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NBA: 2013-14 Western Conference Preview

by Ace Feltman
2013-14 NBA Western Conference Preview. Photo credit NBA
I love Holidays. I think they bring out buried feelings of joy and happiness in people that don’t often get to see the light of day anymore. Folks are happier, kids are giddier, and teens are pressing their folks for gifts, even on Mother’s and Father’s Day. But my favorite holiday of them all is Halloween. And it has absolutely nothing to do with costumes and or candy but rather the date on the calendar it represents. October 31st signifies the start of the basketball regular season! Either your team has one game under it's belt, or is preparing for game one or is glorifying a local television broadcast with fun Halloween graphics heading into and out of commercials.

The 2013-2014 NBA season kicks off two days in advance of trick-or-treating with national broadcasts coming on October 29th put October in the rearview and gear up for the season ahead. My annual basketball previews
often suffer from something doctors are calling “your word count is so damn high”-ism so this year while I will be giving a diagnosis of each team I will keep it brief unless the team supplies too much juicy substance for me to be able to contain myself. Consider that promise #1. Promise #2 is that I will do my very darndest to stay unbiased and realistic. So, here…we…………go. Fan vote determined that I do it by conference in order of lowest to highest projected success. The fan vote consisted of my enthusiastic Government professor who would like a completed essay sometime soon. A dreamer.

Western Conference

15. Phoenix Suns

Suns owner Robert Sarver might be the worst owner in pro sports. I swear he and Marlins owner Jeffery Loria are in a legitimate faceoff to determine who can do more damage to their franchise. In the Suns’ first year without hall of famer and two-time MVP Steve Nash they were dismal. 25 wins was good (bad) for worst in the West and unfortunately the even more turrible Eastern Conference pushed the Suns lottery luck all the way to 4th came via participating in a 3-team deal with the Clippers and Bucks, and it was a dandy. Rising star Eric Bledsoe, due for a payday he wasn’t going to receive in LAC as a backup to CP3, has found a new home and an endless supply of opportunity to shine (unavoidable pun) in Phoenix. The Suns already have an emerging point guard of their own with Goran Dragic who has shown brilliant playmaking potential. Bledsoe is 6’1” and will likely spend a lot of time sharing the backcourt, but his potential alone makes it a very worthy acquisition.


14. Sacramento Kings

 “D-Boogie,” for the uninitiated, is temperamental center Demarcus Cousins, who recently signed a 4-year $62 million dollar extension. His brief career has had an Alex Smith-like coaching carousel and the lack of stability has certainly not helped the ongoing development of a player as supremely talented but just as immature as Cousins. With a hectic ownership and potential relocation behind them, the signifies the start of the basketball regular season! Either your team has one game under its and a full slate of games the day after and then a Halloween doubleheader to. They got 5th and selected Alex Len. But the Suns’ biggest off-season move Kings made some real nice moves this off-season. Extending Cousins for one, whom I am under record declaring the best center in the association if he can get his head screwed on straight. Tyreke Evans is gone after experiments at point guard, small forward and towel boy. Greivis Vasquez, who broke loose with a stellar 2011-12 season in New Orleans was acquired in a sign-and-trade with ‘Reke. Ben McLemore fell into their lap with the 7th Veteran Luc Richard Mbah A Moute was acquired and Carl Landry was re-acquired in free agency and of course, self-appointed “Shaqramento” is on board as a minority owner but more importantly a tutor to Demarcus Cousins, something he appeared to try to do for all young centers on Inside the NBA. I see a lot of promise for a team now playing without relocation and ownership drama but the West is just too darn good and the Kings are just too darn not ready yet.

13. New Orleans Pelicans

My struggle to place a third worst team in the West speaks massive volumes to the strength and continued superiority of the NBA’s Western Conference. I’m projected the Pelicans to finish only ahead of two teams in their conference and that doesn’t reflect my view on this quickly improving team. Subconsciously my ranking for the NBA’s newest name could be weighted down by the disgusting (and even more disgusting because it’s marketable) growth just between and above the eyes of last year’s top pick. Yes, “The Brow.” Anthony Davis’ brow is turrible and I hate it and we’re moving on. The Pelicans made a terrific draft night move acquiring franchise point guard Jrue Holliday from the 76ers who are bottoming out for the super 2014 draft class. Mix in Tyreke Evans with Ryan Anderson for a potentially lethal 1-2 bench combo. But if CP3 trade product Eric Gordon can’t stay healthy – he’s played just 51/148 games as a Hornet-going on-Pelican – then this team certainly won’t be able to make noise in a tough conference and a brutal division.

