NBA Preview 2006: Western Conference Northwest Division
Let me get this out of the way right now: the three worst teams in the West all reside in the Northwest division. Denver is a legitimate playoff team and has put together a quality nucleus, Seattle may fight for one of the last two playoff spots, and the rest of the division is garbage. I’m not kidding. You could take Utah, Minnesota, and Portland and put them in any order. Any of those three teams would finish in last place in the other two divisions. I’m not excited about this, I’m not happy about this, but it’s just the plain truth.
1. Denver Nuggets
Starters: Andre Miller, JR Smith, Carmelo Anthony, Kenyon Martin, Marcus Camby
Bench: Early Boykins, DerMarr Johnson, Eduardo Najera, Reggie Evans, Nene, Julius Hodge, Joe Smith
Solid, solid team all around. They remind me of the Clippers: very good, tons of talent (most of it young), and just one step away from contention. Put Denver in the East and they are a top-4 seed. But in the West … they’re still a player away. It will be interesting to see what kind of affect Carmelo Anthony making The Leap in the world championships this summer has on the Nuggets. It will also be interesting to see what kind of a year they can get out of Nene. If he develops into the Amare Stoudemire clone that some scouts think he can be, and JR Smith finally starts fulfilling all that potential, they could push Denver into that Phoenix/Dallas/San Antonio level. That’s a lot of “ifs”, but given they’ve got a cakewalk division and that there aren’t many teams who can boast a front line as talented as Anthony/Martin/Camby/Nene, don’t forget about the Nuggets.
2. Seattle Supersonics
Starters: Luke Ridnour, Ray Allen, Rashard Lewis, Chris Wilcox, Johan Petro
Bench: Earl Watson, Nick Collison, Robert Swift, Damien Wilkins, Mickael Gelabale, Danny Fortson
The hot rumor right now is that Earl Watson could wrestle that starting job away from Luke Ridnour, and if that happens, the Sonics would make Ridnour available for trade. Watson doesn’t have Ridnour’s shooting or ballhandling skills, but he’s almost as quick and a much better defender. That should be an interesting early-season battle to watch. But regardless of who plays the point, the Allen/Lewis/Wicox threesome is a highly talented one, and pair that set with a developing Robert Swift, and you’ve got a competitive ballclub. As long as the off-court stuff (Ridnour and Petro potentially losing their starting spots, the sale of the team, arena issues, potential move, rumors of Rashard Lewis wanting out, etc) doesn’t derail this team, I expect them to be right there with the Lakers, Hornets and Warriors, fighting for one of those last two playoff spots.
3. Utah Jazz
Starters: Deron Williams, Gordan Giricek, Andrei Kirilenko, Carlos Boozer, Mehmet Okur
Bench: Derek Fisher, Ronnie Brewer, Matt Harpring, Jarron Collins, Rafael Araujo, Dee Brown
I don’t like the makeup of this team, I don’t think they’ll be able to attract many free agents (quite possibly the most undesirable location of any major sports team), and I think their coach won’t last much longer. But one of these three crappy teams has to go here, and Utah always seems to do a little better than you think they will. They somehow managed to finish in 9th place in the West last season, and while I certainly don’t expect them to repeat their 41-41 record from last year, I do recognize that there is a bit of talent there. Kirilenko, Boozer, and Okur form a somewhat formidable front court, and Fisher/Brewer/Harpring will provide decent enough punch off the bench. We could see the Jazz as one of the first teams to make a major early trade, perhaps sending Boozer or Okur on their way out of town.
4. Minnesota Timberwolves
Starters: Mike James, Ricky Davis, Trenton Hassell, Kevin Garnett, Mark Blount
Bench: Marko Jaric, Randy Foye, Justin Reed, Mark Madsen, Troy Hudson, Rashad McCants, Eddie Griffin
KG, Ricky Davis, and a bunch of spare parts: that is what pretty much sums up this team. They have what could be the laziest player in the league (with all due respect to Darius Miles) as the only legitimate center on their roster in Mark Blount. Jaric, Hudson, and Eddie “I like to masturbate in my car while watching anal porn after getting drunk and then crash it into a pole and then try to bribe police officers so it doesn't get reported” Griffin are all vastly overpaid. I’m hearing good things about Randy Foye’s development, and though he’s not expected to start, I imagine he will be by about mid-season. The only reason I’ve got Minnesota ahead of Portland is KG, and if Minnesota starts slow then you know those trade rumors will heat up for the third consecutive year. KG deserves better and I’d love to see him go to a team like, say, Cleveland where he could really showcase his skills and have more support.
5. Portland TrailBlazers
Starters: Jarrett Jack, Brandon Roy, Martell Webster, Zach Randolph, Joel Pryzbilla
Bench: Darius Miles, Sergio Garcia, Dan Dickau, Juan Dixon, Travis Outlaw, Raef LaFretnz, Jamaal Magloire, LaMarcus Aldridge
You’ll get the full Portland preview in my co-author and I’s official Blazer preview on Friday. I think we all know where this team stands, and I think we all know it isn’t pretty. Yet.
Projected Order Of Finish:
Review of Overall Conference Predictions:
Tier 1 – Championship Contenders:
Mavericks, Suns, Spurs
Tier 2 – Good Teams Who Are Getting Close:
Nuggets, Clippers, Rockets
Tier 3 – Average Teams Fighting For Playoff Spot:
Hornets, Sonics, Lakers, Warriors
Tier 4 – Bad Teams:
Kings, Grizzlies, Timberwolves, Jazz, Blazers
Next up: Blazer Preview, on Friday.