The crazy 2016 NBA offseason’s unexpected signings and expensive deals drastically changed the landscape of the league. Looking ahead to the 2016-2017 season, let’s look at how the Western Conference might shake out, and which teams could pose a threat in the playoffs next year.
15. Phoenix Suns
Key Players: Eric Bledsoe, Brandon Knight, Devin Booker, Jared Dudley, Marquese Chriss, Dragan Bender.
Former Warriors: Leandro Barbosa.
After a few years of roster mismanagement, the Suns have finally found some level of stability. With sophomore Devin Booker looking to build upon an impressive year, and two top-10 picks in Chriss and Bender, the future could be bright. However, this team will likely get worse before it gets better: one of Bledsoe or Knight will likely be moved because of the logjam at guard, and veteran Tyson Chandler is a poor fit on the team. Don’t expect a playoff push from this team, but if the young players overachieve, they could surprise with the amount of young talent they’ve accumulated.
14. Los Angeles Lakers
Key Players: D’Angelo Russell, Jordan Clarkson, Brandon Ingram, Luol Deng, Julius Randle, Timofey Mozgov.
Former Warriors: Luke Walton.
The Lakers began free agency with a bang, signing center Timofey Mozgov to a widely-maligned deal that locks him in as their starting center. Adding veterans Luol Deng and Jose Calderon will help, but this team is a long ways away from competing. The spectacle of Kobe Bryant’s last year stalled the team’s development: the franchise will have to find a new identity for the first time in years. All eyes will be Russell and Ingram to shine from Day One.
13. Sacramento Kings
Key Players: Darren Collison, Arron Afflalo, Ben McLemore, Rudy Gay, Matt Barnes, DeMarcus Cousins.
Former Warriors: Matt Barnes, Anthony Tolliver.
After a puzzling offseason that left Gay and Cousins dumbfounded, the Kings roster still looks unfinished. With a few too many centers on the roster, and serious questions in the backcourt, the upcoming season could capsize quickly. This could finally be the year the Kings move Cousins, and begin an earnest, total rebuild.
12. Denver Nuggets
Key Players: Emmanuel Mudiay, Gary Harris, Jamal Murray, Will Barton, Danilo Gallinari, Kenneth Faried, Nikola Jokic.
Former Warriors: Mike Malone.
The Nuggets have stockpiled quite a bit of young talent, including Olympics phenom Nikola Jokic and a trio of talented guards in Mudiay, Harris, and Murray. The team is likely too inexperienced to make real noise this year, but they do have quality veterans in Gallinari, Wilson Chandler, and Faried that could be useful either as movable assets or as complementary players down the road. They could be crazy fun in the 2017-2018 season.
Hoping to Sneak In
11. New Orleans Pelicans
Key Players: Jrue Holiday, Buddy Hield, E’Twaun Moore, Tyreke Evans, Solomon Hill, Anthony Davis, Omer Asik.
Former Warriors: Alvin Gentry.
After an injury-ravaged first year under Head Coach Alvin Gentry, the Pelicans quietly surrounded their star Anthony Davis with young, supporting talent. If the team is healthy and matures within Gentry’s system, the team could become successful quickly. But the team has yet to find one competent big to pair with Davis, Evans is a sore fit on the roster, and the injury bug could strike again. Lots of question marks, but the Pels have a high potential if Davis gets the help he needs.
10. Houston Rockets
Key Players: Patrick Beverley, James Harden, Eric Gordon, Trevor Ariza, Corey Brewer, Ryan Anderson, Clint Capela.
Former Warriors: None.
The Rockets added a ton of offensive firepower this offseason: hiring Mike D’Antoni and signing Gordon and Anderson could make this offense one of the league’s elite. However, the defense will struggle. Patrick Beverley, Corey Brewer, and Trevor Ariza have declined, and Clint Capela hasn’t proven himself to be the incredible defensive stalwart this team will need. Regardless of how good the team will be, James Harden conducting exhilarating offensive showcases nightly will be incredibly fun to watch next year.
9. Dallas Mavericks
Key Players: Deron Williams, Wesley Matthews, Harrison Barnes, Dirk Nowitzki, Dwight Powell, Andrew Bogut.
Former Warriors: Seth Curry, Harrison Barnes, Andrew Bogut.
After quickly pouncing on Harrison Barnes and Andrew Bogut after the Kevin Durant signing, the Mavericks sit in a state of limbo as Dirk Nowitzki’s Hall of Fame career winds to an end. The team isn’t clearly better than last year, and the bench seems a little thin. But don’t underestimate coach Rick Carlisle’s ability to fit his cast around Dirk: they’re always a threat to make the playoffs.
8. Minnesota Timberwolves
Key Players: Ricky Rubio, Zach LaVine, Andrew Wiggins, Gorgui Dieng, Karl-Anthony Towns, Cole Aldrich.
Former Warriors: Brandon Rush.
All aboard the Timberwolves Train! After Karl-Anthony Towns posted one of the best rookie seasons we’ve ever seen, the Wolves seem stocked with young talent from top to bottom. Under new coach Tom Thibodeau, the defense could take significant strides, and they have the assets to make major moves at the trade deadline. The team is inexperienced, but the pure talent and coaching could push them into the playoffs.
