Welcome to The Hardwood Courtroom!

Friday, December 23, 2011

2011-12 NBA Season Preview: Western Conference

Phil breaks down the 15 teams out West.


Offseason Recap: Championship owners always have difficult decisions to make the following offseason, and Mark Cuban was no exception. He knew bringing Tyson Chandler back was going to be a steep price, so he let the 29-year old center sign with the Knicks and used the money to pay Lamar Odom, Vince Carter, and Delonte West. Wise move, Mr. Cuban. Chandler’s missed over 150 games in his career, and there was absolutely no way he was going to replicate last season’s numbers. Although the Mavs will be a little thinner down low, their perimeter defense should be among the NBA’s best between Kidd, West, Marion, Carter, and Odom (who I expect to play a lot of 3 this year). Expect little drop-off in the Mavs’ defensive efficiency.
Offseason Grade: B+     Projected 2011-12 Record: 45-21 (2nd in West)

Tyson’s in New York
It was smart to let him go
One more title run


Offseason Recap: After hitting a home run with the Carmelo Anthony trade last year, Denver’s offseason probably felt a bit underwhelming. Their biggest acquisition was Andre Miller, making his second go-round in the Mile High City. I personally think Miller’s a nice fit for Denver’s up-and-down style, though unfortunately he won’t have anyone to throw alley oops to (sorry, Nene). Regardless, three of Denver’s key rotation players – Wilson Chandler, Kenyon Martin, and J.R. Smith – will be playing overseas until March, and those losses will be felt early on during the team’s compressed schedule. But it’s hard to be too critical when the Nuggets were able to re-sign their two most important free agents – Nene and Aaron Afflalo – to long-term deals. They could be West contenders in 2013.

Offseason Grade: B     Projected 2011-12 Record: 37-29 (6th in West)

Key guys in China
Will limit team’s depth early
Playoffs still in reach


Offseason Recap: Let’s start with the most noteworthy signing… Head Coach Mark Jackson! When hiring an ABC analyst who’s never coached at any level is your team’s high-point of the summer, that’s never a good thing. When it comes to clever catch phrases (“Momma there goes that man!” “3-ball corner pocket!”), Mark’s in a league of his own. Unfortunately, I think that’s the league he was best suited for. Even if I’m wrong, there’s still little to get excited about from the Warriors’ offseason. They signed Kwame Brown to an absurd $7-million contract, did nothing to address the awkward Steph Curry-Monta Ellis pairing, and look poised to continue their streak of awful lottery selections (minus Curry) with overrated guard Klay Thompson next in line.

Offseason Grade: C-     Projected 2011-12 Record: 29-37 (10th in West)

When will this team learn?
Curry and Ellis don’t mesh
Return to lotto

Offseason Recap: GM Daryl Morey has never been one to rush into deals; he likes to collect assets and wait for the big score. Unfortunately, David Stern mucked up that plan. The Rockets had everything in place to not only acquire Pau Gasol from the Lakers but also sign Nuggets center Nene to a long-term deal. That would have given the Rockets the NBA’s #1 front line; instead they got neither player and watched another offseason go by with no prize. New Head Coach Kevin McHale will do what he can to keep an optimistic attitude in Houston, but the players know they’re not going anywhere significant without a superstar. Expect Morey’s approach to pay off big eventually… but until then Rockets fans must be patient.

Offseason Grade: C+     Projected 2011-12 Record: 32-34 (9th in West)

David Stern’s blocked trade 
Means the Rockets once again 
Are stuck in limbo


Offseason Recap: No, hell has not frozen over (at least not to my knowledge), but the Clippers did just make the league’s biggest offseason trade in acquiring Chris Paul. Although they had to give up an awful lot to get him, there’s no doubt Paul makes them a significantly better team this upcoming season. As for their other moves, I’d say those were a bit more questionable. Caron Butler for $24 million? Deandre Jordan for $43 million? I hope L.A. realizes they paid nearly $10 million more for those two players than the Grizzlies did for Marc Gasol. Since the Clips are in “win-now” mode after acquiring Paul, those moves make a little more sense. But it comes with a huge risk to the team’s future.

