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Western Conference Preview: Who should the Suns fear out West?

It’s been a long offseason. Let’s dive into the Wild, Wild, West.

NBA: Playoffs-Phoenix Suns at Denver Nuggets Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

The Phoenix Suns are universally pegged as a top 5 team in the NBA Title odds on just about any betting service. While betting odds aren’t everything, the conversations you’ll hear in local barbershops or bars tend to line up with that data and hype.

They will be one of the most watched and talked about teams in the association, and for good reason. Phoenix appears as the number one or two team in the Western Conference sitting alongside their newest rival, the Denver Nuggets.

Looking at the rest of the Western Conference landscape, there aren’t too many “cupcake” opponents this season. Even some of the young rebuilding teams have the talent in place to spark an upset against the heavy hitters. Parity is at an all-time high in the NBA, and I’m here for it.

This list will be excluding the Suns, focusing on their top threats through Phoenix’s point of view in the order that I would least like to play them in a playoff series. For example, in general, I would probably put the Lakers above the Grizzlies. In a series specifically against Phoenix, I rank the Grizz as a tougher matchup given the personnel.

Along with the rankings, I included a brief summary of each team’s offseason in case you need to remind yourself who went where.

#1) Denver Nuggets

  • Status: Title Contender
  • Added: Justin Holiday, Braxton Key, Jalen Pickett, Julian Strawther, Hunter Tyson
  • Lost: Bruce Brown, Thomas Bryant, Jeff Green, Ish Smith, Jack White

The Skinny: Denver is going to be one of the favorites to win it all this year, and for good reason. Nikola Jokic is the best player in the world right now and they still have a solid supporting cast around him with Murray, MPJ, Gordon, Braun, KCP, and Holiday. Their depth took a hit this summer, but make no mistake, they are still very much a problem. Depending on the regular season seeding, a Denver-Phoenix WCF could be in store.

#2) Memphis Grizzlies:

  • Status: Title Contender
  • Added: Marcus Smart, Derrick Rose, Josh Christopher, Shaquille Harrison, Isaiah Todd
  • Lost: Dillon Brooks, Tyus Jones

The Skinny: I’m fairly high on Memphis, despite the turmoil with the Morant situation. Adding Marcus Smart to Jaren Jackson Jr. gives them an identity defensively that could wreak havoc. They have depth, shooting, size, and versatility... the one looming question is whether or not Ja Morant will continue to be a distraction. If he pulls himself together, his talent is undeniable and Phoenix will struggle to contain him. Come playoff time, a lineup featuring Morant, Bane, Smart, JJJ, and Adams is a force to be reckoned with.

#3) Los Angeles Lakers:

  • Status: Title Contender
  • Added: Christian Wood, Gabe Vincent, Jaxson Hayes, Taurean Prince, Cam Reddish, Jalen Hood-Schifino, Maxwell Lewis
  • Lost: Dennis Schroder, Lonnie Walker, Malik Beasley, Mo Bamba, Troy Brown Jr., Wenyen Gabriel, Shaquille Harrison, Tristan Thompson

The Skinny: The Lakers did a tremendous job last trade deadline in shoring up their needs in a hurry. They also put together a solid offseason with limited flexibility this summer. The supporting cast has improved, but it all comes down to health. How many games with LeBron and AD play? Will they be healthy when it matters most? Those are the questions that will determine the Lakers’ title hopes.

NBA: Phoenix Suns at Los Angeles Lakers Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

#4) Sacramento Kings

  • Status: Title Contender(ish)
  • Added: Chris Duarte, JaVale McGee, Colby Jones
  • Lost: Chimezie Metu, Richaun Holmes, Neemias Queta, Terence Davis

The Skinny: The Kings are very much a real threat that should be taken seriously after a breakout season in 2023. They return their entire core while adding Chris Duarte to the wing mix. They have size, speed, shooting, and an offense that will try to run you to death. Defense is still a concern for them, but take them lightly at your own risk, they are not the KANGZ anymore.

#5) Oklahoma City Thunder

  • Status: Playoff Team
  • Added: Cason Wallace, Victor Oladipo, Davis Bertans, Jack White
  • Lost: Dario Saric, Jared Butler

The Skinny: I am all in on the Thunder this season. Take the over on their wins, seeding, etc., ALL THE THINGS! SGA, Jalen Williams, and Josh Giddey form a dynamic backcourt that can get up and down with the best of them. Adding Chet Holmgren to the mix elevates their ceiling quite a bit both in the short and long term. They are going to provide fits for their opponents on a nightly basis. Maybe I’m a year too early on this, but if they stay healthy I doubt it.