12. Los Angeles Lakers

Darius Morris is gone. Dwight Howard is, too. The Lakers hope to get a healthy Pau Gasol back this year but as long as Kobe Bryant is out, two things are certain: Nick Young, Wesley Johnson and Xavier Henry could actually play a lot for the Lakers and because Nick Young, Wesley Johnson and Xavier Henry could actually play a lot for the Lakers the Lakers are going to be bad. Kobe is once again using foreign methods to hurry his already robotic rehab and the Lakers replaced D12 with Chris Kaman. Steve Nash is apparently healthy but last year he made it through just 5 full quarters before missing the magical Phoenix Suns training staff. Even if Kobe returns to a team afloat, this is a rebuilding year for the Lakers. They’re just lacking certain rebuilding tools like young talent, draft picks and also it happened by accident.

11. Utah Jazz

If you know me you probably don’t know my favorite NBA player is Gordon Hayward. You never asked. Nobody ever asks. But the Jazz swingman will be asked to be a scorer, catalyst, playmaker and leader as he enters his fourth season. I like the Jazz and I like what they’re doing but they are plagued by a small market that couldn’t afford to bring back their frontcourt of years’ past as Paul Millsap left for Atlanta and Al Jefferson chased the money to go to Charlotte. (Not ripping his decision, but the Bobcats, pick in the draft for similar reasons to Cousins’ career profile). The frontcourt has been handed to the two big chips that resulted from the Deron Williams trade. Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter are 43 years old combined but they’ve each had a couple seasons to learn in young-QB fashion from the departed bigs. A draft day trade brought them promising rookie Trey Burke to pair with Alec Burks in a very young backcourt mirroring the frontcourt. In the middle is Hayward and after Utah acquired the big expiring contracts of Richard Jefferson and still-alive Andris Biedrins the Jazz have made a good call and dedicated 2013-14 to setting up for the future while allowing (a lot of) room for their potential young stars to grow.

10. Portland Trail Blazers

Speaking of young studs stemming from a deal with the luxurious Brooklyn Nets, Portland hit the jackpot selecting 2012 unanimous Rookie of the Year Damian Lillard with the 6th Wallace. Since the Oden-Durant-Brandon Roy’s knees snafu the Trail Blazers have made great strides to recover from a big bouquet of oopsie-daisies. Nic Batum, Wes Matthews, Lamarcus Aldridge and newly acquired veterans like Mo Williams, Robin Lopez and Dorrell Wright will allow the Blazers to push younger players to the bench and create depth, something they sorely lacked in 2012-13. Rookie guard C.J. McCollum, second year players Meyers Leonard and Thomas Robinson won’t be pressed into playing time and can develop at a much preferred pace. Offense won’t be an issue for the Trail Blazers but defense and competition will be this season. I’d be doing myself a dis-fan-service if I didn’t mentioned year guard Will Barton can BALL. But the Blazers crowded backcourt could make it tough for talent to meet playing time this season.

9. Minnesota Timberwolves

No matter the talent on the annual TimberPup roster, two things have held Minnesota back the past couple seasons. Injuries and the Wrath of President David Kahn. Kahn’s past (sportswriter and Jewish) surely was a recipe for success in my book, but Kahn’s three seasons with the T-Wolves were super disappointing from drafting three point guards in his first draft (and keeping Johnny Flynn, dealing Ty Lawson) to acquiring-and-then-giving-back the draft rights to Chandler Parsons to giving Darko Milicic money to play basketball but the worst of all to me was declining Kevin Love a longer contract. Talent like Love doesn’t come around often, especially when *this* writer thinks he is the third best player in the league. Rrrrrrrricky Rrrrrrrrrubio and Kevin Love form a duo with potential to match any 1-2 combo in the league and new GM Flip Saunders brought in Kevin Martin to give them a viable scoring threat. However, the injury bug has already hit the Wolves with Chase Budinger re-injuring his surgically repaired knee. If Rubio and Love stay healthy the Wolves will be a solid bunch, but if only half of the pair can stay healthy and 2011’s no.2 pick Derrick Williams solidifies a “bust” profile looming large, no.10 will be looked back upon as waaay too high.