Offseason Grade: A-     Projected 2011-12 Record: 39-27 (5th in West)

‘Bout to take over L.A. 
And win Pacific


Offseason Recap: Rule #1 about being an NBA GM: “Never do anything quickly unless the deal’s too good to pass up.” After the Lakers got rejected in the Odom/Gasol for Chris Paul trade, they immediately shipped Lamar off to Dallas in exchange for the Mavs’ $8.9 million trade exception and their 2012 first round pick. Hey, I’m all about cleaning house if a guy’s presence is toxic to the team (Odom wanted out), but you’re telling me the league’s top sixth man couldn’t have brought back more to you than that? Sounds like Kupchak cared more about resolving the issue quickly than finding the best deal for his team. Now the Lakers have only three good players and are all but out of the Dwight Howard sweepstakes.

Offseason Grade: D     Projected 2011-12 Record: 33-33 (8th in West)

Struck out on Chris Paul 
Foolishly traded Lamar 
8th seed here we come


Offseason Recap: The Grizzlies had only one responsibility this offseason: re-sign Marc Gasol. Not only did they successfully do that, they got him for a more-than-reasonable price at four years, $58 million, indicating to me that Gasol really wants to be there (he could have gotten $10-12 million more somewhere else). The Grizz are now in position to compete for an NBA Championship, and this season in particular seems like their best chance. The entire core is in its prime, and their depth and continuity should give them a leg up on the competition in this compressed, shortened season. I expect them to fight for the Southwest Division crown with Dallas, and Zach Randolph (yes, Zach Randolph) finishing in the top five of MVP votes.

Offseason Grade: A     Projected 2011-12 Record: 43-23 (3rd in West)

Re-signed Marc Gasol
That’s all the Grizzlies needed
To be contenders


Offseason Recap: The T’Wolves made a lot of offseason moves, almost all for the better. They wisely selected arguably the best player in the 2011 draft in Derrick Williams, who I expect to play significantly more minutes than Michael Beasley this season. They then hired future Hall-of-Famer Rick Adelman to replace creatively-dead Kurt Rambis as the team’s Head Coach. Lastly, Spanish sensation Ricky Rubio finally made his way over to the Gopher State to join the team’s fraternity of point guards, which now includes J.J. Barea from Dallas. Sure the team still has some serious needs at center – and there will likely be a lot of continued growing pains from this young group – but their days in the Western Conference basement are officially over. 

Offseason Grade: B+     Projected 2011-12 Record: 25-41 (12th in West)

With Rick Adelman
Replacing Rambis as Coach
Night-and-day results


Offseason Recap: Despite what you may have heard from the Chris Paul trade (which I agree was a pretty good deal for New Orleans), don’t fool yourself for a second: the Hornets are going to be bad. Quite bad, actually. People don’t realize the tremendous effect Paul had on the Hornets’ offensive efficiency, and that simply cannot be replaced by Eric Gordon, Al Farouq-Aminu, and Chris Kaman. The team also lost David West to Indiana, taking away their second-best shot creator. I expect the Hornets to look very similar to last year’s Milwaukee Bucks – only in a tougher conference with slightly less effective defense. But I do applaud them for acquiring both Gordon and Minnesota’s first-round pick in the Paul trade, which should help the rebuilding process.

Offseason Grade: B     Projected 2011-12 Record: 19-47 (15th in West)

Chris Paul waved goodbye
New Orleans wishes him well
Dark days lie ahead


Offseason Recap: Sometimes less is more. Such is the case for the Oklahoma City Thunder. Looking back at their 2010-11 season, Owner Clay Bennett and GM Sam Presti had to feel pretty good about the results. OKC was a lot closer to beating Dallas than a 5-game series normally indicates, so there was little need to make serious personnel changes. They re-signed shooter Daequan Cook for virtually nothing and drafted Boston College guard Reggie Jackson with their first-round pick, but really these moves are inconsequential to the team’s big picture. The Thunder are my favorites to finish with the West’s best record due to their unique combination of depth, youth, and continuity that few teams can match during this lockout-shortened season.

Offseason Grade: A     Projected 2011-12 Record: 48-18 (1st in West)

League’s compressed schedule
Perfect for Thunder’s roster
Durant MVP


Offseason Recap: I am convinced that owner Robert Sarver is perfectly at peace with his franchise having a long, painful rebuilding process once Steve Nash leaves after this season. If that’s not the case, then he really is the most idiotic owner in sports. The Suns clearly aren’t going anywhere, nor were they two years ago. Yet Sarver has held his stance that the team refuses to trade Steve Nash. On top of that, they are making lateral moves such as bringing back Grant Hill for another season. What exactly does that accomplish? Loyalty and fan appreciation are obviously more important to the Suns organization than making smart basketball choices. If that’s where their values lie, power to them. But it certainly doesn’t sit well with me.

