LeBron’s move to the Los Angeles Lakers signals a huge shift of power in favor of the Western Conference, as many All-Stars in the past two years have either been traded or signed with a Western Conference team. While some are competing for a championship, others are rebuilding their roster, with their eyes set on the future. Here are the rankings and tiers of teams in the Western Conference:
The “Championship” Tier: Golden State Warriors, Los Angeles Lakers, Houston Rockets, Oklahoma City Thunder
Obviously, the Golden State Warriors have the best chance out of these 4 teams, as they pose a lineup of 5 All-Stars, Klay Thompson, Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green, Demarcus Cousins, just recently signed, and a Finals MVP in Andre Iguodala coming off the bench. However, it is disrespectful to discredit the others, as they do have a higher chance than other teams of knocking out the Warriors. The Lakers, coming off a mediocre season, made the biggest splash in free agency by signing LeBron James to a 4-year deal. With another year in development for their youth and the addition of James, the Lakers could be in seriously in play for the Finals. The Rockets almost advanced to the Finals, had they made threes, as they missed 27 straight to plunge themselves in a hole they couldn’t dig out of in time, eventually losing to the Warriors in 7. Now adding Carmelo Anthony, and having CP3 return from injury, as he missed the final two games of the series, the Rockets are also a team to be contending for the Finals. Finally, the OKC Thunder are a sleeper team to pick. Although the team has had its fair share of problems with the lack of consistency from Paul George and Carmelo Anthony, especially in the playoffs, they did trade Anthony away for Dennis Schroeder, who can be a good 6th man and provide quality minutes off the bench, taking some of the PG shoulder load off for Westbrook. Not to mention, Andre Roberson is returning from injury, as he led the Thunder to be in the top 5 defensively. With Westbrook, Adams, George, Schroeder, Roberson, and a good bench, the Thunder are a team not to be slept on.
The “Playoff” Tier: San Antonio Spurs, New Orleans Pelicans, Portland TrailBlazers, Utah Jazz, Minnesota Timberwolves
This tier is a special tier, as any of these 5 teams can make the playoffs. Although, only 8 spots are available, and with the “Championship Tier” taking up 4 of them, one of these teams unfortunately misses the playoffs. It wouldn’t be surprising if any of these teams make/miss the playoffs, as they all have their benefits/negatives. The Spurs have finally solved the Kawhi situation, trading him and Danny Green away for Demar DeRozan, Jakob Poeltl, and a first-round pick. The Spurs would now pose a lineup with Murray, Aldridge, and DeRozan, as well as having one of the best coaches in the league in Gregg Popovich. Last year, the Spurs were the 7th seed, when Kawhi didn’t play at all. Now with DeRozan, they can look to improve post-Kawhi era. Another team to improve would be the New Orleans Pelicans, as they advanced to the WCSF, but lost in 5 to the Warriors. Now replacing Boogie with Julius Randle and Rondo with Elfrid Payton, and still have the likes of Anthony Davis, Jrue Holiday, and Nikola Mirotic, the Pelicans can improve from their previous outing. The Utah Jazz is a team that advanced to the 2nd round, defeating the OKC Thunder, despite the inexperience within the players. Now, led by Donovan Mitchell Rudy Gobert, and the head coach that took them there in the first place in Quin Snyder, the Jazz could make a run for the playoffs. The TrailBlazers and the Timberwolves are the two teams that could fight for the last spot, as both teams are pretty equivalent. The Blazers have Lillard and McCollum, while the Timberwolves have Jimmy Butler and Karl-Anthony Towns. However, both these teams aren’t good defensively, as the TrailBlazers got swept by the Pelicans last year in an offensive shootout. Either the Timberwolves or the Blazers make it to that last spot, both get in or miss it all together, as the Western Conference is ready to shape up into an intense race.
The “Win-Win” Tier: Denver Nuggets, Phoenix Suns
The Denver Nuggets and Phoenix Suns are in two different positions but possess the similar idea: youth movement. The Nuggets are a young squad, comprised of Nikola Jokic, Gary Harris, Jamal Murray, and Michael Porter Jr, who was just drafted this year, and almost went to the playoffs, but were just one game shy. This year, the Nuggets could win even more games and possibly make it, although it is unlikely given that many teams are competing for few spots. Even if the Nuggets don’t make the playoffs, they still have a bright future and keep building until teams in the West start to break down, which could then open up a spot for them to compete later in the future. The Phoenix Suns are in a completely different position, as they are nowhere mentioned in the playoff race, and have set sights completely for the future. However, that should not be the case. The Suns are led by Devin Booker, who just signed an extension with the Suns and newly drafted Deandre Ayton. Not to mention, the Suns also signed Trevor Ariza, which could mean one thing. Either the Suns are going to make serious noise and eye for players in a loaded free agency class next year, or they can choose to not be competitive and retain a high draft pick in next year’s draft. Either way, the Nuggets and Suns have no way to lose if they choose to be competitive or not, as they both have young talent.
The “In an Awkward Spot” Tier: Los Angeles Clippers, Memphis Grizzlies
The Clippers and Grizzlies are the definitions of mediocrity, as they could be the 10th-11th best teams in the Western Conference. The Clippers just lost DeAndre Jordan, their best player, and could possibly look to rebuild around their youngsters. However, they still have good role players in Avery Bradley, Luc Mbah a Moute, Patrick Beverley returning from injury, Lou Williams, and youngsters in Jerome Robinson and Shai Gildeous-Alexander. However, they lack a star player to help lead them to the playoffs. The Grizzlies, however, are in a more puzzling spot. While they do have Marc Gasol and Mike Conley returning from injury, will it be enough to secure a playoff spot? Not to mention, the Celtics own their pick, provided it is above the 8th pick. They also have young talent too, drafting guard Jaren Jackson Jr. Both the Clippers and Grizzlies are not expected to not make the playoffs and will be expected to begin rebuilding sooner or later.
The “Full-On Rebuild Mode”: Dallas Mavericks, Sacramento Kings
The Dallas Mavericks strengthened their backcourt, by trading for Luka Doncic in the 2018 NBA Draft. Along with Doncic, the Mavericks have Dennis Smith Jr., Harrison Barnes, and Dirk Nowitzki, who is returning for his 21st season. The Mavericks have themselves planned for the future, grabbing Doncic to pair him with Smith early. The Kings are also in a similar spot, drafting Marvin Bagley with the 2nd pick in the draft, and adding to their youth. The Kings just signed Nemanja Bjelica and Yogi Ferell, adding them to the group filled with De’Aaron Fox, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Buddy Hield, and Justin Jackson, all good young players. However, the Kings do not have their own first-round pick, as it is owned by the Celtics/Sixers, and the Kings will look to build more to their young players in the future.