The NBA season tips off tonight, and with the exception of the Orlando Magic, who face the newly-named Pelicans of New Orleans, it’s an all-Western Conference start to the 2014-15 tenure. The off-season was filled with big moves; some players returned home to build a super team and the league had one of the deepest draft classes since a guy named Darko was selected second overall.
In celebration, we’ve broken down each conference and offered our predictions. So rev up the League Pass (for half of the games to be blacked out) and tape your ankles so they don’t get broke. Here’s our look at how the Western Conference will fare this season.
San Antonio Spurs
+18 Intelligence, +18 Constitution
The Spurs forever be Spursin’. Last year they took apart a super team in the finals while a quiet kid with cornrows had a coming out party. They made no significant changes on the court, but made great progressive moves on the bench adding Becky Hammon, the first woman assistant coach in a full-time capacity in the NBA, and Ettore Messina, long thought to be a brilliant international coach in Italy. The dynasty is now solidly in great hands, so I hope you like seeing silver and black in the finals.
Los Angeles Lakers
-2 Wisdom, +13 Angry Kobe factor
Kobe has been on a tear this pre-season, not on the court, but on twitter. Henry Abbot of ESPN ripped him apart in a column stating that players don’t want to play with him. The Lakers lineup is a tattered quilt of names from the early 2000s in Nick Young, Steve Nash and Carlos Boozer, all of whom are collecting paychecks and little else. Jeremy Lin signed there, so he could give a spark before being told not to do that anymore. The Lakers do have Julius Randle, who should be groomed to be their next star, as the world waits for the next Kobe temper tantrum.
Oklahoma City Thunder
-5 Constitution, -18 Scott Brooks
Star Kevin Durant is going to miss the opening six-eight weeks with a Jones fracture in his foot, so the team is Russell Westbrook’s to run for a little bit. The sad part is this probably saves head coach Scott Brooks job for another season, even though Brooks has been objectively terrible. His rotations and lineups have confounded most of the basketball community and with a team featuring two of the top-10 players, they’re not getting enough out of that combination.
Los Angeles Clippers
+9 Wisdom, +14 Showtime
The Blake and CP3 show is literally coming to television, so might as well go deep into the celebrity status and just steal the Showtime moniker from the ailing Lakers. They have also ousted their old, curmudgeonly-racist owner, brought in Chris Douglas-Roberts who promises to wear 80s-era short shorts year round, and baby you got a stew going.
New Orleans Pelicans
+4 Dexterity, -4 Bench depth
The Pels finally got Anthony Davis a real center in Omer Asik, so now Davis can just concentrate on getting buckets, boards and saving some of his energy on the defensive end for the offense. They still have a confusing backcourt with Eric Gordon, Jrue Holiday and Tyreke Evans, who all basically do the same thing and don’t really want to pass. Their bench is atrocious, but the Brow is worth checking out at all times.
+6 Constitution, +4 Joerger bombs
The Grizz had a weird start to their offseason as Coach Dave Joerger tried to get out from his team to join the Timberwolves, and then some high-ranking front office officials stepped down and Joerger was back in the fold. They picked up some studs in the draft by way of Jarnell Stokes and Jordan Adams and got Vince Carter to add to that aging-yet-effective team. Joerger hopefully has more confidence this season, because his rotation and play calling was enough to drive Beale street to drink. Oh wait…
+7 Dexterity, +13 Manimal
Kenneth Faried was the breakout star of the US team in the FIBA World Cup and he was rewarded with a fat extension by the Nugs. The team has been derailed by injury in the past, so they fortified some of their core by nabbing the aging-yet-effective (notice a theme here?) Arron Afflalo. The expectations are high for Wilson Chandler, Danilo Gallinari and Ty Lawson, but if everyone stays healthy, look for them to move Randy Foye and give the conference a run for its money.
