Observer NBA writer Rick Bonnell ranks the teams in the Western Conference based on potential regular-season results.
1. Golden State Warriors
The defending champions have the reigning MVP in Stephen Curry, plus one of the best all-around shooting guards in Klay Thompson. Andre Iguodala has evolved into an impactful support player after starring for years in Philadelphia.
2. Los Angeles Clippers
Re-signing center DeAndre Jordan, after he verbally committed to leaving for the Dallas Mavericks, was huge. This team has two of the top 15 players in the league in Chris Paul and Blake Griffin. It’s time to win something.
3. San Antonio Spurs
Adding LaMarcus Aldridge and David West over the summer extends the Spurs’ window to win another championship. Much as this franchise has been built around Tim Duncan, the key this season might be the play of point guard Tony Parker.
4. Houston Rockets
This is shooting guard James Harden’s team. Center Dwight Howard no longer can carry a franchise. The acquisition of point guard Ty Lawson could be big if he can get past the issues that caused the breakup with the Denver Nuggets.
5. Oklahoma City Thunder
Unlike most college coaches who make the move to the NBA, former Florida coach Billy Donovan inherits a roster rich with talent. The question is how well Kevin Durant has recovered from a foot injury.
6. Memphis Grizzlies
Built around big men Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph, the Grizzlies are a physically imposing roster built for half-court playoff basketball. Point guard Mike Conley doesn’t get a lot of national attention, but he’s a huge part of Memphis’ success.
7. New Orleans Pelicans
Power forward-center Anthony Davis is making 3-pointers to complement a fine post-up game and defensive presence. The Pelicans made a good hire in coach Alvin Gentry, who grew up in Shelby and played at Appalachian State.
8. Dallas Mavericks
The Mavs added shooting guard Wesley Matthews and point guard Deron Williams. But the off-season makeover was sidetracked when Jordan changed his mind, re-signing with the Clippers after saying he’d move on to Dallas.
9. Phoenix Suns
They added center Tyson Chandler to a roster built around point guard Eric Bledsoe. They should have plenty of wing shooting and scoring between former N.C. State star T.J. Warren and rookie Devin Booker.
10. Minnesota Timberwolves
Sam Mitchell fills in as head coach while Flip Saunders recovers from cancer treatment. Andrew Wiggins is an emerging star and Kevin Garnett can act as a veteran mentor on the team that originally drafted him in 1995.
11. Portland Trail Blazers
LaMarcus Aldridge choosing to sign elsewhere set in motion an offseason of change. Wesley Matthews signed with Dallas and Nic Batum was traded to the Charlotte Hornets. This is now clearly point guard Damian Lillard’s team.
12. Utah Jazz
First-year coach Quin Snyder did a tremendous job of improving the Jazz from November through April. Keep an eye on center Rudy Gobert, a 7-foot-1 shotblocker who excelled after the All-Star break.
13. Sacramento Kings
The question will be how effectively center DeMarcus Cousins and coach George Karl co-exist. The Kings re-signed forward Rudy Gay and brought in point guard Rajon Rondo after his stint with the Dallas Mavericks didn’t work out.
14. Los Angeles Lakers
Is this Kobe Bryant’s last season in the NBA? If it’s not, is this Bryant’s last season with the Lakers, who acquired his draft rights from the Hornets in 1996. Bryant is a sure Hall of Famer, but at some point this franchise needs to move on.
15. Denver Nuggets
Their best player is rugged power forward Kenneth Faried, but maybe their most intriguing one is rookie point guard Emmanuel Mudiay. The Nuggets have a history of fast-break basketball and Mudiay fits that style.