This article will be dedicated to a brief summary of how each team in the Western Conference did in the 2014-2015 NBA season, and a preview into what each team might do during the offseason. The order is based off final regular season standings.
Golden State Warriors:
Finishing with the best regular season record, winning a NBA championship, now both of those things show that Golden State had a great season. Finishing with the second best offensive efficiency, and the best defensive efficiency, Golden State looks like a team without many flaws. Wrong, Golden State needed six games to beat LeBron James. Notice I did not say Cleveland, because they do have good role players, but none are more than that. Golden State has already begun talks of trading David Lee. This might be a crucial mistake for the Warriors. Understandably, Lee is way too costly of a player to hold onto, but he was a key guy to help the Warriors swing momentum in their direction for the finals. The main reason they need to trade Lee, is to be prepared to offer/match Draymond Green a potential max contract. Green is a guy, who thrives in the Warrior’s system, and I do not know how successful he would be out of it. Detroit has been one of the main teams prepared to offer a near max for Green, and I do think this is the best chance outside of Golden State for Green to be successful. The Warriors offer the better chance to compete for championships, on the other hand. With that in mind, Golden State will likely match anything for Green. In the draft they could look to add a back-up point guard to groom behind Curry, or go for another big to replace Lee at a much cheaper price, say Rakeem Christmas. Assuming the loss of a few role players, a developmental draft pick, the Warriors will still be competing for the top spot in the west next season. I do not think they will boast as good of a record, but 56-60 wins is still a good estimation for victories for them.
Lil B might be the most hated man in Houston. After the beef that started with Harden doing Lil B’s signature dance move, and offering no credit to him, Lil B put a curse on Harden, and no matter your stance on curses, something was wrong with Harden after that. Prior to that beef, the Rockets were one of the most dynamic one man shows in all of basketball, lead by James Harden. With Dwight Howard out a majority of the season battling injuries, Harden lead a potent offense, a improved individual defense, and lead this team to a second seed in the west. Harden, was in my opinion the MVP this past season. Curry and James were both great, but without Harden, the Rockets would have been one of the worst teams this year. Curry was surrounded by an amazing cast, and without him the Warriors would still make the playoffs, James single handily picked out his team this year, and playing with two other All-Stars, does not always grant you MVP, no matter if you are the best in the world or not. No matter, the Rockets went into the playoffs, determined to win, they annihilated the Mavericks, somehow overcame the Clippers, and then fell apart at the hands of the Warriors. Next season, the Rockets will be competing for the top seed again, with a good draft pick, and not facing any major roster loses.
Los Angeles Clippers:
The Clippers were a great regular season team for how many different injuries they battled to their best players. Chris Paul as usually was in the running for MVP, but did not garner much final voting. DeAndre Jordan really broke out this season for the Clippers, being a true force for their interior defense. The Clippers entered the playoffs with a good “we are better than the rest” attitude. This, along with Chris Paul’s heroic shot allowed for the Clippers to stun the San Antonio Spurs and move on to battle the Houston Rockets. The Clippers seemed destined to battle their rival, Golden State, but ended up blowing a 3-1 lead to the Rockets. This caused great turmoil and uncertainty within the organization. This offseason is dedicated to building a roster to not let this happen again. The Clippers have already tried improving their team with the Lance Stephenson trade, which got them away from the under performing Spencer Hawes and Matt Barnes. If Stephenson can recapture is Pacer days, the Clippers will have gotten a steal of a trade, but if he falters, the Clippers will have another issue to worry about. The Clippers, also have to resign DeAndre Jordan. This might be the biggest offseason need to address for the Clippers. Jordan is the key to their interior defense, as well as their best rebounder. Jordan has a lot of potential suitors, but the Clippers offer the best chance of immediate contention for championships, and they can offer the most money. Both of these things will allow for the Clippers to retain Jordan for the next few seasons. With all of this said and done, the Clippers will again compete for a top spot in the west next season.
