As you may have heard, the Western Conference became an insane lion’s den over the past offseason. The common fact thrown out is that 13 of the 14 best players in the NBA are in the West. Or, in another way of putting it:
Let’s take a look at the teams that the Wolves will be competing with next year for one of the top eight spots in the Conference.
- Golden State Warriors - The infamous team that won 73 games and then added Kevin Durant. This offseason, they did not lose any important players and added more shooting in the form of Nick Young, a cooked Omri Casspi (who shall look revitalized now that he is not wearing a Wolves uniform), and the inexplicable addition of Jordan Bell, who was traded when the Bulls decided that as a rebuilding team they would prefer 3 million dollars instead a high-upside 2nd round pick.
- Houston Rockets - The 3rd best team in the West got a lot better this year. Chris Paul will do that. They then got a bunch of cheap signings to fill out a now deep roster, such as the recent acquisition of Luc Mbah a Moute. Melo is probably coming too.
- San Antonio Spurs - The Spurs did not do a whole lot this offseason, but they are still the Spurs until proven otherwise.
- Oklahoma City Thunder - Russell Westbrook now gets to play with Paul George. That is a big talent upgrade
- Denver Nuggets - Another team on the rise who went and added another All-Star in the form of Paul Millsap. There might be too many players who need time on this team and no one to play defense, but they did not truly start playing well till the 2nd half of the year and are looking to capitalize off that momentum.
- Memphis Grizzlies - Mike Conley and Marc Gasol are still good at basketball. They cobbled together a playoff team last year somehow. They could do it again.
- Los Angeles Clippers - If healthy, and that is a big if, this is still a pretty good team. They faced some major blows, but this is a still a talented roster.
- New Orleans Pelicans - The Pelicans only got a few weeks of Boogie and Anthony Davis last year. Now they have a full offseason to work things out. They also feel like they need to make the playoffs or the clock starts ticking on Anthony Davis.
- Portland Trailblazers - Is Nurkic the magic winning piece? If he is, this team is still talented enough to fight for a playoff spot.
- Utah Jazz - Even with Gordon Hayward gone, this is still a very talented and deep team. The top-end talent might not be there, but they have a lot of shooting and defense, as well as a certain magical Spanish Unicorn.
So with these ten teams and the Wolves, three teams are going to get pushed to the margins. This will be a murderer’s row and team health will be incredibly important for anyone not named the Warriors, Spurs, and Rockets. Not to mention, the Kings, Mavericks, and Lakers will probably not be pushovers this year. The dark wizard Rick Carlisle certainly does not like tanking. The Suns, and maybe Lakers, are going to really only be the “bad” team this year, unless the Grizzlies or Mavericks hit an immediate wall and decide to go in the other direction.
It is certainly different over in the East, where three playoff teams last year just straight up bottomed out with the Hawks, Bulls, and Pacers. That fight for the bottom half of the playoffs will be led by the luminaries like the Pistons, 76ers, Heat, and Hornets. It’s tough to imagine any of those teams making the playoffs in the West.
The Wolves will have their work cut out for them. The team will certainly need time to acclimate to all of these new players, but hopefully the fact that Jimmy Butler and Taj Gibson are extremely familiar with Thibs’ system will speed this along. The team will not have time to waste in the beginning of the season. In this conference, the race for the playoffs begins on day one.