NBA Western Conference Preview Capsules
Team-by-team capsules for the NBA’s Western Conference, listed alphabetically within divisions:
LAST SEASON: 42-40, lost in Western Conference quarterfinals.
COACH: Rick Carlisle (ninth season, 15th NBA season).
PROJECTED STARTING FIVE: G Deron Williams (14.1 ppg), G Wesley Matthews (12.5 ppg), F Harrison Barnes (11.7 ppg), F Dirk Nowitzki, (18.3 ppg), C Andrew Bogut (5.4 ppg).
ADDED: Barnes, Bogut, G Seth Curry, F Quincy Acy, C A.J. Hammons.
LOST: F Chandler Parsons, C Zaza Pachulia, G Raymond Felton, F David Lee.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Barnes will play under the expectations of a max deal after Golden State had to turn him loose in free agency to add Kevin Durant, which is also why the Mavericks ended up with Bogut in a trade. Barnes shot poorly in the preseason, just as he did in three straight losses in the NBA Finals when the Warriors blew a 3-1 lead against Cleveland.
OUTLOOK: The Mavericks had to settle for seconds after another failed run through their first options in free agency. The outlook brightened a bit when the Durant decision landed Dallas two starters from the 2015 champs, but it will still be a difficult task to finish in the West’s top four — something they haven’t done since Dirk Nowitzki led them to a title in 2011.
LAST SEASON: 41-41, lost in Western Conference quarterfinals.
COACH: Mike D’Antoni (first season, 13th NBA season).
PROJECTED STARTING FIVE: F Trevor Ariza (12.7 ppg), F Ryan Anderson (17.0 ppg), C Clint Capela (7.0 ppg), G James Harden (29.0 ppg), G Patrick Beverley (9.9 ppg).
ADDED: Anderson, G Eric Gordon, C Nene.
LOST: C Dwight Howard, F Josh Smith, F Michael Beasley, F Terrence Jones, G Jason Terry.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Harden. He put up career-highs in points, rebounds (6.1) and assists (7.5) last year to carry the team in a difficult season where coach Kevin McHale was fired after just 11 games and the Rockets took a step back after reaching the Western Conference finals in 2015. With Howard gone, Harden is now the undisputed leader.
OUTLOOK: Harden should thrive in D’Antoni’s fast-paced offense and should be helped by Anderson, a solid outside shooter who led the NBA with 166 3-pointers in the 2011-12 season. The question is if Capela will be able to make up for the loss of Howard. If he doesn’t show he can, Houston may go with the veteran Nene. Either way, it seems unlikely that the Rockets can compete with the West’s elite teams.
LAST SEASON: 42-40, lost in Western Conference quarterfinals.
COACH: David Fizdale (first season, first NBA season).
PROJECTED STARTING FIVE: C Marc Gasol (16.6 ppg), F JaMychal Green (7.4 ppg), F Chandler Parsons (13.7 ppg), G Mike Conley (15.3 ppg), G Tony Allen (8.1 ppg).
ADDED: G Chandler Parsons, F James Ennis, G Troy Daniels, G Wade Baldwin, C Deyonta Davis.
LOST: G Lance Stephenson, F Matt Barnes, C Chris Andersen, G Jordan Farmar, G P.J. Hairston, G Xavier Munford.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Gasol. The former defensive player of the year was limited to 52 games last season after breaking the navicular bone in his right foot. The 7-foot-1, 255-pound Gasol had surgery to repair his foot and missed the Rio Olympics to ensure he would be healthy for the season.
OUTLOOK: The Grizzlies will seek to extend their streak of playoff appearances to seven — only San Antonio and Atlanta have longer current runs. Fizdale’s experience as Miami’s top assistant earned him instant credibility and trust. He shifted Zach Randolph from the starting lineup to a reserve role, and hopes to keep the Grizzlies’ aging core fresh for the postseason by limiting regular-season minutes.
NEW ORLEANS PELICANS
LAST SEASON: 30-52, missed playoffs.
COACH: Alvin Gentry (second season, 14th NBA season).
PROJECTED STARTING FIVE: F Anthony Davis (24.3 ppg), F Solomon Hill (4.2 ppg), C Omer Asik (6.1 rpg), G E’Twaun Moore (7.5 ppg), G Tim Frazier (5.1 ppg).
