What about the West?
15. Minnesota Timberwolves: They really should clear out the rest of their veterans, if they can. This will be a key year for Big Al Jefferson and Randy Foye. If those two can work out a chemistry together, they could be a nice duo on offense. Corey Brewer can chip in but will make most of his noise on D. With Foye being more of a off-guard in a PG's body, Gerald Green is a terrible fit at the 2. The Wolves need to find a way to get a playmaking shooting guard and a better defensive minded big man than Craig Smith/Ryan Gomes (whom I both think are better suited as backups). Oh, and Randy Wittman and Kevin McHale need to go.
14. Seattle Supersonics: The Durant Show begins this year but with defenses keying on Kevin and only Kevin, I'm not sure if it will be the smash success from day 1 that people are expecting. While he impressed during the team USA game, he was feeding off of stars and playing the role of third or fourth option. He won't have that luxury in his rookie season. He's still the frontrunner for Rookie of the Year but he's not a no-brainer just yet. Besides Durant, this is a 'show me what you got' type season. Luke Ridnour, Robert Swift, Johan Petro, and Jeff Green all have to show how they fit around Durant, and Saer Sene, last year's first rounder, needs to show some improvement.
13. Los Angeles Clippers: Elton Brand's injury destroys the Clippers' hopes in 2007-8 which could be a blessing for other teams. Sam Cassell is a free agent after the year and Corey Maggette is probably going to opt out. With the season on the brink of collapse, the Clippers might be forced to deal those two while they still can. The Clippers aim should be to rebuild towards next season and around: Thornton, Brand, and Kaman. Shaun Livingston is still a question mark but the Clippers still have a decent group to build around for the future. The worst case scenario is pretty dire: The Clippers implode, Cassell and Maggette walks which leads Brand to opt out of his contract (he has a player option for 2008-9) and head back East (Philly being a possibility)
12. Sacramento Kings: They needed to figure out what to do with Mike Bibby and Brad Miller last offseason but they waited a season and now they'll be hard pressed to find a good deal for either of those two. Ron Artest's value is pretty shaky (at best) so the Kings really have little in terms of trade assets. Kevin Martin emerged last year but seems like a second or third star. Spencer Hawes could pan out to be something but I'm not sold on him quite yet. The rest of the Kings' young 'uns will be lucky to blossom into steady role player so there doesn't seem to be much help on the horizon. The Kings should probably deal all of their veterans and finally come to terms with their present situation, rather than dreaming of playoffs and taking the slow road to rebuilding.
11. New Orleans Hornets: Aside from Chris Paul, and maybe Tyson Chandler, this team screams mediocrity. When the big signings of the year are Morris Peterson and Janerro Pargo, things probably aren't looking up for your playoff chances. Peja Stojakovic is washed up and I really don't see Julian Wright fitting in with this team. David West is a solid player but not spectacular. The Hornets won't be an easy team to beat but, in the West, they simply don't have the talent to win enough to make it to the playoffs. If the team struggles early, look for Byron Scott to be the scapegoat.
10. Portland Trailblazers: The Blazers have a ton of talent but most of it either plays PG or in the paint. Granted, those are great places to have an overflow of talent but it's going to be hard to find time for all of the players. Travis Outlaw is best suited at PF, leaving James Jones, Martell Webster, and Brandon Roy as the only real swingmen on the roster. While I sincerely doubt they'd risk adding a headcase to their youthful roster, dealing for Ron Artest could be the type of move than get them into the 8th playoff spot this year. But odds are the Blazers will play it safe, let their young guys get some experience and have one more busy draft day to solidify their roster.
9: Memphis Grizzlies: The Grizz/Blazers matchup is actually a very intriguing one at most positions: Darko vs. Oden, Aldridge v. Gasol, Conley/Lowry vs. Blake/Jack/Sergio, Roy vs. Gay. Then it's Mike Miller vs. Martell Webster which is pretty much no contest. For the Grizzlies to do more than battle with a fellow also-ran, they need Rudy Gay to emerge as a star or for Marc Iavorini's system to really click with their roster. It should be interesting to see how it works. Gasol, who should excel in an uptempo offense, seemed a bit out of sorts in Tony Barone's 'shoot first, ask what defense means later' gameplan. The Grizz have a very interesting team and should be able to snag a playoff spot should any of the teams ahead of them falter. In a year or so, with improvements from the younger players and one key addition, they could finally be in a position to control their own destiny rather than having to wait for a better team to fail.
