’Aaron Fox, Frank Mason

SG: Buddy Hield, Malachi Richardson, Garrettt Temple

SF: Justin Jackson, Bogdan Bogdanovic

PF: Skal Labissiere, Kosta Koufos, Harry Giles

C: Willey Cauley-Stein, Georgios Papagiannis

The Kings will roll with their four lottery picks: Fox and Hield in the backcourt, Jackson on the wing and Cauley-Stein in the paint. During Labissiere’s rookie season he showed the ability to score in the double-digits with efficiency. Bogdanovic may be coming over from overseas. Giles, Papagiannis and Richardson are the developmental projects, although, that can be said for this young team as a whole.

Playoffs this year is unlikely. This is probably a 20-something win team, but their core is in tact. Even the subs are part of the youth movement so every minute and phase that they go through will be beneficial as a group. If you enjoy watching teams develop, like Utah or Boston, the Kings might be a team to tune into here and there.