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Sunday, December 17th, 2017
A Different Look for the Western Conference

Just two days in to the NBA Free Agent period, and it appears the 2018 NBA playoffs will look a little the top team in the NBA once again. The Warriors have resigned all their free agents, including the best point guard in the game Stephen Curry to the richest deal in the NBA so far at over 200 million dollars. Kevin Durant restructured his deal that was up this year after coming over from OKC, and after flirting with other teams, even Andre Iguodola resigned, as well as role players Sean Livingstone, and David West. Iguodola flirted with other teams briefly, and although role players like he, and West (who is most likely at the twilight of his career) would probably have a better chance at more minutes, with a less star studded team, they chose to stay put. Why? Well, the answer to me is quite obvious. It’s not about $$, its not about playing time, or a chance at getting more recognition, it’s about rings. It’s about the Larry O’Brien trophy. As long as Golden State continues to win, why would ANYONE want to leave? Whether you are Curry, who is the Michael Jordan of Under Armor and most likely has a net worth of close to 1/2 billion dollars with all his endorsements, or the incoming rookie out of Oregon, Jordan Bell, no one would want to lease such a winning situation. Chemistry and winning go hand in hand. As long as there is good team chemistry, they will continue to win, and when they continue to win, the chemistry will be great. I don’t see anyone overtaking Golden State next year, and once again, they should win close to 60 games, if not more.

The also rans, or everyone below Golden State in the Western Conference? The Pacific Division has been, in my opinion the worst of the three in the conference. Two teams, for the past several years have advanced from this group to the NBA playoffs. Golden State, and the Los Angeles Clippers. The Los Angeles Lakers, are no longer the team they were of the 80’s and have been able to get anywhere near the playoffs the last couple seasons after the retirement of Kobe Bryant. They were one of the first teams to make a move this off season getting Brook Lopez from New Jersey, but I don’t think its a big enough move to get them to the playoffs this year. I believe they are just waiting on Paul George in 2018-19 Phoenix appears to be a team on the rise but with no big free agent signings I still see them as a team in the middle of the Pacific Division. Sacramento? Well, still the same ol’ Kings, a team that fails miserably when it comes to the draft after just releasing Ben Mclemore one of their latest draft acquisitions. They do have a new arena with the Golden 1 Center, but I don’t see them filling this seats anytime soon, unless they get Demarcus Cousins some help. The Clippers, gained a whole mess of players back from Houston in the trade for Chris Paul, but I don’t see any of them making the kind of difference that Paul did, and I expect them to struggle to make the playoffs, even with Blake Griffin.

The Southwest Division, is arguably one of the best in the NBA, and just got even better. San Antonio has resigned one of the best backup shooting guards in the NBA, (a player the Blazers are kicking themselves for letting go a few seasons ago) Patty Mills. Mills goes under the radar, but the Australian is one of the best shooters in the NBA from beyond the arc. They have the best Coach in the NBA Greg Popvich, and an all star cast of Pau Gasol, Lamarcus Aldridge, veteran guards Manu Ginobli, and Tony Parker, strong backup guard Danny Green, and are making a run at George Hill (currently with Utah) who once played for the Spurs. The team to watch though in the SW is Houston. Trading a heap of players (most noticeably Patrick Beverley) for the second best point guard Chris Paul, can’t be bad. A back court of CP3 and James Harden will only make the Rockets stock soar even higher, and I see them in a tight race with the Spurs and Thunder for the SW next year. Buying backups like Tim Quarterman of the Blazers, and making other moves without losing picks, means this team will most likely be strong for years to come, especially as long as the 2017-18 Coach of the Year Mike D’Antoni stays on board. Although with an all star cast that includes Harden and Paul, how could one NOT win games? Memphis, was a playoff team last year, and I think they will again finish somewhere between 5th and 8th in the conference, with veterans like Zach Randolph, Mike Conley, and Marc Gasol, but they didn’t do anything to help themselves this FA period. New Orleans will need help to improve despite having one of the best young power forwards in the game Anthony Davis, and resigning Jrue Holiday who garnered interest from other teams. Dallas had better hope that Dirk Nowitzki has at least one more good year in him and can get better play from Nerlens Noel, Seth Curry and former Blazer Wesley Matthews, or they could see themselves as bottom feeders in the division.

