Golden State, San Antonio and Houston will continue to hold down the top of the Western Conference. With Chris Paul and Blake Griffin opting out of their contracts with the Clippers, the Western Conference could get very interesting.
8. New Orleans Pelicans
New Orleans made the big move last year to give up Buddy Hield and a handful of other assets to sign DeMarcus Cousins. It was too late in the season for Cousins and co-star Anthony Davis to make a playoff run, but 2018 is a new year. New Orleans is still has no surrounding weapons, their bench is one of the worst in the NBA. Time will tell if Davis and Cousins can match each other's groove, if so there is no doubt in my mind they can lock down the eighth spot in the west.
7. Oklahoma City Thunder
Oklahoma City is living off of what it once was. Yes, the Thunder still have Russell Westbrook, but that will mean even less in 2018. The year to prove that the Thunder can win without Kevin Durant is over and frankly, they proved nothing. Despite Westbrook’s impressive numbers, he couldn’t lead the Thunder past the first round. The much anticipated playoff matchup between the Thunder and the Rockets dwindled halfway through the series and was quickly forgotten as the Rockets cleaned the Thunder 4-1. OKC has one or two more years of locking down a low playoff spot, but it’s just a matter of time before they are irrelevant.
6. Memphis Grizzlies
Similarly to Oklahoma City, the Grizzlies tenure of locking down mid-spots in the Western Conference are coming to an end. Zach Randolph and Vince Carter are both free agents. They could retire, resign or sign a veteran contract with a title-contending team. Most likely it won’t make a huge difference. The Grizzlies are slowly falling back to mediocrity and a forty-year Vince Carter can’t do anything about that. At this point, Randolph is more of a coach and role model than dominant player. Marc Gasol may have some gas in his tank to get this squad back to the playoffs one more time, but it’s almost time to re-build in Memphis.
5. Minnesota Timberwolves
Look for the Timberwolves to be a great, exciting surprise in the West. Karl Anthony Towns is on his way to being one of the best point-scoring power forwards in the NBA, Andrew Wiggins is just finding his groove, they just picked up the Bulls superstar Jimmy Butler and drafted Lauri Markkanen, a seven-foot center out of Arizona. This roster gives the Celtics a run for their money for the best young teams on the rise . I am very high on this team moving forward. They may need a few years to stick together and find their style of play, but once they do they will undoubtedly sit in one of the top spots in the West.
4. Utah Jazz
Utah is successfully flying under the radar as a solid Western Conference team. They don’t have many flashy big names but Rudy Gobert and George Hill make the Jazz a sleeper in the West. They are reminiscent of the Grizzlies from a few years ago. They are solid on defense and have the confidence and drive to play with every single team. I don’t see a late playoff run in the Jazz’s future but look for them to maintain solid regular season play.
3. Houston Rockets
Houston is in a tough spot. They have James Harden who can score from anywhere and Patrick Beverley who builds a strong defensive foundation. But, they are the little brother of the Warriors and the Spurs, and don’t have the talent to get past that. The talent already on this squad is good enough to keep them as a three-seed in the West but to move up they must make some serious moves. They need big men down low and playmakers to assist Harden. Without any moves, look for them to stay exactly where they are, which will frustrate many Rockets fans.
2. San Antonio Spurs
The Spurs were flatout embarrassed by the Warriors in the Western Conference Finals. If they make no offseason moves the same thing will happen in 2018. Tony Parker is getting older, and Manu Ginobili can’t be expected to have huge playoff games at this point in his career. If the Spurs want any chance of giving Golden State a challenge in the West they must sign Chris Paul, and possibly Blake Griffin. Paul’s passing abilities will give Popovich, Kawhi Leonard and the Spurs the weapon they need to compete in the Western Conference finals.
1. Golden State Warriors
This is already a done deal. Not much needs to be said here, the Warriors are the best team in the history of the NBA and they are staying put. Durant and Curry just started to gel in the playoffs, so if the rest of the NBA doesn’t rise up to the challenge of taking down the reigning champs, the 2018 championship may have already been decided.