8. Denver Nuggets

The Nuggets will be good. They will be uber deep once again but the effects of being abandoned by a big-market seeking superstar will continue to limit this team in such a potent Western Conference. Danilo Gallinari is certainly their closest thing to a go-to guy next to Ty Lawson, who still has bit more to prove than Gallinari, who still has a bit more to prove and will miss at least a month. Andre Iguodala is gone and his versatility will be missed but his scoring won’t because it never existed. Everybody’s favorite goofball Javale McGee will get his chance to claim the starting center position but JJ Hickson could press him for time alongside the very exciting and very dreadlock’d Kenneth Faried. Similar to Portland the Nuggets are loaded with guards. After Lawson and projected backcourt starting mate Randy Foye, there is savvy Andre Miller and Nate Robinson and Evan Fournier and Jordan Hamilton is getting a mention for being a former Longhorn and officially a Mavericks draftee. Like Tyler Zeller and Byron Mullens…anywho, depth can do wonders in the regular season but grind to a halt in the postseason, just as it did the Nuggets in 2013 and are projected to do so once more.

7. Memphis Grizzlies

Another testament to the utter dominance the Western Conference possesses. The Grizzlies spent last year hovering atop the conference but new management decided to shed some of the large cap hits midseason like Rudy Gay, Marreesse Speights but they really threw in the towel when they traded Hamed Haddadi to Phoenix. Really though the moves seemed to pay off as the Grizz made it to the Western Conference Finals but that was clearly their ceiling. Finals-bound San Antonio made quick work of the Grizz and their freaky ESPN 3D logo. Mike Conley is on the verge of being an elite point guard and of course the lethal post combo of Zach Randolph and Pau Gasol’s brother is the team’s biggest/tallest strength. But the swingmen positions, although possessing solid intangibles throughout various bodies, severely lacks a scoring punch. This is certainly a playoff team, but I fear they’re an injury away (looking at Z-Bo) from wishing they could manufacture a 20 PPG small forward making the league minimum.

6. Oklahoma City Thunder

This will likely be wrong, I’ll just admit that. I will also admit that I hate the Oklahoma City Thunder with a burning passion. When they moved from Seattle to the Midwest, a large chunk of Mavs “fans” jumped ship to catch a ride on the expanding bandwagon the Thunder were amassing. They had new, young, exciting talent and alternatively the “boring, old” Mavericks were expected to be a fringe playoff team. Well, 2011 worked out kind of neat for true Mavs fans didn’t it?! The Spurs didn’t go anywhere, but they fell behind OKC for my emotion that is pure hatred. I respect the Spurs and I respected the way OKC was building before they realized really good players cost money. Jeff Green and James Harden are elsewhere collecting appropriate salaries the Thunder are as reliable on a small group of players as anyone in the league. Russell Westbrook will miss at least 4-6 weeks and in such a tough conference a month can set you back dramatically. Even though Kevin Durant is undoubtedly a bonafied superstar, he will have to expend a ton of energy to keep the Thunder afloat because their supporting cast is terrible. Which is sad; But cost-effective!

5. Golden State Warriors

The Warriors made big headlines this off-season by acquiring Andre Iguodala. Star value certainly bumped up yet again in the Bay Area but I’m not sure this makes the Warriors a more dangerous team they were already growing into. Even with the Jazz taking contract off their hands the Warriors very, very valuable second unit took a huge blow at the expense of the versatile but scoring-challenged Iggy. Jarrett Jack and Carl Landry have new homes and the second unit has been revamped with Marreese Speights and Jermaine O’Neal filling in for Landry and Toney Douglas only measuring up to what Jack meant to the Warriors by occupying his spot on the depth chart. Yes, either lethal shooting Klay Thompson or excellent sophomore Harrison Barnes will slide into a 6th lot of eggs in one basket that is the health of their top players. Steph Curry, David Lee and Andrew Bogut are all healthy right now but tomorrow could need Kobe’s German Juice. If those three are not only healthy but able to contribute nightly, I could see GSW challenging any team out West. If not, people are going to find out fast Seth is not Steph.

4. Dallas Mavericks

Biased? Who’s biased? The Dallas Mavericks 12-year playoff streak came crashing down last year but they managed to muster a .500 record out of a team that featured Eddy Curry, Derek Fisher, Troy Murphy, Chris Douglas-Roberts and Mike James on its roster and didn’t have Dirk Nowitzki for 27 games and their superstar was hobbled for another dozen or so. An already well documented transition season really couldn’t afford such circumstances. Youngsters Darren Collison and OJ Mayo were entrusted to fulfill dated expectations in their careers and sure there were glimpses, but both looked totally overmatched by NBA competition and the results were frustrating yet even (41-41). Deron Williams didn’t sign with Dallas in 2012 and Dwight Howard chose a different Texas team in 2013 so sure “Plan A” failed but I’m incredibly excited as a fan and spectator and a fan about so-called “Plan B.” The Mavericks struggled to be a cohesive unit in 2012-13 and lack of talent made that a very big problem as opposed to the Lakers reaching the postseason despite a similar lack of chemistry. Dallas’ roster has again been turned over but this year’s edition is much, much less experimental and more solidified from top to bottom, position by position. Instead of all the available cap going into one star, Mark Cuban worked his available payroll like magic and has formed a team that is very much alike the 2011 surprise championship squad. Jose Calderon has never been on a good team, Monta Ellis an integral part of one, Samuel Dalembert was buried amongst the very weird Scott Skiles Bucks depth chart most of 2012-2013. Devin Harris is back (!), Dejuan Blair and Wayne Ellington and Israeli guard Gal Mekel are on board and of course #41 is hanging around and as Marc Stein noted, has probably never looked better in preseason action. Perhaps because he has never had to prove much of anything to anyone in mid-October exhibitions in the past decade, and he still doesn’t, but he’s doing it.

