Contenders, Pretenders, And Those Who Just Never Had A Chance: NBA Western Conference

In the 2010-2011 NBA season, the western conference is the seemingly tougher conference, containing the repeat champion Los Angeles Lakers and more contenders for the NBA championship. Already the west holds the top three teams in the young NBA season. A common trend this season in the east and west is that the top team have come out to a fast start. Here’s how the NBA’s western conference is going to break down in the final stretch of the regular season.

New Orleans Hornets: Coming into this season the Hornets added struggling small forward Trevor Ariza to try to complement Chris Paul, David West and Emeka Okafor. This move clearly worked as they won their first eight games of the regular season. Coming into the season I would have said that they are at best pretenders, but you can’t discount a team that has won nine of their first ten games. So with good coaching and maintaining their high level of play, this team goes under the category of contenders to win the western conference this season.

San Antonio Spurs: For the past decade the Spurs have been one of the NBA’s most elite teams, setting a standard for winning. They have won three championships in the past decade with one of the best power forwards around, Tim Duncan. Duncan, Manu Ginobili, and Tony Parker have been the three keys to their success. With those three pieces in place and their current nine and one record, the Spurs are definitely contenders.

Los Angeles Lakers: I can write a full page about how the Lakers are going to win the NBA championship this year. It would start with their back-to-back championships before this year, move on to Kobe Bryant, the best player of the decade, then Pau Gasol, an all-star power forward, and end with a great supporting cast with depth, experience, and skill in all aspects of the game. Put it this way, they are strong contenders.

Utah Jazz: Even with the departure of Carlos Boozer, the Jazz have not missed a step. They have replaced him with Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap. These two players have complemented Deron Williams and the rest of the Jazz very well. This team is equally strong in all positions and has a deep bench to cushion the blow of potential injuries. They are contenders to win the western conference this year.

Dallas Mavericks: The Mavericks have an excellent well rounded team, but some former stars have not shown up and played to their ability yet this season. In the last season and a half, the Mavs have added Shawn Marion, Caron Butler, Brendan Haywood, and Tyson Chandler. So far, these players have not stepped up and played to their abilities, but if the Mavericks can get them going along with former MVP Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Kidd, and Jason Terry, this team is a contender.

Golden State Warriors: The Warriors have secured one of the league’s top back courts in Monta Ellis and Stephen Curry. In the off season they made a huge move acquiring David Lee from the Knicks to try to add to their rebounding and point production from their big men down low. The Warriors are still another top player away from contention in the west, so unfortunately they are just pretenders for now, but wait one or two years and they will be contenders.

Oklahoma City Thunder: This year the early favourite for NBA MVP is Kevin Durant. Durant is not alone on the Thunder’s mission to reach the top of the league.  He is accompanied by rising stars Russell Westbrook, Jeff Green, James Harden, and Serge Ibaka. Although the Thunder had a strong opening playoff series against the Lakers last season, I still think they have more improving to do, but they are already dark horse contenders. Like the Warriors, look for this team to rise to the top of the conference in a couple years.

Portland Trailblazers: The Trailblazers have a plethora of talent in all positions, from Brandon Roy, Andre Miller, and Rudy Fernandez at guard to LaMarcus Aldridge, Marcus Camby, Nicloas Batum, and Greg Oden. Unfortunately, the Greg Oden experiment has seemed to fail and Marcus Camby and Andre Millar aren’t getting any younger. This year the Trailblazers are pretenders and a little tweaking and retooling needs to be done to keep their strong core pushing to the top of the conference. Maybe Carmelo Anthony at small forward could round out a team looking to reach the next level at the top of the conference. This is another young west team that will move to the top of the conference in a couple years.

Denver Nuggets: The first sign that your team is having problems is when trade rumours are surrounding your star player, Carmelo Anthony. The window for the Denver Nuggets is slowly closing even though they added Al Harrington. Other then Carmelo Anthony, who is becoming a free agent this off season, the rest of the team is starting to turn into the downward spiral of their careers. This team will disintegrate without a championship or even a finals appearance. This year they are pretenders, but it won’t be long before they just won’t have a chance for a while.

Phoenix Suns: The Suns are currently in the same stage as the Nuggets with an aging Steve Nash, Grant Hill, and Jason Richardson, their time to win has passed without even an appearance in the finals. With the departure of Shawn Marion and Amare Stoudemire they are soon going to be in a rebuilding stage. This season they are pretenders, but they will soon slip to a team that won’t even have a chance.

Memphis Grizzlies: This young team featuring Mike Conley, O.J. Mayo, Rudy Gay, Zach Randolph, and Marc Gasol, only needs to fortify their bench. This season the Grizzlies just never had a chance, but they have a very bright future ahead of them, and they are a couple years away from a playoff spot.

Minnesota Timberwolves: The T-wolves are a team unsuccessfully trying to rebuild. This team’s current best player Kevin Love, has been the centre of trade rumours in the past month even with his 31 point and 31 rebound effort just last week. This team is having trouble finding quality players through the draft and the addition of second overall pick Michael Beasley gives them a great young group of players, they have the chance to improve as a team. For now this team just never had a chance.

Sacramento Kings: The Kings have a great group of young talent starring Tyreke Evans, Omri Casspi, and DeMarcus Cousins. This team is developing nicely and will certainly start to show results in the upcoming years, but for now they just never had a chance.

Houston Rockets: This team has a bunch of great pieces to achieve a playoff spot, especially with Yao Ming on his way back into the line-up. From the small Aaron Brooks to the tall Ming, this team is a complete team, only missing a top tier scorer.  This team would be a great fit for Carmelo Anthony to land because they have the pieces to make the playoffs and with the help of Melo they can make a run at a championship, but for now they are just pretenders.

Los Angeles Clippers: Although they are last place in the league, this team has a very exciting future with Eric Gordon, Blake Griffin, Chris Kaman, and veteran Baron Davis. With another top draft choice this team could quickly skyrocket in the coming years, but this season they just never had a chance.

Finally, my projected standings for the Western Conference:

  1. Los Angeles Lakers
  2. Utah Jazz
  3. San Antonio Spurs
  4. Oklahoma City Thunder
  5. Dallas Mavericks
  6. New Orleans Hornets
  7. Golden State Warriors
  8. Portland Trailblazers
  9. Phoenix Suns
  10. Houston Rockets
  11. Denver Nuggets
  12. Memphis Grizzlies
  13. Sacramento Kings
  14. Los Angeles Clippers
  15. Minnesota Timberwolves

Check out our Eastern Conference Preview here if you haven’t already.