Tuesday, October 30, 2012

2012-2013 NBA Season: Western Conference Pretenders & Contenders

By Spencer Pyke (@N0CommonSpence)

After yet another insane off-season, the dust has finally settled and the NBA is just hours from tipping off the 2012-2013 season.

Although Miami and Brooklyn acquired some new marquee names, most of the blockbuster summer deals took place in the Western Conference.  Dwight and Nash are now in purple and gold, James Harden and Linsanity are in Houston and another A.I. departed Philly for Denver.  All in all, the roster movements and Team USA bringing home the gold paved way for an entertaining few months, but none of that compares to the season which lies ahead.  With the postseason nearly half a year away, let’s go ahead and separate the playoff pretenders and contenders...


New Orleans Hornets

I love what NOLA did in the draft, and it will pay off down the road. But mentioning this team in the postseason conversation is outlandish to say the least.  Anthony Davis will kill the game all season and win Rookie of the Year, but every young team faces “growing pains,” especially in their first year playing together.  Expect great things in the future for the Hornets, but not this year. 

At least they won’t have the worst defense in the city, yeah, that’s a shot at the Saints.

Golden State Warriors

After a 23 – 43 campaign last season, the Warriors didn’t do much to bolster their chances for a postseason berth in 2013.  G-State can definitely put up points, but in a league where great defense trumps great offense, the Warriors seem to be up a certain creek with no paddle.

They have only reached the playoffs twice in the past 19 seasons. Sure, Steph Curry and Harrison Barnes will be fun to watch, but you can go ahead and extend that streak to 20. 

Sacramento Kings

I hate to do this, but there is just no way the Kings are postseason contenders in the top heavy Western Conference.  The Kings have a lot of young talent in Cousins, Tyreke, Marcus Thornton and rookie Thomas Robinson, but they are just too young. 

If they surround the youngin’s with the right vets down the road, and there’s no telling if that road will be in Cali, the Kings could potentially be a playoff team in the years to come.  But for right now, the only thing certain in the Kings shady future does not entail playing more than 82 games. 

Phoenix Suns

Phoenix was on the cusp of a playoff berth near the end of last season, but now that quarterback Steve Nash departed for sunnier skies in L.A., the Suns don’t stand much of a chance.  While the growth of Kendall Marshall will be entertaining, their go-to scorers will be Luis Scola, Marcin Gortat, Jared Dudley and Mike Beasley - that about sums it up for me. 

They signed Jermaine O’Neal in the offseason, really Phoenix? Jermaine O’Neal.

Houston Rockets

The acquisitions of Harden and Linsanity will sell some tickets in Houston, but come on; Harden and Linsanity are not leading any squads to the postseason with or without Omar Asik.  Don’t get me wrong, Lin was a great story last year, sleeping on teammates couches and everything, but in all honestly he might be one of the most overrated players in recent history.  He balled on mediocre Eastern Conference teams for a week or two before eventually bowing out with an injury and getting crushed by the Heat. 

Luckily for Houston fans, the best bench player in the league last year, Harden, will show them every hand signal in the world after he drains a three pointer midway through the second quarter.  Too bad Oklahoma City didn’t get to see any in the Finals, you know, when it mattered most. 

Dallas Mavericks

Acquiring O.J. Mayo in the offseason was a solid pick-up despite the marquee names that have left town since their championship run two years ago.  The Mavs reached the postseason last season, but were escorted out of the party rather quickly.  Unfortunately, Mark Cuban and every other Mavericks fan knows that only one player really matters on the squad: Vince Carter. 

Kidding, but all jokes aside, Dirk, who turns 35 after the season, will miss the beginning of the year with a knee injury.  I find it hard to believe the team will be able to recover when he comes back later in the season. Dallas will miss the postseason for the first time in over a decade. 

Portland Trailblazers

While Lamarcus Aldridge is still the face of the franchise, the Trailblazers are actually in a rebuilding phase under new head coach Terry Stotts.  The roster features a lot of young talent around Aldridge and Sasha Pavlovic, but it will be a tough year for Portland unless J.J. Hickson and Wesley Matthews turn out to be super stars. 

They won’t be the worst in the conference, but they also won’t be competing for a postseason spot down the stretch.


Minnesota Timberwolves

Thank god Kevin Love’s broken hand doesn’t need surgery.  With Rubio coming off of reconstructive knee surgery that would have been an even bigger blow than the Wolves already have.  When they both return to the lineup, the T’Wolves will be fun to watch, but until then, the squad will be treading water in an already deep Western Conference.

