Alright, we just analyzed the Eastern Conference, now let’s go through the more competitive Western Conference.
Oklahoma City Thunder (55-27, 4th Overall)
Seattle Supersonics. Yup. This is that franchise that moved to Oklahoma City three years ago. This young team has improved every single year in OKC. How so? The draft. Entering the season they had a young athletic core – Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Jeff Green, James Harden, and Serge Ibaka. All players that OKC had drafted over the last 4 years or so. Led by MVP candidate (and NBA scoring champion) Durant, this team could score – averaging just under 105 ppg. The development of Westbrook into one of the top young point guards yielded a winning record every month but they did struggle in January and February going 13-11. At that point, this team realized they lacked toughness and an enforcer. Although they had Ibaka who averaged 2.5 bpg, the guy was too nice. Hello trade. In February, OKC traded a piece of their core, Jeff Green, along with Nenad Krstic to Boston for Kendrick Perkins (ok, and Nate Robinson.) The team finished the remainder of the season going 19-5 and entered the playoffs as the 4th seed.
Grade: B+ (2 subpar months kept this team from winning 60+ games)
Denver Nuggets (50-32, 5th Overall)
Even with all the early season Carmelo trade talks, the Nuggets had no issues putting points up on the board. They led the league in scoring at just under 108 ppg. Don’t get too excited though. This is far from the Denver Nuggets of the mid-to-late 80s. This team floated just a few games above .500 for the majority of the year until they finally traded Carmelo to New York along with Billups. Now obviously the front office wanted to keep Carmelo and the fans still loved the guy but if Denver didnt’ make the move they would’ve lost Carmelo to free agency. The trade basically brought in almost half of the Knicks lineup but this lineup finished the season surprisingly strong. Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler, Raymond Felton, Timofey Mozgov helped push this team to hopefully a young up and coming team. Who are we kidding? Reality will settle in and I expect this team to be further blown up. Expect them to build around Aaron Afflalo (who should be made team captain), Nene, and Gallinari
Grade: B (With all the drama, still put up 50 wins)
Portland Trailblazers (48-34, 6th Overall)
I feel for Brandon Roy. With bad knees, the talented shooting guard was limited to just 47 games this year. Hopefully he fully recovers and becomes at least 75% of the player he was 2 years ago. With that being said, this team still has another rising star in big man LaMarcus Aldridge who put in 21 ppg and 9 rpg. His game reminds me a lot of a young Rasheed Wallace but without the attitude. Portland became even deeper once they added Gerald Wallace at the trade deadline. This was a great trade for them defensively making their front line long and athletic. They were excellent at home but were 5 games under .500 on the road. Aging veterans Andre Miller and Marcus Camby still contributed in what they do best.
Grade: B (Can you imagine if Durant was a Blazer?)
Utah Jazz (39-43, 11th Overall)
Prior to the season, I picked the Jazz to be one of the top 4 teams in the West with addition of Al Jefferson (who replaced Carlos Boozer). This is the lineup I envisioned – Mehmet Okur, Al Jefferson, Andrei Kirilenko, Raja Bell, Deron Williams, and 6th man Paul Milsap. Man, was I off. Okur missed basically the whole season due to injury. At one point during the season the Jazz were 27-13 and then they began singing the blues. Conflicts between Williams and coach Jerry Sloan began. On Feb 10th, Sloan resigned after 23 seasons with the Utah Jazz and was replaced with Tyrone Corbin. At this point, the Jazz were 31-23 and then Deron Williams was traded to the Nets for lightning quick point guard Devin Harris and rookie Derrick Favors. The Jazz finished the season 39-43. So how do you think the trade went?
Grade: D+ (Players league, coach resigned, then why trade best pg in league?)
Minnesota Timberwolves (17-65, 15th Overall)
I’m not really sure what President David Kahn is doing with this team. As much as I am a big supporter of Darko Milicic, Kahn gave him a multi-year contract starting at about $4 million/yr. The team went with Luke Ridnour this year at the starting point. (Previous 3 years were Johnny Flynn, Randy Foye, and Sebastian Telfair. Make up your mind!). I’ll be blunt. Even with two 20pt scorers, Michael Beasley and Kevin Love, this team sucked! I feel bad for NBA leading rebounder and double-double man Kevin Love and Assistant Coach Bill Laimbeer. Much improvement needed.
