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Western Conf Offseason Recap: Suns, Blazers, Warriors on the rise

We look at all the changes in the West, and see if the Suns can climb solidly into that playoff picture

Phoenix Suns v Portland Trail Blazers Photo by Cameron Browne/NBAE via Getty Images

Phew. We just concluded the most whirlwind offseason ever, and now training camps open this week with regular season games starting in just over three weeks!

We don’t really know anything until all the teams have played half the season, and the playoff seedings really will likely come down to which teams have survived the COVID-19 threat the best. But it’s still fun to consider the possibilities of how high the Phoenix Suns can finish in the West, right?!

The Suns have their best preseason roster and highest expectations in a decade, so let’s see how their offseason rates compared to last year’s playoff seeds and contenders like the Suns.

NOTE: Teams are listed in order of their 2019-20 finish.

Top seed and NBA Champ — Los Angeles Lakers

  • MVP Candidates: LeBron James, Anthony Davis
  • Stars:
  • Rotation Players In: Dennis Schroder, Wesley Matthews, Marc Gasol, Montrezl Harrell
  • Rotation Players Out: Avery Bradley, Rajon Rondo, Dwight Howard, JaVale McGee, Danny Green
  • Comment: The Lakers lost some key pieces but added better ones. They are clearly poised to keep that top spot in the West with a pair of MVP candidates leading the charge.
  • Better or Worse? Better

2nd — Los Angeles Clippers

  • MVP Candidates: Kawhi Leonard
  • Stars: Paul George
  • Rotation Players In: Luke Kennard, Serge Ibaka
  • Rotation Players Out: Montrezl Harrell, Landry Shamet, JaMychal Green
  • Comment: New coaching staff, led by Ty Lue, will try to fix the chemistry failure; grading the Clippers moves depends on how much you like late-stage Serge Ibaka
  • Better or Worse? Slightly worse

3rd — Denver Nuggets

  • MVP Candidates: Nikola Jokic
  • Stars: Jamal Murray
  • Rotation Players In: JaMychal Green, Facundo Campazzo (Argentina)
  • Rotation Players Out: Jerami Grant, Mason Plumlee, Torrey Craig
  • Comment: The key to the Nuggets season is in-house — can Jamal Murray rise to All-Star, can Michael Porter Jr. become a star, can Will Barton and Gary Harris rebound with health and performance?
  • Better or Worse? Slightly worse, unless there’s major in-house development

4th — Houston Rockets

  • MVP Candidates: James Harden
  • Stars: Russell Westbrook
  • Rotation Players In: Christian Wood, DeMarcus Cousins
  • Rotation Players Out: Robert Covington, Austin Rivers
  • Comment: The coach and GM were fired and the team is moving back to a more traditional lineup with big men in it; both Harden and Westbrook have demanded trades and other rotation players have expressed frustration in contract and/or playing time/position
  • Better or Worse? Worse, could completely crumble

5th — Oklahoma City Thunder

  • MVP Candidates:
  • Stars: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander
  • Rotation Players In: George Hill, Al Horford
  • Rotation Players Out: Chris Paul, Dennis Schroder, Steve Adams, Danilo Gallinari, Nerlens Noel
  • Comment: Full rebuild mode with draft picks over players in every transaction; expect Hill and Horford re-routed as soon as someone offers a good pick
  • Better or Worse? Worse — out of playoff contention, challenging for top overall pick

6th — Utah Jazz

  • MVP Candidates:
  • Stars: Rudy Gobert, Donovan Mitchell
  • Rotation Players In: Derrick Favors
  • Rotation Players Out:
  • Comment: The return of Bojan Bogdanovic will bigly help their playoff run; otherwise they stayed almost exactly the same; I don’t see them twin-towering it again with Favors and Gobert, so Favors will primarily be a high level backup big which is an improvement over Tony Bradley
  • Better or Worse? No Change

7th — Dallas Mavericks

  • MVP Candidates: Luka Doncic
  • Stars: Kristaps Porzingis
  • Rotation Players In: Josh Richardson, James Johnson
  • Rotation Players Out: Seth Curry, Delon Wright, Justin Jackson
  • Comment: Will be buoyed by the return of Jalen Brunson and Dwight Powell, who missed the Bubble entirely, but season depends on Luka’s MVP talent and KP’s health (will miss start of season with knee issue)
  • Better or Worse? Slightly better

8th — Portland Trail Blazers

  • MVP Candidates: Damian Lillard
  • Stars: C.J. McCollum
  • Rotation Players In: Robert Covington, Derrick Jones Jr., Enes Kanter
  • Rotation Players Out: Hassan Whiteside, Trevor Ariza
  • Comment: RoCo is a perfect addition; Hassan Whiteside is a perfect subtraction; season depends on health (Jusuf Nurkic, Zach Collins, Rodney Hood) to reach elite heights
  • Better or Worse? Better

9th — Memphis Grizzlies

  • MVP Candidates:
  • Stars: Ja Morant, Jaren Jackson Jr.
  • Rotation Players In:
  • Rotation Players Out: Josh Jackson (lol)
  • Comment: Memphis did not have their top pick, but drafted for value later and might have found more rotation-level players in the late-first-early-second rounds; will still be super-young in 2021
  • Better or Worse? Same, would have to improve organically

10th — Phoenix Suns

  • MVP Candidates:
  • Stars: Chris Paul, Devin Booker
  • Rotation Players In: Chris Paul, Jae Crowder, Langston Galloway, E’Twaun Moore, maybe Jalen Smith (rookie)
  • Rotation Players Out: Ricky Rubio, Kelly Oubre Jr., Aron Baynes, Frank Kaminsky, Elie Okobo
  • Comment: Suns are the ONLY team on this list to add an All-Star; only one lost rotation player had positive role in 8-0 Bubble run (Rubio)
  • Better or Worse? BETTER by a wide margin

Others in the West: bottoms up!

  • 11th — Spurs: stayed almost exactly the same, but will transition this year more to speed and youth behind guards Dejounte Murray, Derrick White, Lonnie Walker IV, and rookie Devin Vassell
  • 12th — Kings: moves were a net-minus after losing Bodgan Bogdanovic for nothing; success depends on De’Aaron Fox, Marvin Bagley Jr. and rookie Tyrese Haliburton
  • 13th — Pelicans: all depends on Zion Williamson! They replaced vets Jrue Holiday and Derrick Favors with Eric Bledsoe and Steven Adams (a downgrade), added rookie Kira Lewis Jr.
  • 14th — Wolves: will be more competitive with adding Ricky Rubio to orchestrate better offense and top overall pick Anthony Edwards, but they are a sieve defensively
  • 15th — Warriors: with the return of Stephen Curry and addition of Kelly Oubre Jr. as well as top pick James Wiseman, they will be right back in the playoff picture!! However, without Klay Thompson (out for year) and with the aging of Steph and Dray, can they climb all the way into the top seeds?

As I said above, we don’t know who all these moves will shake out till the season is well underway, but on paper the biggest West potential climbers are Portland, Phoenix and Golden State.

Have they improved enough to knock three other teams down the West ladder? The only sure-fire team to give up a playoff spot is the OKC Thunder. Everyone else will scratch and claw for that postseason.

Can’t wait to see it all play out!

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