7. Oklahoma City Thunder
Key Players: Russell Westbrook, Victor Oladipo, Andre Roberson, Kyle Singler, Ersan Ilyasova, Enes Kanter, Steven Adams.
Former Warriors: Anthony Morrow.
Despite Dion Waiters’ departure from the Thunder this offseason, the team is well-positioned to make a run for the playoffs. After dealing veteran Serge Ibaka in a strong trade, the Thunder hope for productive years from young players like Cameron Payne, Alex Abrines, and Domantis Sabonis. Oladipo and Adams are solid starters, and Billy Donovan showed serious coaching chops in the playoffs. At the end of the day, don’t bet against an angry Russell Westbrook.
Looking to Make Some Playoff Noise
6. Portland Trail Blazers
Key Players: Damian Lillard, C.J. McCollum, Allen Crabbe, Evan Turner, Al-Farouq Aminu, Moe Harkless, Mason Plumlee.
Former Warriors: Festus Ezeli.
Fresh off a surprising second-round playoff run, the Trail Blazers brought back their young core, while adding the enigmatic Evan Turner and taking a flier on Festus Ezeli. Though the front office spent a ton of money, don’t expect this team to be significantly better than it was last season: the frontcourt defensive problems remain an issue, and exactly how Turner helps the team as a ball-dominant non-shooter is unclear. However, the backcourt of Lillard and McCollum is still extremely potent, and their young talent still has room to grow.
5. Utah Jazz
Key Players: George Hill, Rodney Hood, Alec Burks, Gordan Hayward, Joe Johnson, Boris Diaw, Derrick Favors, Rudy Gobert.
Former Warriors: None.
Due to a plethora of injuries, the Jazz barely missed the playoffs last year despite spurts of defensive dominance. After bringing in veterans George Hill, Joe Johnson, and Boris Diaw this offseason, the Jazz suddenly have a cohesive starting unit and one of the deepest benches in the NBA. Though the team hasn’t made the playoffs since 2012, if their sophomores Dante Exum, Rodney Hood, and Trey Lyles take the next step, Utah could become scary very quickly.
4. Memphis Grizzlies
Key Players: Mike Conley, Tony Allen, Vince Carter, Chandler Parsons, Zach Randolph, JaMychal Green, Marc Gasol.
Former Warriors: Brandan Wright.
The Grizzlies’ big steal of the offseason, Chandler Parsons, is a perfect fit for this hard-nosed squad. His blend of playmaking and shooting will open up a bunch of offensive possibilities for what’s been an old-fashioned offense in the past. However, the Grizzlies will need healthy seasons from Mike Conley and Marc Gasol, who was considered one of the best centers in the NBA just a year or so ago. Memphis’ future potential is limited by the age of its stars, but they could pull off upsets in the 2017 playoffs with a bit of luck.
3. San Antonio Spurs
Key Players: Tony Parker, Patty Mills, Danny Green, Manu Ginobili, Kawhi Leonard, LaMarcus Aldridge, Pau Gasol.
Former Warriors: DeWayne Dedmon, David Lee.
The Spurs return mostly the same roster as last year, with one major exception: to replace Tim Duncan after his retirement, the Spurs signed Pau Gasol. Though he’ll arguably bring more to the table on the offensive end than Duncan did, the Aldridge-Gasol pairing in the frontcourt will pose significant defensive issues. With Parker and Ginobili aging and a lack of athleticism on the roster, expect the Spurs to take a small step back, despite how dangerous it is to bet against coach Gregg Popovich.
2. Los Angeles Clippers
Key Players: Chris Paul, J.J. Redick, Jamal Crawford, Luc Mbah a Moute, Wes Johnson, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan.
Former Warriors: Jamal Crawford, Marreese Speights :(
Doc Rivers and the Clippers had a quiet offseason, bringing their crew back (minus Jeff Green) to try once again to win the Western Conference. They’ve added quite a few names to the roster via minimum signings, such as Raymond Felton, Alan Anderson, Brandon Bass, and Marreese Speights, and if their stars stay healthy, they’ll probably be the most dangerous threat to the Warriors. But with Blake Griffin’s impending free agency and the advancing age of Paul, Redick, and Crawford, this might be the Clipper’s last shot. Also, do they really have anybody who can guard Kevin Durant?
1. Golden State Warriors
Key Players: Stephen Curry, Shaun Livingston, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green, Zaza Pachulia.
The Warriors are sitting pretty at the top of the Western Conference after signing Kevin Durant, the crown jewel of the offseason. With four All-NBA players whose skills truly complement each other, the Warriors hope to be the gold standard of the NBA in playmaking, shooting, and defense. Savvy veterans Shaun Livingston, Andre Iguodala, Zaza Pachulia, and David West will play important supporting roles, and prospects like Patrick McCaw and Kevon Looney will try to crack the rotation. Of course, JaVale McGee making the final roster will ensure this team’s eternal place in basketball history.