Grade: D+ (Love’s double-double record and Darko’s championship leadership)
Los Angeles Lakers (57-25, 2nd Overall)
The Lakers brought back basically the same group from last year’s back-to-back championship team, but did add veterans, point guard Steve Blake and small forward Matt Barnes. Additional depth to their bench was key. The Lakers looked ready for a three-peat starting the season 13-2 and were heavily favored throughout the year even through some of the rough patches. Rough patches meaning they had a few instances where they lost three, four, or five consecutive games in a row. Not typical of a Kobe Bryant team. The low point of the year was right before the All-Star break where they lost two games – Charlotte and Cleveland – but fortunately bounced back with a 17-1 run after the break. The Lakers had an excellent season defending their championship. Unfortunately, they were a victim of regular season boredom. Pretty common after you’ve won 2 straight championships.
Grade: A- (Can’t knock them for being bored)
Phoenix Suns (40-42, 10th Overall)
Other than Florida isn’t Arizona another popular place that people retire to? Good question to ask Steve Nash, Grant Hill, and early-season acquisition Vince Carter. Ten years ago, these three would most likely fill up SportsCenter’s top 10 plays. It’s 2011, these three were still productive, but in a less exciting way which leads me to how Phoenix’s season went. With a team that dropped about 105 ppg and 3rd overall in assists, the Suns had a blah season to me as they stayed about .500 for the whole season, missing the playoffs. A brightside is that Phoenix has – once the elder statesmen retire – some key role players to build around – Marcin Gortat, Robin Lopez, and Goran Dragic. Three guys that physically look like they don’t play ball.
Grade: C (Average performance for the year)
Golden State Warriors (36-46, 12th Overall)
I like the foundation that this team is built on. Backcourt tandem of Monta Ellis and Stephen Curry and center free agent signee David Lee. When you go to Golden State, you’re going to put up offense and the mentality is “We will outscore you.” A prime example is small forward Dorrell Wright who averaged a career high 16.4 ppg. Here’s a guy who at best is a 7 ppg game scorer throughout his career. This team was amongst the league leaders in 3 point attempts at almost 19 per game. The Warriors lacked any type of defense. They were 27th in the league in points allowed. Early into the season head coach Don Nelson resigned and Keith Smart was named new coach.
Grade: C+ (They live and die by the three ball; entertaining to watch)
Los Angeles Clippers (32-50, 13th Overall)
Only one thing to say about one of the losingest franchise in sports history. Rookie of the Year, BLAKE GRIFFIN! Technically, it was his second season, but he missed his actual rookie year due to injury. If the Clippers would actually win, Griffin’s stat line of 23 ppg, 12 rpg, 4 apg could be worthy of MVP votes. This man was a “human highlight film” throwing it down with power and athleticism. If you haven’t seen any of his dunks, “Youtube” them. They’re sick. From a team standpoint, this team has two bright stars in Griffin and two-guard Eric Gordon. Both players averaged over 22 ppg and if I were owner Donald Sterling, I’d do everything in my power to keep these young stars in L.A. The Clippers made a good move at the trade deadline to get rid of overrated Baron Davis as they brought in Mo Williams from Cleveland. If center DeAndre Jordan and small forward rookie Al-Farouq Aminu live up to expectations, they could follow the footsteps of OKC… You’re right. I forgot. It’s the Clippers.
Grade: B- (I know way too high but 80% of that score is influenced by Blake.)
Sacramento Kings (24-58, 14th Overall)
Remember 10 years ago when this team was Chris Webber, Vlade Divac, Peja Stojakovic, Doug Christie, Mike Bibby, Hedo Turkoglu, and coach Rick Adelman. Now the team is built through combo guard Tyreke Evans, rookie DeMarcus Cousins, and mid-season acquisition guard Marcus Thornton. Although with attitude problems as well as clashes with his teammates and coach Paul Westphal, Cousins has the talent to become a beast. I like this guy’s game. If he can keep his attitude somewhat in check but still have that edge, the Kings will have a big man to build around. The Kings probably could’ve won about 10-12 more games if Evans wasn’t just limited to 57 games this season due to injury. They were well coached and rebounded with the best of them. It’d be a shame if coach Westphal wasn’t on the sideline next year. I think he is what Cousins needs as a coach.