8: Los Angeles Lakers*: The asterisk is, of course, for Kobe. However, even if he is traded, one would think that the Lakers would get back a package of talented players which Phil Jackson could help guide into the playoffs. If there ever was an event that would bring a team together, it would be getting out from under the shadow of the Mamba. While Kobe has improved his people skills over the years, you know that guys like Bynum and Odom would raise their game up another notch to show that they weren't the crappy teammates that Kobe is indirectly painting them as being (It's nearly impossible to demand a trade and not slap your teammates in the face IMO). As it stands, something has to give. Either Bynum is shipped off for a veteran or Kobe leaves. Because even if they reel Kobe back in, the team isn't going anywhere anyway.
7: Golden State Warriors: The Warriors were the story of the NBA Playoffs but things are hardly sunny in the Bay Area. Don Nelson might not come back. Baron Davis wants an extension. Monta Ellis's attitude problems are rumored to have returned. And Stephen Jackson is still crazy. On the bright side, they've added two talented youngsters in Brandan Wright and Marco Belinelli but there's something about this team that makes it seem like it could implode at any moment. It took a 15 - 5 run to close the season to get the Warriors into the playoffs last season. If they devolve into the team that was 8 games under .500 at the beginning of March (5 games under since the big trade), the Warriors not be able to reconjure the magic of this past year.
6. Houston Rockets: Rick Adelman could be the coach that helps make the annual dark horse finally emerge from the stables but part of me has given up hope. Maybe Mike James, Luis Scola, a recommitted Bonzi Wells, and Stevie Francis help turn things around but I can't shake the feeling that the team just doesn't have enough to make a real title push. It also doesn't help that a lot of them probably see making it out of the first round as impressive. You never want to head into the second round already feeling a sense of accomplishment. The Rockets will make some noise this year but they are still a player away from being someone that the elite team pay close attention to.
5: Utah Jazz: Can Carlos Boozer repeat his performance from last season? How important was Derek Fisher? Can the Euros (Okur, AK47, Giricek) repair their relationship with their teammates after it was rumored a couple (or all) of them weren't completely focused in the conference finals? Can Ronnie Brewer get out of Jerry Sloan's doghouse and if he can't, will Sloan give rookie Morris Almond a chance? The Jazz are a talented team with a great head coach but you can't help but wonder if they can repeat their success with so many questions looming over them. If there was a winning team that needed to make a move, it was the Jazz. Instead, they've downgraded from Fisher to Jason Hart/Ronnie Price and added two rookies. Right now, it's tough to bet against the Jazz but if they can't find a way to answer all of the questions surrounding them, they could fall out of the playoff picture.
4. Denver Nuggets: Nuggets fans have to be happy that the team hasn't made a financially motivated deal and dumped one of their key players to save money. The flip side to that, of course, is that while the team made no deals to cut salary, they also aren't looking to add salary either. J.R. Smith needs to grow up and be a consistent player and Chucky Atkins needs to not grow old and be a useful backup PG. Von Wafer was an interesting signing but so far in his career, he's been a poor man's J.R. Smith, showing flashes at times but more often being benched for poor choices and spotty play. It should be interesting to see if Kenyon Martin can come back and give the team anything of use. With Camby and Nene in the frontcourt, Martin has little pressure and could find a role as an energy guy off the pine. Denver has a talented group and, like Houston, should be able to get out of the first round this year. Unfortunately, also like Houston, they seem to be missing that one final piece that would make them an elite squad.
3. Dallas Mavericks: The Mavs should come into the season with a chip on their shoulder and something to prove. I imagine they'll run through the regular season once again and grab the number one seed but whether the intensity can get them back to the NBA Finals remains to be seen. They are a great team and made some nice small additions but Dirk, Terry, and Howard have to reassert themselves as the trio to beat in the West and honestly, I don't believe they are.
1. San Antonio Spurs: The Champs are the team to beat. The only things that could stop them are complacency and age. I could see the team resting on its laurels a little bit and I also could see the effects of age creeping up and taking a little bit out of the Spurs's role players (and maybe even Duncan). The Spurs should still have enough to repeat as champions but the Suns are very close to eclipsing them.