I expect them to reach the postseason, but as the last team in.  I also like to throw in an early prediction that Brandon Roy wins Comeback Player of the Year. 

Utah Jazz

The Jazz were the final squad to sneak into the playoffs last season, and actually gave the top seeded Spurs a few good games.  The injuries to Love in Minnesota and Dirk in Dallas give Jazz fans even more hope for another postseason berth in 2013 if they can get off to a hot start.  At 20 years young, Enes Kanter had a huge pre-season which bodes well for Utah, but then again, the Lakers lost every single one of their pre-season games, so we can’t draw too many conclusions from the eight games that took place. 

They are weak in the back court, which could potentially lead to their downfall, but they have what it takes to make it.  I’m not saying they make it out of the first round or anything, but they will make it. 

Denver Nuggets

When a team is coached by George Karl, I will never write them off, especially when that team boosted their already playoff contending roster with former 76er Olympic bench-warmer Andre Iguadola.  Dano Gallinari and Ty Lawson played great together last season while Kenneth Faried blossomed late in the year.  By no means are they a contender to win it all in the West, but they will not be a cakewalk for any team. 

Don’t be surprised if the Nuggets squeeze out a top four seed and earn home court advantage in the first round, crazier things have happened. 

Memphis Grizzlies

The Grizz kids were plagued with injuries last season, yet were still able to grab the fourth seed in the West behind the Spurs, Thunder and Lakers.  They had a tough match up with the Clippers in the first round ultimately falling.  Although they lost O.J. Mayo, the team plays great defense and with the talent that Rudy Gay brings night in and night out are going to be right back in the running for home court in the first round. 

At this point, every team is looking up at the Lakers and Thunder. While squads like Denver and Memphis will be fun to watch, they just don’t have the same depth and talent levels as the heavyweights. 

Los Angeles Clippers

Clip City had a great season last year and posted their best win percentage in franchise history.  After eliminating Memphis in the first round, they came up short against a Spurs squad that was on fire to say the least.  Now in year two, CP3 and Blake look to soar to new heights, no pun intended.  The best part about their roster is its depth.  Key acquisitions of Jamal Crawford and Lamar Odom, as well as adding veteran leadership with Grant Hill, show that they Clippers aren’t happy with just making it.

Unfortunately for Lob City, their Staples Center counterparts put on a show this offseason that overshadowed everything they have done recently. 

San Antonio Spurs

Prior to last season, I strongly doubted the Spurs ability to make a run at the Title.  That doubt made me look like a fool months later as the Spurs went on a tear through the Western Conference and nabbed the top seed winning 50 of their 66 games.  After eliminating the Jazz and Clippers, the Spurs looked well on their way to another Finals berth, but OKC stole the show. 

With Manu, Tony and Timmy all returning, and Pop leading the reigns, the Spurs believe they are more than just playoff contenders in the upcoming season.  After watching their performance in the Western Conference Finals, it doesn’t faze me to say that was their last chance at glory.   They will have another strong year, but as for the Larry O-Brien, now way, bro. 

Oklahoma City Thunder

Say what you want about the Harden trade, but the Thunder is better off in the long run for it.  Their starting five remains intact and they saved money.  I know people talk about OKC’s Big Three and their chemistry, but Harden didn’t perform when it mattered most, so why people think he deserves a max contract is beyond me. Plus, he suffered the worst Olympic cross-over in USA history this summer. His ankles are still in recovery mode.

Back to the point at hand, the Thunder added two young talents in Perry Jones III and Jeremy Lamb which bodes well for their future.  All the talk surrounds the Lakers right now but I am pretty sure Durantula and Westbrook are still on the squad next to Serge, who led the league in blocks and Perk, the undisputed heavy weight mean-mug champion of the world. Don’t write it off to the Lakers just yet, this team is still one of the best in the league. 

Los Angeles Lakers

Don’t really have much to say that hasn’t been said already by the masses.  Kobe, Paul and Ron-Ron are still in town and Dwight and Nash just landed.  It doesn’t take a basketball genius to realize this team has the talent level to be insanely good.  Although, they’re still a couple of things I’m still not sold on, including Mike Brown leading the squad and Dwight’s health.  But as long as the Black Mamba is on the court with Steve Nash running the point, how the hell could this not work? I mean, there was an eight year stretch where the highest scoring NBA team had Steve Nash as their point guard, that’s no coincidence, bro can run an offense.

Regardless of what I’m not sold on, the wealthy keep getting wealthier every offseason.  It doesn’t matter that Kobe hurt his foot, or that they didn’t win one preseason game.  When the postseason starts, they will be one of the eight teams in, and at that point, everyone should be afraid.

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