Grade: D+ (Gut feeling Vlade Divac will play a role in Cousins development)
San Antonio Spurs (61-21, 1st Overall)
Was last year the Spurs last championship push? According to the Spurs regular season play, heck no! A lot of people thought their run was over with an aging nucleus of Tim Duncan, Tony Paker, and Manu Ginobli. This was a different Spurs team vs the past. First and foremost, they were healthy for 95% of the season. (I’ll get to the remaining 5%) This team played faster than normal. Previous championship runs focused on Duncan as the centerpiece of the half-court offense. This year they played through their backcourt of Parker and Ginobli pushing the ball every opportunity. They had one of the best group of role players in ACL-less DaJuan Blair, rookie Gary Neal, and veterans George Hill, Antonio McDyess, and 3pt specialist Matt Bonner. The Spurs were 57-13 at one point. Now the 5% I mentioned. Then Duncan missed 6 of the final 12 games and the Spurs went 4-8 including a 6 game losing streak at one point.
Grade: A (Outside the 6 game losing streak, what a season)
Dallas Mavericks (57-25, 3rd Overall)
If you want to talk about a true veteran team. Well, here you go. Led by their star Dirk Nowitzki, the Mavs had 48 of their 57 wins in win streaks of 4 games or more. They had streaks of 4, 12, 5, 10, 8, 5, and 4. That’s solid. Dirk had a typical Dirk season, but their MVP of the regular season I think was center Tyson Chandler. Chandler brought in the defense and toughness that the team had been lacking over the past 8 years. On top of that, they’re backup center was a pretty solid defender as well – Brendan Haywood. Coach Rick Carlisle had this team playing on all cylinders along with point guard Jason Kidd keeping the system under control. The Mavs did hit a snag during the season when starting small forward Caron Butler was sidelined for the remainder of the year. Dallas replaced him in the line up with Shawn Marion and signed Peja Stojakovic. Not bad replacements for Butler. Their bench was amazing led by Jason Terry, JJ Barea, Haywood, Stojakovic, and Rodrigue Beaubois (who unfortunately was held to 28 games due to injury).
Grade: A- (You had a sense that the Mavs were for real this season)
New Orleans Hornets (46-36, 7th Overall)
I remember his days as a player sitting at the end of the Knicks bench and now in the head chair as first year head coach Monty Williams was taking over an already solid team. Hornets leader, Chris Paul, was limited to only 45 games due to injury last year but was much healther this season. CP3 and fellow all-star David West lead this team to a solid season. They were in the top 5 in defense which was led by center Emeka Okafor who was a threat for a double-double every night. Surprisingly this team struggled to score and was near the bottom at assists. You would’ve thought with Chris Paul as the floor leader, this team would be up there offensively. The team hit some bad news towards the end of the season when David West went out with injury and would be done for the remainder of the season and playoffs. The Hornets barely avoided the 8th seed.
Grade: B- (Didn’t completely tank after West injury, that’s respectable)
Memphis Grizzlies (46-36, 8th Overall)
At the beginning of the season, the Grizzlies starting five was I thought one of the top 5 starting units in the NBA. That’s my former classmate Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol, Rudy Gay, O.J. Mayo, and Mike Conley, Jr. The Grizzlies struggled for the first half of the season playing just under .500 ball. The team made a trade for a familiar face, Shane Battier, and by the end of the season were heading to the playoffs playing well, albeit without Rudy Gay. Battier brought in leadership and stabilization. Who stepped up big? Zach Randolph. Boy, did he step up avg 20 ppg and 12 rpg. The front line future all-star Gasol and all-star Randolph gave this team a chance to win.
Grade: B (Lookout for this year’s rookie Greivis Vasquez next year)
Houston Rockets (43-39, 9th Overall)
Yao Ming only played in 5 games this year and in early December it was announced he had a stress fracture in his ankle. This ended his season. Unfortunately, the Rockets were stuck in a division were they were 4 games above .500 and were in last place. That’s unusual to see. Anyway they were led by shooting guard Kevin Martin, a terrific scorer. Although, he would leave the team at the end of the season, coach Rick Adelman had this team scoring as they were 3rd in offense. Rick Adelman teams generally are able to put points up on the board through his system. I’m still not sure how this group of talent was able to put up 106 ppg and lead the league in assists. They don’t have the top skilled players and playmakers. Aaron Brooks, who eventually was traded, and Kyle Lowry were there point guards. Yes, they played well but not my first choice to run a team. I give all the credit to Adelman for getting the most out of his players.
Grade: C+ (They once had The Dream, Clyde the Glyde, and Sir Charles)
Well foks, that’ll due it for the Western Conference season review. As you may have noticed, the West puts out a much more competitive conference than the East. However, in the East’s defense, they do have more of the talented, exciting superstars in their conference.