Ranking the West

After Ranking the East yesterday, today I’m ranking the Western conference. As I said, these rankings are not how well I think the teams did in the off-season, but rather where I think they may finish in the coming season.

1. Los Angeles Lakers – the defending champs had a great off-season, adding second-round steals Devin Ebanks and Derrick Caracter in the Draft, then bargain pick-ups Steve Blake, Matt Barnes and Theo Ratliff in free agency. All those moves bolster what was a shaky bench and add to what was already a formidable core of Kobe, Fisher, Artest, Gasol, Bynum and Odom. Looking a very good chance to three-peat.

2. Houston – have a chance to move a lot in the standings if they have a healthy and productive Yao Ming. With talented backcourt duo Aaron Brooks and Kevin Martin together for a full season, along with retaining Kyle Lowry (matching Cleveland’s offer sheet), paying big money to keep Luis Scola around, having Jordan Hill for a whole season, adding Patrick Patterson from Kentucky in the draft, quality sophomores Chase Budinger and Jermaine Taylor, and free agent pickup Brad Miller, this team just seems too stacked to not make noise in the Western Conference. That’s without even mentioning one of my favourites Trevor Ariza…

3. San Antonio – Tim Duncan is still around, Manu and Jefferson have been extended, Tony Parker is still around, George Hill should keep getting better, James Anderson was a fantastic draft pick in the late first round, and they convinced Tiago Splitter to bring his game over from Europe (he has long been considered the best big man in Europe, the Spurs drafted his rights in 2007). Dejuan Blair will be there for energy and hustle off the bench and summer league revelation Alonzo Gee should get a spot in the roster. And they still have Tim Duncan.

4. Oklahoma City – I believe the youngsters can make the jump from playoff team to top-4 seed, they have so much talent. Led by Kevin Durant, this team can boast legitimate depth, being at least two deep at every position. Everything they did in the off-season seems to fill a need: need 3-point shooting? Grab Daequan Cook from a Miami team desperate to clear cap space. Need another bog to compete with the Lakers et al? Trade for Cole Aldrich on draft day. Need more experience? Use some cap room to absorb Morris Peterson’s contract and have him around to help the young guys and spot up for threes. The Thunder will be fun to watch this season and will probably continue to be everyone’s second favourite team.

5. Utah – did really well getting Al Jefferson from Minnesota, for little-used Kosta Koufos and two future first-rounders, to deal with the loss of Carlos Boozer. Jefferson has serious low-post skills and was operating as a 20-10 guy before the knee injury. Should form another formidable pick-and-roll combo with Deron Williams and the Jazz will hardly miss a beat. Gordon Hayward will step right into Kyle Korver’s minutes and Raja Bell is a good piece to add after losing an overpriced Wes Matthews. Jazz will be a tough match-up all season.

6. Denver – they will be dealing with injuries when the season starts, with Kenyon Martin and Chris ‘Birdman’ Anderson to be sidelined after off-season surgeries. They went looking for bigs in free agency, pursuing Udonis Haslem most notably, and came away with Al Harrington – not the worst player, but not a guy that’ll hold down the post while the other guys come back. Still, the Nuggets have Billups, ‘Melo (for at least one more year – does he have his eyes set on New York?), J.R. Smith and Ty Lawson, and should have enough scoring to win games while waiting for the big guys to return.

7. Portland – provided they can avoid the horror run of injuries they dealt with last season, Portland are possibly a top-4 team. However, the West is loaded and they may have to settle for playoffs. They have an imposing line-up of centers, with Oden, Camby and Pryzbilla all quality big men in the NBA. If Greg Oden can stay healthy and put together a full season, finally cashing in on the potential he’s been teasing us with for years, the Trailblazers can be a great team. They still have all-world 2 guard Brandon Roy, and while they may have overpaid for his back-up Wes Matthews, the kid can play too. Andre Miller will have a full season as the starter and Jerryd Bayless showed a lot last season filling in for an injured Brandon Roy. If this team can stay healthy they are very dangerous.

8. Dallas – they brought Dirk back with a near-max deal, re-signed Brendan Haywood, traded for Tyson Chandler and drafted Dominique Jones. All good solid moves, a lot of bigs to match up with the Lakers and Rockets, and good scoring from the backcourt now with Terry, Beaubois and Jones. Still need to find some depth at forward behind Marion and Dirk, but there is no reason to suspect the Mavs won’t win 50 games yet again.

Here are the teams I think will miss the playoffs:

9. Phoenix

10. Memphis

11. New Orleans

12. Los Angeles Clippers

13. Sacramento

14. Minnesota

15. Golden State

That’s all from me. Cheers.

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