3. Houston Rockets

Can the super addition of superstar super free agent superman Dwight Howard really make the Houston Rockets super good super fast? I’m super glad you asked. In the off-season marked by Mr. Howard’s free agency and signing with the Rockets the attention received by Houston in the past few months will be anemic compared to what they’re going to face in the season ahead. GM Daryl Morey has been absolutely magical the past two off-seasons, acquiring James Harden just before opening night a year ago and signing one of the game’s most dominant players in July. Add in Chandler Parsons, who will be due for a payday soon as he’s currently on a 2nd to be a little less “Linsane” because Patrick Beverley has entrusted himself in Kevin McHale’s system, seemingly more so than Lin. Financial flexibility cost the Rockets certain bench pieces like Carlos Delfino and Thomas Robinson but Omer Asik and/or Terrence Jones will provide a nice bench player or starting  round rookie minimum wage. Jeremy Lin can afford power forward. Omri Casspi will be the first swingmen off the bench so Houston definitely isn’t as fortified on the bench as last season but they have more than made up for it by adding the best player available this off-season.

2. Los Angeles Clippers

Last season the Clippers were four things: “Lob City,” on National TV every other night, waiting on Lamar Odom, but above all else a first-round exit. Houston obtained the biggest player available the Clippers snagged the best coach available, because coaches are acquirable now via trade, folks! Doc Rivers wanted no part of the Boston Celtics’ life-after competition and the Clippers’ and after an equally entertaining fiasco like Dwight Howard’s waffling, the Celts and Clipps agreed on Doc Rivers for a 2nd round pick. All the while Chris Paul re-signed a lucrative deal with Hollywood’s new good team, solidified by his handpicking and recruiting of Rivers and equally strong efforts in the opposite concerning Vinny Del Negro. Rising star Eric Bledsoe deserves more than to backup, even if it’s to the league’s best, and the Clippers took full advantage of his value in a 3-team trade with Milwaukee and Phoenix that landed them G/F’s J.J. Redick and Jared Dudley. They also added Antawn Jamison and Byron Mullens to their frontcourt and bringing in another disciple of President of Basketball Operations Chris Paul, Darren Collison. Collison spent his first season backing up CP3 in New Orleans and will slide into a backup role after flunking his starting gig with the Mavericks last season. If the Clippers were deep last year, they’re feeling the heat of the Earth’s crust now. But their success falls on Blake Griffin’s ability to be a #2. Chris Paul has carried talented but undermanned teams most of his career, but if Blake can’t be the latter of a 1-2 punch, the Clippers ceiling remains not only short of a championship, but the NBA Finals.

1. San Antonio Spurs

The ancient Tim Duncan is truly getting better with age. He’ll be racking up double doubles his whole life, I’m sure of it. But even the stoic Duncan couldn’t hide his utter disappointment after Game 6 in last season’s NBA Finals…from the bench. Yes, yes, the Spurs were so very close to their first title in half a dozen years and Ray Allen’s second chance 3-point basket was all that kept them from achieving it. However life goes on and Gregg Popovich doesn’t strike me as the guy to allow his team to dwell on anything – even something as powerful and dramatic as fumbling away an NBA Title a fingertip away. Duncan and Parker are back and the only thing keeping them from once again dominating as a duo is injury. Manu Ginobili’s bald spot was exposed as a factor of age and not fashion last year but as usual the Spurs have brought in unknown’s and made them huge contributors. Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green, Tiago Splitter and newcomer Marco Belinelli will supply enough help to the big namers and down to the 13th active player available Coach Pop will maximize the potential of everyone who puts on a Spurs jersey and unless they suffer a lengthy injury (heck, even if they do) I fully expect the timeless wonders of San Antonio to coast atop the Western Conference in 2013-2014.

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