Offseason Grade: F     Projected 2011-12 Record: 24-42 (13th in West)

The Suns glory days
Are oh so far behind them
Nash fans, let him go


Offseason Recap: Who do you feel sorrier for: Brandon Roy or Greg Oden? Tough choice, right? I actually think the Blazers are relieved Roy called it quits; it saves them face with their fans about Amnestying him, even though it was clearly the right move. As for Oden, I think we’ve seen the last of him in a Blazers uniform, and it too may be for the best. Otherwise, I’m actually a pretty big fan of Portland’s offseason. They signed Jamal Crawford to a 2-year, $10 million deal to provide a backcourt scoring boost, acquired Raymond Felton from Denver to instill more youth and range at the 1, and added underrated forward Craig Smith to their frontcourt depth. Given the circumstances, it could have been much worse.

Offseason Grade: B     Projected 2011-12 Record: 34-32 (7th in West)

Roy and Oden’s leave
Helps the Blazers down the road
So sad, yet so true


Offseason Recap: I’ve completely lost faith in this team. Basically, the Kings’ strategy is to acquire as many semi-talented players as possible, with no regard whatsoever to work ethic, position, injury proneness, team chemistry, or anything else the other 29 teams in the NBA account for when signing players. Here were the Kings trade/free agent acquisitions this offseason: John Salmons, Travis Outlaw, and J.J. Hickson. None of those players are awful, but none are that great either. They re-signed Marcus Thornton – a scoring guard I really like – but gave him a 5-year, $40 million deal. Who else was going to offer him that? Lottery pick Jimmer Freddette will certainly draw interest from college fans, which is good because they won’t be drawing much interest from me.

Offseason Grade: D+     Projected 2011-12 Record: 22-44 (14th in West)

There’s no way this team
Will ever make the Playoffs
With this whiny bunch

Offseason Recap: The Spurs are in a tricky spot. They probably don’t have the talent to win the NBA Championship anymore, but at the same time they possessed the league’s best record for 95% of last season. The question then becomes what was the fluke – their amazing regular season run or first-round Playoff exit? GM R.C. Buford made the same decision I would have made: give this core one more chance. However, management chose to trade combo guard George Hill to the Indiana Pacers for rookie Kawhi Leonard on draft night – not sure I understand that one if your vision is to go all-in for this season. They also withheld from Amnestying Richard Jefferson; you can be sure that won’t be the case next summer.

Offseason Grade: C     Projected 2011-12 Record: 40-26 (4th in West)

Tony, Manu, Tim
Have one more run left in them
If no one gets hurt


Offseason Recap: The Jazz are one of the smartest organizations in sports. GM Kevin O’Connor had the foresight last year to trade Deron Williams away when the right deal presented itself, leading to acquiring both Derrick Favors and rookie Enes Kanter, two extremely promising young big men. When you factor in Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap, Gordon Hayward, C.J. Miles, and Mehmet Okur, the Jazz probably have the NBA’s deepest frontcourt. I do wish they would have more aggressively pursued trading one of their bigs for some backcourt help, but perhaps the team feels its Championship window is still too far away. I was also not a big fan of the Josh Howard signing; again, I wish the team would have spent money to address its thin backcourt.

Offseason Grade: B-     Projected 2011-12 Record: 27-39 (11th in West)

The future is bright
With a bounty of young bigs
Please, go get a guard


  1. By the way, readers, we want to hear what you think! Which teams are we underestimating and why? Any big offseason moves we didn't mention? Let us know!

  2. Love the preview. I cannot get enough NBA right now. The West is wide open this year. As far as rankings, I'll take the Thunder as the 1 seed too. Behind them, I like the Grizzlies and Clippers. Dallas may have a higher seed, but I don't like them without Chandler. Haywood at center will devastate them, especially vs. the likes of Gasol, Jordan, Perkins, and Bynum. No thank you. The Lakers and Spurs lack depth and are too old to be taken serious in a compressed season. I wouldn't rule out Howard to LA, shifting some power at some point in the season though. I'll take Portland as my sleeper team. Felton and Crawford are extremely underrated commodities. Plus Wallace and Aldrige. I'm sold on the Trail Blazers, even without Roy and Oden. Possibly this year's Memphis. The Thunder will probably come out of the West as long as Durant takes good shots instead of jacking up quick, deep 3s when Russell's shot selection is getting to his head. Could be fairly wide open though. Wild, Wild West.

  3. Thanks Feralad, great insight! Check out our East preview when you get a chance!