Another good regular season for the Trailblazers, another poor post season performance. This is not all the Trailblazers fault, as they lost a key player in Wesley Matthews to a season ending injury. Without their two way guard, their offense and defense slipped, leaving for too much work for Lillard and Aldridge to overcome. This takes us into their offseason, which is looking a bit frightening, if you are a Trailblazers fan. LaMarcus Aldridge is their key free agent, and reports show he has put his Portland home up for sale. Aldridge would be a devastating lost for the Trailblazers. I do not think Aldridge will be staying in Portland this offseason, and I think he ends up somewhere in Texas, whether it be San Antonio or Dallas. The Trailblazers then have to worry about Wesley Matthews, and bringing him back. Matthews has been linked with the Bulls quite a bit recently, but I think the Trailblazers will retain Matthews, as losing both, Matthews and Aldridge would be to big of a loss to overcome. Even with the retention of Matthews, and a presumed loss of Aldridge, the Trailblazers will be looking at a high chance of missing the playoffs next season. They could use their cap space to bring in a better bench to improve their chances, but with the circumstances I presented, I think the Trailblazers will miss the playoffs in the highly competitive Western Conference next season.
The one team everyone fears playing every year. No one is more physical than the Grizzles and it shows, as playoff time comes they are the most dreaded match-up. The Grizzlies beat the Trailblazers, and then were scheduled to play the Golden State Warriors. Unfortunately, Mike Conley got hurt, and was not himself against the Warriors, which was a crucial blow to the Grizzlies. Although the quest for a championship failed this season, they will be bringing back their core, if Gasol stays, and be able to add a shooter in the draft. The Gasol statement is the biggest concern for Memphis, but his desire to stay in Memphis seems genuine, so he will likely stay with the Grizzlies. In the draft, the Grizzlies will likely target either a young shooter, or a back-up big man to allow for Randolph and Gasol to get more rest during the season. The Grizzles, with retaining Gasol, will likely be competing for a top four seed in the west next season.
San Antonio Spurs:
Another year, another good regular season for the San Antonio Spurs. The Spurs had to battle injuries to Tony Parker and Kawhi Leonard, but even with those guys beat up they still finished with 55 wins. Luckily, Tim Duncan was putting up effortless double doubles almost every night, as the future hall of famer still looked great out there on the court. Come postseason, the Spurs got a match-up with the Los Angeles Clippers. The series went to seven games, and Chris Paul was in “can’t miss” mode, which ended the Spurs season. Although the season was over for them, San Antonio had a busy offseason to look forward too. Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili are free agents, but will be back. The Spurs are also in the market to try and sign LaMarcus Aldridge, who they want to use with Leonard as their franchise building blocks, following the retirement of Duncan and Ginobili. The Spurs will have to do some roster work to make room for him, but a player his caliber is worth cutting some of the role players off. In the draft, the Spurs, holding a late first round pick, could look to target a scorer off the bench, or one of the many draft-and-stash international players, which should be on the board. Next season the Spurs, as always, will be competing in the west, and will be a playoff team. With a Aldridge signing the Spurs could end being the best team in the west next season.
Everything was going great for the Mavericks until, Rajon Rondo came along. The Mavericks had an electric offense, on pace for a historic season, but when Rondo came along, to add more veteran leadership for the playoffs, his personality clashed with that of Rick Carlisle, leading for the team’s chemistry to dissipate and them to barely sneak into the playoffs. Once in the playoffs, Rondo was benched, Parsons was hurt, and the Rockets were too much, and then the Mavericks were looking into a long offseason. Going into the offseason, Rondo is expected to leave, leaving a hole at the point guard situation, but rumors have swirled they are interested in Patrick Beverley to fill the void. LaMarcus Aldridge has also stated he would rather play in Dallas over San Antonio, if he went to Texas, giving the Mavericks an actual chance to sign a star free agent. Come draft night, the Mavericks will look to draft a defense wing, or point guard. There is many guards that have a chance to be around when they select, such as, Payne, Grant, Wright, and Jones. Defensive wing would be Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. I think Jefferson is the best pick for them, for the perimeter defense needs a lot of improvement. I expect the Mavericks to be worse next season, with a good chance to miss the playoffs. With Aldridge, I think they stay right around the same record wise.