+ 11 Dexterity, +2 Discounts on jerseys
The Suns ran an unconventional floor plan starting two guards with similar skill sets and it worked. Jeff Hornacek is now getting accolades for his innovation, even as the Suns front office does its best to derail any progress. A weird feud over the contract of Eric Bledsoe hung over the team all summer, but it was fixed when he signed to a max contract. This was before the Morris twins, Markieff and Marcus, were also signed to an extension together. If you’re to believe the story, the GM gave them a dollar amount and told them to split it up between the two of them. And to complete the family tradition, the Suns brought in Goran Dragic’s brother, Zoran. So many jerseys, so few last names.
+3 Charisma, +2 Potential
The Jazz have become one of those teams that will get a ton of attention, but not many wins. They’ve got a really great young core, but they haven’t developed the team chemistry needed to win games consistently. They only have two players over 30, just gave a mini-max deal to shooter Gordon Hayward and then picked up Dante Exum in the draft. They also got a good pick up in Trevor Booker, who they’re looking to turn into a stretch four and quality point guards. They should be fun to watch at times, but they could also be maddening due to inexperience.
-8 Charisma, +2 Defense
Don’t worry, I’m not awarding the defense attribute to James Harden. That goes to free agent signing Trevor Ariza, who brings a much-wanted 3&D player to the Rockets when they lost out on Chandler Parsons. Ariza will play perimeter defense, hit corner threes and probably ignore the bubbling murmurs of Harden and Dwight Howard. Coach Kevin McHale is on the permanent hot seat because this squad, once again, should fare well with the talent they have. If they don’t perform, consider McHale’s salary an easy cost-cut compared to the guys on the floor.
+4 Constitution, -3 Perimeter
DeMarcus “Boogie” Cousins won a gold medal and promised to get less than five technical fouls all season. No one really believes that, but Boogie’s heart is in the right place. The Kings jettisoned Isaiah Thomas for Darren Collison at the point and are going all-in on Ben McLemore, even though he was statistically one of the worst players on the team last year. They are even talking about grooming Rudy Gay to be a power forward. So, it’s kind of a mess in Sacramento.
Golden State Warriors
+8 Splash, -18 Preaching
Short of removing their head coach so he can go preach on street corners and be a terrible television commenter, the Dubs had a quiet off season. They added Shaun Livingston who played his guts out on an under-preforming Nets team last season, but he’s already injured and not looking good for the opening stretch. The Warriors still have Steph Curry and Klay Thompson making it look easy, and with Klay’s agent gunning for a max deal, his game might step up even more. This will hopefully distract from the fact that their proposed new stadium looks like a toilet.
Portland Trail Blazers
+12 Charisma, +9 Bench Naps
The Blazers had high expectations last season and were great until they were ousted by the narratively-weaker Houston Rockets. Although that series was bonkers good, the Blazers could be on the brink of success or complete implosion. Damian Lillard grew a chip on his shoulder, the Blazers added a little bit to their bench, including infamous bench napper Chris Kamen. I doubt the Blazers want him to catch some Zs, but you never know.
+9 Wisdom, +5 Nostalgia
Always on the cusp of being one of the better teams in the West, the Mavericks quietly had a great off season. They brought back center Tyson Chandler, who helped them win a championship in 2010-11, signed one of the hottest commodities in Chandler Parsons and grabbed a handful of really good role players like Richard Jefferson, Charlie Villanueva and Al-Farouq Aminu. They also fortified heir back court with an aging but effective Jameer Nelson. Dirk’s not done yet!
+14 Charisma, -14 Love
The Love Crisis is finally over for the T-Wolves and although it smarts that he’s gone, Kevin Love was never going to stick around in Minnesota. For all the headaches he provided the team, they got the number one pick in Andrew Wiggins, a former number one who is improving in Anthony Bennett and Thad Young from the 76ers. Couple that with their own pick in dunk machine Zach LaVine and Ricky Rubio’s eyes must be pretty big looking at all the choices he has to dish to. The Wolves are still thin in the front court and really, really need a better center but watch for the dunks, wait for the refined play.