#6) Golden State Warriors

  • Status: Playoff Team, Contender
  • Added: Chris Paul, Dario Saric, Cory Joseph, Brandin Podziemski
  • Lost: Jordan Poole, Donte DiVincenzo, Patrick Baldwin Jr., Ty Jerome

The Skinny: It’s unwise to write Steph Curry off, but I believe this could be the year where the window closes for the Golden State Warriors. The age, health, chemistry, etc. makes them a tough team to predict. I’m not a believer in the CP3 fit. That being said, they still have the firepower to win on any given night and should not be ruled out by any stretch.

NBA: Golden State Warriors at Phoenix Suns Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

#7) Minnesota Timberwolves:

  • Status: Playoff Team
  • Added: Troy Brown Jr., Shake Milton, Leonard Miller
  • Lost: Taurean Prince, Nathan Knight

The Skinny: While the KAT-Gobert experiment didn’t go as planned in year one, there is still reason for optimism in Minnesota. Anthony Edwards has breakout potential and could take another massive leap this season. Having a veteran presence like Mike Conley lead the way could add needed stability to a team looking to form an identity. The talent is there, but the question is if they can put it all together.

#8) Dallas Mavericks

  • Status: Playoff Team
  • Added: Seth Curry, Richaun Holmes, Grant Williams, Joe Wieskamp, Olivier-Maxence Prosper, Dereck Lively II, Derrick Jones
  • Lost: Reggie Bullock, Davis Bertans, Justin Holiday, JaVale McGee, Christian Wood, Theo Pinson, Frank Ntilikina,

The Skinny: The Mavericks are a tough team to read for several reasons. How many games will Kyrie Irving play? How will their supporting cast look in a system that will revolve as heavily around Luka and Kyrie as theirs will? I think they did a nice job adding Grant Williams and Seth Curry to the mix and drafted well. A top 5 finish in the West would not be a shocking development, I just want to see what it all looks like first.

#9) Los Angeles Clippers

  • Status: Playoff Team, Contender if healthy*
  • Added: KJ Martin, Kobe Brown, Jordan Miller
  • Lost: Eric Gordon, Xavier Moon

The Skinny: I’m probably too low on the Clippers here, but in reality, there’s not much separation from the 5-11 spots for me. KJ Martin was a nice sneaky pickup and they have solid depth. The injury situation makes them impossible to predict, much like the Pelicans who we’ll get to shortly. At this point, the sad reality is that the likelihood of their two aging stars staying healthy is fairly low. *Mark Cuban voice* and for that reason, I’m out.

NBA: Playoffs-Los Angeles Clippers at Phoenix Suns Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

#10) New Orleans Pelicans

  • Status: Play-In Contender
  • Added: Cody Zeller, Jordan Hawkins
  • Lost: Jaxon Hayes, Josh Richardson, Garrett Temple

The Skinny: The Pelicans, similar to the Clippers, are a tough team to gauge due to uncertainty in their rotation due to health. They are in “prove it” mode at this point, and until we see what that talented young core (Zion, Ingram, Murphy, Herb, etc.) looks like together, it’s alright to have them as a fringe play-in team until they prove otherwise.

#11) Utah Jazz

  • Status: Play-In Contender
  • Added: John Collins, Keyonte George, Taylor Hendricks, Romeo Langford, Omer Yurtseven
  • Lost: Damian Jones, Udoka Azubuike, Rudy Gay, Juan Toscano-Anderson

The Skinny: Utah was a fun Cinderella story early last year, but they fell back down to earth to close the season and sold some key pieces in the process. Buying low on John Collins (similar to what they did with Markkanen) could pay off, and they might surprise again this season. I could see them making a run at the play-in tournament.

The Rest

Rockets, Blazers, Spurs

There is not much to fear with these teams. They all have their share of young, exciting talent but it is unlikely any of these teams make it to the playoffs given how deep the West is. The Lillard situation is looming in Portland and Houston is stacked with a cluster of young pieces, though it remains to be seen how they fit together.

The obvious headliner from these teams is Wemby, and what he brings as a rookie should make San Antonio an NBA League Pass darling. I do like some of the pieces the Spurs have around their prized pick, but they are likely a year away from entering the play-in mix. Pop may read this and take it personally for all we know.

Comment below with your personal preseason power rankings, Suns fans!

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