New Orleans Pelicans:
Monty Williams was told before the season, make the playoffs, or you will be replaced. Williams successful coached through injuries to all of his key players, and made the playoffs, but still lost his job. That is a big loss to the Pelicans, but they still have Anthony Davis, who I think will emerge as the best player in the league next year. Davis is surrounded with a good supporting cast, which makes the job easier for their new coach to step in and re-lead the Pelicans to the playoffs. Going into the offseason, they do not have any huge free agents, just role players they could look to bring back. the biggest would be Asik, but he was not a good frontcourt partner for Davis, so a separation will likely occur there. They do not have a first round pick, so they can not look for a lot of help there. New Orleans biggest objective this offseason will likely be looking for a 3-and-D wing. Next season, as stated before, Davis will emerge as the new best player in the world, and lead the Pelicans to a consecutive playoff berth. This berth might only be a 7th or 8th seed, due to the talent level in the west, but at least Davis does not need to assemble his own team to chase titles.
Oklahoma City Thunder:
For having your two star players hurt for large amounts of the season, the Thunder had a great season. Russell Westbrook put on a historic performance streak, with his triple doubles. Enes Kanter turned into a double double machine, and their bench had offensive potency. With that in mind, who knows what could have happened if Kevin Durant was also playing, the Thunder more than likely would have had a better team than the Warriors. Although missing the playoffs was a tough blow they still get a lottery pick to add even more talent to their team. Most mock drafts have them going after a back-up point guard, such as Jerian Grant or Cameron Payne. Both of these players would make great additions for the Thunder. The main free agent the Thunder have to worry about is Enes Kanter, who played himself into a huge raise in a few weeks. The Thunder will likely match any offer for him, as long as it is not a max deal. With a lottery pick, retaining Kanter, and a healthy Durant and Westbrook, the Thunder will likely be competing for a top two seed in the west next season.
Stuck without a true star is what troubles the Phoenix Suns. The Suns had a deadline deal that sent Goran Dragic to Miami, and the Suns getting Brandon Knight, hoping Knight could keep up the production, but plagued by injuries, Knight was not the fix. The Suns have good players in Bledsoe, Knight, Warren, and Len, but none of them have taken the step into elite stardom, like many anticipated Bledsoe would. Going into this offseason, the Suns have cap space to work with, but no marquee free agents have expressed much desire to play in the desert. They are also stuck with the 13th pick, leaving them out of the hunt for elite talent. The Suns have been linked recently with Myles Turner, who offers huge upside, but just as much huge bust material. The Celtics have been in talks to move up to select him, so this might leave Phoenix looking at a guy like Oubre or Lyles for their selection. After the draft, the Suns will have to worry about retaining Knight, or letting him walk in his restricted free agency. Milwaukee let him go because they did not think he was worth close to max money, so we will see what Phoenix views him as. No matter the offseason, Phoenix will take another step back next season, and be like the Denver Nuggets were this year. Showcasing playoff talent one game, and the next being a bad lottery team.
What a finish for the Jazz. Towards the end of the season you did not want to play the Jazz as they were clicking on all cylinders. If this is a sign of the future the Jazz could be a dark horse playoff team next season, looking to make a lot of noise. Rudy Gobert has proven to be a steal from the 2013 draft, Hayward and Favors continue to improve, they still have Exum and Burke developing, and yet have another lottery pick to work with. The Jazz have been linked with two Wisconsin Badger players in, Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker. Both players would be great bench additions for the Jazz to give them some second unit offense. No matter their selection, the Jazz should be competing closely for a playoff spot next season.
