Oklahoma City Thunder (60-22, lost in the second round to Memphis):
Headline: After the Harden Trade Falls Flat and Westbrook gets Injured, OKC Looks to Keep its Championship Window Open
Summary: OKC is the ultimate proof of why you can’t fail to take any opportunity you get to win a title. Two years ago, the Thunder were seemingly in the elite for a long time but then they traded Harden to Houston in a deal that may go down as one of the worst in recent NBA history. That, combined with ownership’s either unwillingness or inability to go into luxury tax territory and spend the funds needed to retain Kevin Martin, as well as Westbrook’s injury, and OKC’s position as the West’s best team is now far from certain. The window is still open but it may be closing sooner than anyone thought.
Overall Trend: Down, Durant is great and if Westbrook comes back at his usual level they’ll be good but they lack the third scorer they once had.
Salary: $70.96M (over cap)
2014 NBA Draft Picks: Owe 2014 Second Round Pick to Toronto and Owed 2014 First Round Pick from Dallas (Protected for Picks 1-20).
Biggest Addition: Steven Adams
Losses: Kevin Martin
Best Case: NBA Title. With Wade’s seeming decline in Miami, Durant and Westbrook may be the best duo in the NBA and if they get rolling and get enough help from the rest of the team, they could win it all.
Worst Case: First round. Here’s the thing about the west this year — there are not really any elite teams but many very good teams. It is possible, however unlikely, that one of these lower seeded teams could knock OKC off in the first round.
Most Likely Case: Second Round. OKC is the third best team in the west this year in my book, behind San Antonio and the Clippers, so they will win one series and then be done.
Denver Nuggets (57-25, lost in the first round to Golden State):
Headline: The Nuggets Reboot and Look to Climb the Western Conference Ladder Once Again
Summary: The Nuggets were a team on the rise a few years ago but then they pounded the reset button this offseason, letting Iggy go and choosing to part ways with long-time head coach George Karl and GM Masai Ujuri as well. Denver is also reportedly attempting to trade Faried as well and will face a significant part of this season without Danilo Gallinari, who is out at least two more months with a knee injury. Well, at least they’ll be entertaining to watch with JaVale McGee the likely starting center, even if they aren’t winning many games.
Overall Trend: Down, it may be the right choice for Denver to reboot after last season in the long term but in the short term it is a step back.
Salary: $67.32M (over cap)
2014 NBA Draft Picks: Owed Portland’s 2014 Second Round Pick and Denver will convey the less favorable of its and New York’s 2014 First Round Picks to Orlando.
Biggest Addition: JJ Hickson
Losses: Andre Iguodala, Corey Brewer, Kosta Koufos
Best Case: First Round. Its hard to see Denver doing much much than making the playoffs and bowing out early.
Worst Case: Just miss the playoffs. Denver is not very good but neither are they very bad. It can be frustrating, and not that helpful draftwise, to just miss the playoffs as Denver certainly might.
Most Likely Case: Miss playoffs, pick in the 10-12 range . Denver’s altitude-aided home court advantage might be enough to see them close to the playoffs but I doubt it gets them there.
Utah Jazz (43-39, missed playoffs):
Headline: Utah Looks to the Future as they Reboot and Retool their Roster
Summary: Utah saw the writing on the wall at the end of last season as they failed to make the playoffs and chose to effectively start over. Utah has long been trapped in the range of teams that just make the playoffs and then go nowhere once they get there. Jazz fans hope that this time is different and they can finally make their first title run since Karl Malone left the team. They aren’t exactly off to a great start, however, as their top pick this year, Trey Burke, will miss the first part of the season after a finger injury.
Overall Trend: Down, Utah chose to blow it up and so in the short-term takes a significant step back.
Salary: $67.32M (over cap)
2014 NBA Draft Picks: Owed Golden State’s 2014 First Round Pick
Biggest Addition: Trey Burke
Losses: Paul Millsap, Al Jefferson, Mo Williams
Best Case: Top 3 pick. Utah will be a bad team this year and with a little luck they could end up winning a top 3 pick.
Worst Case: Pick in the 8-10 range. Utah is probably better than a few teams at the very bottom of the west and so they may win enough games to push that pick up to the 8-10 range.
Most Likely Case: Pick in the 5-7 range. Utah will be better than a few teams but not that many to push their pick much lower than this.
Portland Trail Blazers (33-49, missed playoffs):
Headline: Portland Looks for a Return to the Playoffs as they Look to Convince Aldridge to Stay Longterm
Summary: There are two stories for this Blazers team this year. The first is how the team does in this season, while the second is whether LMA is willing to sign a long-term deal or if Portland is forced to trade him after this year (or in the middle of this year). Well, regardless at least Olshey made it so that the team will have lots of cap space in two years if LMA does decide to go.
Overall Trend: Up, the team actually has a competent bench this year, that alone is a huge upgrade
Salary: $63.23M (over cap)
2014 NBA Draft Picks: Owe Charlotte their 2014 First Round Pick (Protected for Picks 1-12) and Denver their 2014 Second Round Pick.
Biggest Addition: CJ McCollum
Losses: J.J. Hickson, Eric Maynor, Jared Jeffries, Luke Babbitt, Nolan Smith
Best Case: Second Round. This Portland team is potentially good enough, unlikely as it is, to make the playoffs and upset a team in the first round depending on the matchup.
Worst Case: Just miss the playoffs and lose the pick to Charlotte. The Blazers could easily just miss the playoffs and lose their pick, what with the race for the last few playoff spots being so close.
Most Likely Case: First Round. Anything less than a playoff run this year would be considered a failure.
Minnesota Timberwolves (31-51, missed playoffs):
Headline: Minnesota Looks to Avoid Another Injury-Plagued Season and Make a Playoff Run
Summary: KAHNNNNN is finally goneeeeeee! No but seriously GM David Kahn finally got the boot and the Wolves had a very solid offseason. The problem for Minnesota last year was simple, injuries. Minnesota had the second most games lost to injury in NBA history last season. If Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio can stay healthy, they are a near lock for the playoffs.
Salary: $67.48M (over cap)
2014 NBA Draft Picks: Owe Phoenix their 2014 First Round Pick (Protected for Picks 1-13) and owed Golden State and New Orleans’s 2014 Second Round Picks.
Overall Trend: Up, the Wolves are a playoff team, if healthy.
Biggest Addition: Kevin Martin
Losses: Andrei Kirilenko, Luke Ridnour, Brandon Roy, David Kahn
Best Case: Second Round. The Wolves are legit and could pull the upset and get a series win if they get lucky.
Worst Case: Just miss the playoffs and lose their pick to Phoenix. If Minnesota finishes with the 14st worst record, doesn’t make the playoffs and loses their pick, something that could certainly happen, that would be the worst possible outcome for them.
Most Likely Case: First Round. The Wolves should be one and done this year, which is a lot better than they have been in the past.