Charlotte Hornets

NBA Western Conference outlook

Observer NBA writer Rick Bonnell ranks the teams in the Western Conference.

San Antonio Spurs

1 Coach Gregg Popovich isn’t going to sacrifice healthy bodies in the playoffs for a couple of extra regular-season victories. But even managing an aging roster, the Spurs won a league-best 62 games last season. Best organization in the NBA, maybe in all of sports.

Los Angeles Clippers

2 If Popovich is the best coach in the NBA, then Doc Rivers is certainly among others receiving votes. Combine his guidance with two top-10 players in Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, and this is franchise no longer draws snickers. Plus new owner Steve Ballmer brings the resources.

Oklahoma City Thunder

3 You can’t lose the league’s reigning MVP for at least a month of the regular season without it hurting. Kevin Durant has a fractured foot. Those “Jones fractures” can be debilitating. One ended Yao Ming’s career. Time for Russell Westbrook to step up.

Houston Rockets

4 Ten seasons into his NBA career, Dwight Howard is starting to look like that guy who made a lot of money, yet accomplished little. His best playoff run was with Orlando five seasons and three teams ago. His last three playoff teams couldn’t advance out of the first round.

Golden State Warriors

5 With Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson both playing prominent roles for Team USA over the summer, the Warriors’ stars could be a little tired heading into this season. New coach Steve Kerr has a lot to learn on the job, with no previous coaching experience.

Portland Trail Blazers

6 The Blazers surprised last season with a 54-28 record. They were remarkably healthy, losing just a handful of games to starter injuries. LaMarcus Aldridge should be a perennial All-Star and Damian Lillard isn’t far behind him in terms of talent.

Memphis Grizzlies

7 Think of the Grizzlies as Hornets-West in that they play grind-it-out offense built around an old-school low-post scorer. Zach Randolph is their Al Jefferson. Mike Conley probably is undervalued among the West’s abundance of star point guards.

Phoenix Suns

8 It’s trendy these days to find a way to play two point guards together so that the offense can run from either side of the floor. Few teams are better equipped to play that way than the Suns with Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe. The Suns rebuilt faster than anyone could reasonably anticipate.

Dallas Mavericks

9 The return of defensive center Tyson Chandler has to be good news to star forward Dirk Nowitzki. Likewise, the Mavericks peeled small forward Chandler Parsons off the Houston Rockets’ roster with an offer sheet the Rockets chose not to match.

New Orleans Pelicans

10 Anthony Davis could and should be ready for a very big season, perhaps in the discussion for defensive player of the year. The acquisition of center Omer Asik should allow Davis to play more power forward this season.

Sacramento Kings

11 After several bad seasons this team might be coming around. DeMarcus Cousins has that gift for scoring in the low post and Rudy Gay gives them scoring punch. Nik Stauskas might be as ready to play as any rookie this season.

Denver Nuggets

12 This team has somewhat cornered the market on small, quick point guards in Ty Lawson and Nate Robinson. That somewhat obligates this team to run as much as possible, particularly at home where opponents aren’t as accustomed to the thin air. Arron Afflalo was a smart off-season pick-up.

Minnesota Timberwolves

13 Quality tends to trump quantity when it comes to NBA deals, so it was always questionable whether the Timberwolves could get fair value in a forced trade of Kevin Love. This franchise really needs Andrew Wiggins and Anthony Bennett to work out.

Los Angeles Lakers

14 So Kobe Bryant is ticked off that ESPN ranked him the 40th-best player currently in the NBA. He’ll need some motivational tricks this season because his supporting cast is shaky at best. Steve Nash is hurting physically.

Utah Jazz

15 The Jazz made a huge commitment to Gordon Hayward in matching the four-year, $63 million offer sheet the Charlotte Hornets signed him to over the summer. Hayward is versatile and has a scorer’s touch, but it’s still up in the air if he’ll be worth more than $15 million annually.

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