The NW Division could see the most change out of any in the NBA thanks to the great moves by Minnesota and Oklahoma City this offseason. T’wolves head coach Tom Thibodeau has reunited with former Bulls, Jimmy Butler (via trade), Taj Gibson, and PJ Tucker (via free agency). Minnesota has also added former Knick and Atlanta Hawk, Jeff Teague and gotten rid of Ricky Rubio who left the pack for Utah. The added help for one of the best young Centers in the league, Karl Anthony-Towns, should see at least a 10 win improvement, for the Wolves who I believe WILL make the playoffs for the first time in many years, and be one of the most improved teams in the NBA next year. Oklahoma City however will remain tops in the Division as the Thunder appear to have regrouped from the loss of Kevin Durant last year, by trading for the best player in the Eastern Conference (outside of Lebron James) Paul George. George has made it very public, however, that he would like to play for the Lakers, and is in the final year of his contract, so don’t expect his stay in the Sooner state to last long. It may be just a layover on his journey west from Indiana, but he should pair up well with Russell Westbrook. Portland should improve from last year with the addition of Zach Collins (Gonzaga) who can shoot from beyond the arc and Caleb Branigan (Purdue) who should give the Blazers some much needed but and rebounding. The Blazers apparently made a move at Paul George themselves, but were turned down. Not sure Paul George would have helped the Blazers get to the conference finals, and not worth it for anything less for a one year rental. The Blazers still have one of the top 5 point guards in the conference in Damian Lillard. They had high hopes for former Warrior C Festus Ezeli, but after sitting out the entire season due to knee surgery, he was waived a couple of days ago. That coupled with selling third string PG Tim Quarterman to Houston should open up a couple of roster spots for Collins and Branigan. Evan Turner and Allen Crabbe can both shoot the ball, but Crabbe went cold during the playoffs in the first round shutout to the eventual NBA champ Warriors. Turner, Crabbe, former Laker Ed Davis, and most frequently Meyers Leonard, have all been names linked to trades so far this offseason for Portland but no deals have been made as of yet and as each day goes by more opportunities for a player that will fill a need slip away. The Blazers have a glut of small forwards, but that is probably their biggest need, a veteran forward with playoff experience that can help this team win games when it matters most. Portland’s big 3, Lillard, SG CJ McCollum, and C Jusuf Nurkic (who came over in a trade last season with Denver) will have a full season to play together this year and as they have more time to develop chemistry, should see a slight improvement but still finish in the bottom half of the playoff bracket next year. Utah may be in trouble next year, it appears they are content with letting the closest player they have to an all-star, Gordon Hayward go, in order to get Ricky Rubio from Minnesota, who never once helped the Twolves get to the playoffs. Hayward has been linked to Boston and Miami, with the Heat recently being named the frontrunners. Expect Utah to miss the playoffs if he doesn’t re-sign. **Denver should be improved after signing Paul Milsap to a 3 year $90 million deal. He was a serviceable all star with Atlanta and Utah, but even with the addition, he is coming over to a conference full of them. **The Nuggets may also lose one of their top 3 players (before signing Milsap) Danilo Gallinari to the Clippers who are looking to rebuild after losing CP3. The Nuggets also have a good nucleus of young talent including former Blazers Will Barton and Mason Plumlee.

Based on current NBA free agency deals, this is how I see the NBA Western Conference shaping out for the 2017-18 season:

Northwest Division W L GB
*1. Oklahoma City 51 31 —
*2. Portland 48 34 3
*3. Minnesota 45 37 6
4. Denver 40 42 11
5. Utah 38 44 13

Southwest Division W L GB
*1. Houston 55 27 —
*2. San Antonio 53 29 2
*3. Memphis 46 36 9
4. New Orleans 40 42 15
5. Dallas 35 47 20

Pacific Division W L GB
*1. Golden State 65 17 —
*2. Los Angeles Clip. 43 39 22
3. Phoenix 39 43 26
4. Sacramento 37 45 28
5. LA Lakers 30 52 35

*-indicates playoff team
2018 NBA Western Conference Playoff Predictions

1. Golden State over 8. LA Clippers 4-0
2. Houston over 7. Minnesota 4-2
3. San Antonio over 6. Memphis 4-2
4. Oklahoma City over 5. Portland 4-3

1. Golden State over 4. Oklahoma City 4-2
Houston over 3. San Antonio 4-2

1. Golden State over 2. Houston 4-2