With just more than a month until training camp begins, here’s a look at who could be the beasts (and the leasts) of the Western Conference:
1. Golden State Warriors
Did nearly everything right for an entire season, and with Steph Curry leading the way, possess one of the best perimeter games in league history. No reason to believe they can’t do it again.
2. San Antonio Spurs
LaMarcus Aldridge next to Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Kawhi Leonard and Manu Ginobili? Doesn’t seem fair. It may make for a slower start, but a really big finish.
3. Memphis Grizzlies
Familiarity, a willingness to defend and loads of playoff experience. People will continue to underestimate them, but as usual, the Grizzlies will fight for the top until the bitter end.
4. Los Angeles Clippers
They keep adding quality pieces next to Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, and one of these days, it’s gotta result in something special. Right? If not, it may be time to start thinking maybe some of these guys are overrated.
5. Houston Rockets
Picking them this low in another world would be pure insanity, but this is the West. Even great teams can earn a lower seed. Truth is, with James Harden, Dwight Howard and the rest, the Rockets have enough firepower to win the title — regardless of regular-season finish.
6. Oklahoma City Thunder
All they need is for Kevin Durant to stay healthy and Russell Westbrook to turn in another near-MVP season to be a true contender. Depth, however, remains questionable.
7. New Orleans Pelicans
Postseason experience was vital for an otherwise young team that still has questions and lacks consistency. But man, it will be a joy to watch Anthony Davis in new coach Alvin Gentry’s run-and-fun system.
8. Sacramento Kings
Coach George Karl tends to rub his players the wrong way — and then get his teams to overachieve. With DeMarcus Cousins receiving more help in the form of Rajon Rondo and several new reserves, the Kings may finally take the postseason court.
9. Dallas Mavericks
The backcourt has been remodeled yet again — but are Deron Williams and Wesley Matthews a real upgrade over Monta Ellis and Rajon Rondo? Mavs will be a playoff contender, but they could win 50 and still not get in.
10. Portland Trail Blazers
No big deal. The Blazers only need to replace four starters, including an All-Star big man in LaMarcus Aldridge. But as long as Damian Lillard is in town, they’ll compete and perhaps surprise.
11. Utah Jazz
Probably rated too low, as the Jazz always play determined and smart under coach Quin Snyder. And sneaking into the playoffs is no pipe dream if the top guys (Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors, Alec Burks) can stay relatively healthy.
12. Phoenix Suns
Markieff Morris says he wants traded and the overall depth remains a question mark. Still, things often have a way of working themselves out — and if so, the Suns have enough here to make a rise.
13. Los Angeles Lakers
The Lakers are a mix of older veterans (Kobe Bryant, Roy Hibbert, Brandon Bass) and potentially dynamic youth (D’Angelo Russell, Larry Nance Jr., Julius Randle). Read: Things truly could go either way.
14. Minnesota Timberwolves
As exciting as Andrew Wiggins and the T-Wolves can be, it’s hard to envision a team that won 16 games last season suddenly turning into a juggernaut. But a 10- or 15-game improvement isn’t out of the question.
15. Denver Nuggets
A healthy Danilo Gallinari and promising rookie Emmanuel Muddiay offer two big reasons for hope. Other than that, it’s likely to be a rough year in such a rugged conference.