Oklahoma City Thunder (59-23, lost in the western conference finals to San Antonio):
Headline: With Durant Hurt, 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. Three 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 injuries to Westbrook in the past and Durant now, as well as a coach that is often outmatched versus other top-tier teams, and you have a perhaps rapidly closing window for OKC.
Overall Trend: Down, a weakening supporting cast and recent major injuries to its two biggest stars does not inspire confidence.
Salary: $75.15M (over cap)
2015 NBA Draft Picks: Owed Philadelphia’s 2015 Second Round Pick (Protected for Selections 31-55)
Biggest Addition: Mitch McGary
Losses: Caron Butler, Thabo Sefolosha
Best Case: NBA Title. Two superstars may be enough to win it all if the stars line up.
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: Western Conference Finals. OKC is still a step behind the Spurs and so will fall short at this hurdle for the second straight year.
Portland Trail Blazers (54-28, lost in the second round to San Antonio):
Headline: Portland Looks to Make Sure Last Year Was No Fluke and Make a Deep Playoff Run
Summary: Last year was lots of fun wasn’t it? The team went a lot farther than any of us really could have realistically dreamed and along the way included the single greatest sports moment I have ever been present for. Lillard’s shot erased 14 years of pain, of disappointing, all in .9 seconds. This year is about proving that the last year was no fluke. Let’s get it done.
Overall Trend: Up, another year older and wiser and without Durant hobbled with injury to start the year, the Blazers are trending at least slightly up
Salary: $67.23M (over cap)
2015 NBA Draft Picks: Orlando will receive the more favorable of Portland and Chicago’s 2015 Second Round Picks,
Biggest Addition: Chris Kaman
Losses: Mo Williams,
Best Case: NBA Finals. Screw it, its unlikely as hell but if this team gets hot, they avoid the Spurs in the playoffs and it could be a fourth NBA finals trip for this young squad.
Worst Case: Just miss the playoffs. The Blazers were incredibly lucky last year with injuries. If that isn’t the case this year they could be on the outside looking in when the playoffs start.
Most Likely Case: Second Round. Portland will get home court in the first round this year and it will carry them through to the same place it all ended last year.
Minnesota Timberwolves (40-42, missed playoffs):
Headline: Minnesota Reboots Behind Wiggins as Love Departs Minnesota
Summary: The Wolves rebooted their franchise again this offseason, managing to offload disgruntled star Kevin Love to Cleveland for the last two #1 overall picks. Bennett was terrible last year (he had by far the worst rookie season a #1 overall pick has ever had) but he will likely be at least a bit better and Wiggins looks promising. The Wolves will be bad for a while but hopefully the team with the longest active postseason drought won’t extend that for more than a few more years this time.
Salary: $70.91M (over cap)
2015 NBA Draft Picks: Owe their 2015 First Round Pick to Phoenix (Protected for Selections 1-12), and will convey the less favorable of its own and Denver’s 2015 Second Round Picks to Houston.
Overall Trend: Down, started at the bottom, now they here again
Biggest Addition: Andrew Wiggins
Losses: Kevin Love, Alexey Shved
Best Case: #1 pick. The Wolves are going to be one of the league’s worst teams this year and so will have a good chance at the top pick.
Worst Case: Mid lottery pick. The bottom of the NBA is surprisingly crowded this year and with a few more wins and a bit of bad lottery luck the Wolves could be stuck with just a mid-lottery pick.
Most Likely Case: Top 5 Pick. The Wolves are probably the worst team in the west this year and so should be able to secure a top five pick.
Denver Nuggets (36-46 missed playoffs):
Headline: The Nuggets Reboot and Look to Climb the Western Conference Ladder Once Again
Summary: The Nuggets are not a good team anymore. Fun, well at times, frustrating absolutely. The Nuggets are an oddball collection of talent with no real discernible plan. The only good thing for them is they are only a few years away from being able to start from scratch, because until then they are neither playoff good nor truly terrible. Or as I like to call it, stuck in NBA purgatory, which is a place no one likes to be.
Overall Trend: Down, they won’t be horrible but they aren’t a playoff team either.
Salary: $72.77M (over cap)
2015 NBA Draft Picks: Denver will convey the less favorable of Chicago and Portland’s 2015 Second Round Picks to Houston. Owed the LA Clippers’s 2015 Second Round Pick (Protected for Selections 31-55) and owe their 2015 Second Round Pick to Minnesota.
Biggest Addition: Arron Afflalo
Losses: Evan Fournier, Aaron Brooks
Best Case: First Round. Denver could sneak into the playoffs given a lot of luck, but its not at all likely.
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 (25-57, missed playoffs):
Headline: Utah Looks to the Future as they Reboot and Retool their Roster
Summary: Utah is in the midst of a rebuilding project at the moment and its going okayish. They have a decent collection of young talent and a good coach. This could be this year’s Phoenix, a team that surprises and does far better than expected. However, it is far more likely that Utah is at least a year away from being anything good.
Overall Trend: Up, having hit bottom last year the Jazz start to climb back up
Salary: $56.54M (under cap by $6.53M)
2015 NBA Draft Picks: Owed Cleveland’s 2015 Second Round Pick
Biggest Addition: Dante Exum
Losses: Marvin Williams, Richard Jefferson
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.