Stuck in the dreaded no man’s land, is where the Denver Nuggets sit. The Nuggets had a rough season, where the players, and their coach could never see eye to eye, leaving for the team to suffer. There was one incident reported that the Nuggets broke a huddle saying how many games were left until the end of the season, so they could be done playing. This is terrible, as you always should be giving it your everything. The Nuggets did fire their coach and hired a new one this past week in, Mike Malone. Malone will be working with the 7th pick in the draft, and has a lot of holes to fill. Lawson, Faried, and Gallinari are all available for trade, according to many reports. Lawson has already been offered for the fourth overall pick, but the Knicks declined this trade. Malone will have his hands full, but I expect him to take a wing, such as Stanley Johnson to stiffen his perimeter defense, and Johnson also has two way star potential. The Nuggets, depending on if they trade away their players could be looking at staying the same, or worse next season, as their competition in the west gets better, and they stay relatively the same talent wise.
The Kings started the season off fairly well, then fired their head coach, angered DeMarcus Cousins, and the season fell apart. This only seems to happen every year for the Kings. Then the Kings had the issue of Nik Stauskas not developing into the player they hoped for, and now most reports link him to being on the trading block. This seems like the Kings own fault for drafting a shooting guard in the top ten two years in a row. Although Stauskas struggled, McLemore seemed to develop giving them hope he can develop into a good player. This offseason has already been hectic for the Kings, as every teams seems to be acquiring about trading for DeMarcus Cousins. I have written an article saying why I think they should trade Cousins, but the organization wants to keep him. With Cousins kept, the Kings will likely look to target either a floor general, or big man to pair with Cousins for the future. In most mock drafts, Willie Trill Cauley-Stein is the presumed selection for the Kings. Stein might not be the best partner for Stein, and this is why I hope they either trade down, or look to address a different position. Expect the Kings to improve marginally next season, but still miss the playoffs.
Los Angeles Lakers:
This was a rough past season for Laker fans. Beginning of the season, lose your top draft in Randle to a season ending injury, then Kobe Bryant is lost for the season as well. About the only good thing to happen to the Lakers was Jordan Clarkson’s development, and possibly being the steal of the 2014 draft, if he can continue his production next season. Ed Davis was also another bright spot, as he posted career highs in multiple categories. Davis now wants to be compensated this offseason in the $9-10 million range, which is a little absurd to me. Davis is a good player, but nowhere near worth this type of money. This leads into the Lakers offseason, which should be interesting being a storied franchise with a lot of cap space to work with. The Lakers will be offering all the big free agents, restricted or unrestricted, yet I do not believe they will get any stars(unless a Cousins trade is made), but only good role players. This will lead to them having to build in the draft, looking for that star player. With their selection at number two, they should get the choice of Karl Anthony-Towns or Jahlil Okafor. Either of these two players have the potential to lead this franchise into relevance again, and taking the reign from Kobe Bryant in his last season. Expect the Lakers to be much better next season, but without a star free agent signing, they will likely miss the playoffs once again.
Although most people would dwell on only winning 16 games for a season, the Timberwolves are in pretty good shape as a franchise. The development of Andrew Wiggins, Gorgui Dieng, and Zach LaVine throughout the season is very encouraging for fans and the organization. The Timberwolves also got extremely lucky and landed the number one pick in the upcoming 2015 NBA draft. The selection will likely come down to Karl Anthony-Towns and Jahlil Okafor. Most reports indicate Towns being the selection. With a good draft likely to happen, continued development of their young core, and the veteran leadership they currently have, the Timberwolves could be a very fun team to watch next season. Expect great overall improvement from the Timberwolves next season, but still expect to see them in the lottery, as their young talent is still too raw to compete with the veterans of the Western Conference.
By: Mac Crowe, @Mac_Truck17