Charlotte Hornets

Handicapping the NBA’s Western Conference

Former Davidson star Stephen Curry has a shot at another NBA championship, with Kevin Durant joining the Golden State Warriors.
Former Davidson star Stephen Curry has a shot at another NBA championship, with Kevin Durant joining the Golden State Warriors. AP

Staff writer Rick Bonnell predicts the order of finish in the NBA’s Western Conference

Golden State Warriors: Signing Kevin Durant was a coup, but it cost the Warriors center Andrew Bogut and forward Harrison Barnes. Still, Durant, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green form as strong a core as any in the league.

Los Angeles Clippers: If the Clippers don’t advance to the Western Conference finals, you must wonder if it’s time to consider breaking up a core of Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. J.J. Redick has become a solid NBA shooting guard.

San Antonio Spurs: For the first time since 1997, the Spurs will not have Tim Duncan on the roster. This team is now about Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge. The Spurs still have the NBA’s top coach in Gregg Popovich.

Minnesota Timberwolves: This is an aggressive prediction, considering it’s been a dozen seasons since the Timberwolves last made the playoffs: Karl-Anthony Towns and Zach LaVine are emerging stars and rookie Kris Dunn will be a big-time defender.

Houston Rockets: Coach Mike D’Antoni has never been reluctant to play hunches offensively. He’s moving James Harden from shooting guard to point guard. Harden handles the ball so much that this is more about labels and responsibility than skill set.

Portland Trail Blazers: The Blazers have one of the better backcourts in Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollom, who beat out the Hornets’ Kemba Walker for NBA Most Improved Player. Adding center Festus Ezeli looks like a savvy move.

Memphis Grizzlies: They added forward Chandler Parsons to an aging core. The key to the summer was re-signing point guard Mike Conley Jr. Conley is now one of the NBA’s highest-paid players and arguably the best player never to be named an All-Star.

Utah Jazz: The Jazz has been down for a while, but nearly reaching the playoffs last season represented progress. Gordon Hayward is multifaceted for Utah the way Nic Batum is for the Hornets. Center Rudy Gobert is a defensive force.

Oklahoma City Thunder: Point guard Russell Westbrook will put up huge numbers this season, but with Kevin Durant gone will the Thunder have enough to reach the playoffs? It will need a big season from center Steven Adams.

Dallas Mavericks: Harrison Barnes was the fourth or fifth option as a Warrior. He’ll take on a bigger role with the Mavericks, looking to stay competitive around Dirk Nowitzki. Andrew Bogut’s defense at center will be important.

Phoenix Suns: Devin Booker is already one of the better young long-range shooters in the NBA and quickly improving as a ball handler. The Suns expect big things from rookie big man Dragan Bender, who played professionally in Croatia.

Sacramento Kings: Constant turnover in the coaching staff has been a real detriment here. The Kings want to build around center DeMarcus Cousins, but forward Rudy Gay wants out, which could mean an in-season trade.

New Orleans Pelicans: Forward Anthony Davis is a great centerpiece when healthy, but that has been no given for Davis, who suffered a severe ankle sprain this preseason. Look for a big season from rookie Buddy Hield.

Denver Nuggets: The two toughest positions to fill in the NBA are point guard and center. The draft process was good to the Nuggets at those spots with Emmanuel Mudiay and Nikola Jokic. This team needs to grow in experience before it can think about a playoff run.

Los Angeles Lakers: They have two good young players in point guard D’Angelo Russell and rookie small forward Brandon Ingram. The Lakers took a big risk in free-agency, signing center Timofey Mozgov to a four-season, $64 million contract.