ADDED: Hill, Moore, G Buddy Hield, G Langston Galloway, F Terrence Jones, F Lance Stephenson, Cheick Diallo.
LOST: G Eric Gordon, F Ryan Anderson, G Norris Cole, C Kendrick Perkins, F Luke Babbitt, G Toney Douglas.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Davis. A three-time All-Star who will be trying to mesh with a host of new regulars at nearly every position after averaging 10.3 rebounds and two blocks per game last season.
OUTLOOK: The Pelicans are hoping to climb back into playoff contentions for the second time in three seasons, but there are many unknowns that could tip the balance either way. It’s unclear when — or how well — Tyreke Evans and Quincy Pondexter will return from prolonged rehabilitation from knee operations. It’s also not clear how long starting guard Jrue Holiday will be on leave to care for his wife, former women’s soccer star Lauren Holiday, who recently gave birth and is being treated for a brain tumor.
SAN ANTONIO SPURS
LAST SEASON: 67-15, lost in Western Conference semifinals.
COACH: Gregg Popovich (21st season, 21st NBA season).
PROJECTED STARTERS: F LaMarcus Aldridge (18.0 ppg), F Kawhi Leonard (21.2 ppg), C Pau Gasol (16.5 ppg), G Danny Green (7.2 ppg), G Tony Parker (11.9 ppg).
ADDED: Gasol, C Dewayne Dedmon, F-C David Lee, C Joel Anthony, F Davis Bertans, G Dejounte Murray.
LOST: F Tim Duncan, F-C David West, F Boris Diaw, F Matt Bonner, C Boban Marjanovic, G Andre Miller, G Kevin Martin.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Leonard. His emergence enabled the Spurs to evolve from their reliance on the Big Three of Duncan, Parker and Manu Ginobili. Duncan’s retirement puts even greater pressure on Leonard, who Popovich labeled as the future face of the franchise in 2012. Leonard responded last season with career-highs in points, assists and 3-point shooting (44 percent), but now the Spurs need his leadership to emerge.
OUTLOOK: The Spurs still have a veteran presence with Parker, Ginobili, Gasol and Green, but they have revamped their roster to feature more youth and athleticism. Gasol’s presence will almost certainly help fill the Duncan void.
LAST SEASON: 33-49, missed playoffs.
COACH: Michael Malone (second season, fourth NBA season).
PROJECTED STARTING FIVE: G Emmanuel Mudiay (12.8 ppg), G Gary Harris (12.3 ppg), F Danilo Gallinari (19.5 ppg), F Nikola Jokic (10.0 ppg), C Jusuf Nurkic (8.3 ppg).
ADDED: G Jamal Murray, F Juancho Hernangomez, G Malik Beasley.
LOST: G D.J. Augustin, C Joffrey Lauvergne.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Murray. The 6-foot-4 sharpshooter gives the Nuggets another much-needed outside threat. Murray made 113 3-pointers at Kentucky last season, the second-most by a freshman in NCAA history behind only Stephen Curry (122). He should pair nicely with Mudiay, the seventh overall pick in 2015.
OUTLOOK: This team will be tricky when they play their big men, Jokic and Nurkic, at the same time. Mudiay has an improved jumper and a year of experience. And Wilson Chandler returns after hip surgery sidelined him all last season. For this team to get back to the postseason, it must drain outside shots more consistently. That’s a big reason why Murray was selected, with hopes he can take some pressure off Gallinari.
LAST SEASON: 29-53, missed playoffs.
COACH: Tom Thibodeau (first season, sixth NBA season).
PROJECTED STARTING FIVE: PG Ricky Rubio (10.1 ppg), SG Zach LaVine (14.0 ppg), SF Andrew Wiggins (20.7 ppg), PF Gorgui Dieng (10.1 ppg), C Karl-Anthony Towns (18.3 ppg).
ADDED: PG Kris Dunn, C Cole Aldrich, SG/SF Brandon Rush, F Jordan Hill.
LOST: F Kevin Garnett, F Tayshaun Prince, F Damjan Rudez, F Greg Smith.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Towns. The reigning rookie of the year put together one of the best rookie seasons in more than two decades after being drafted No. 1 overall out of Kentucky. He garnered some All-NBA consideration as a center last year and has taken the torch from Garnett with a mission to restore pride in a downtrodden franchise.
OUTLOOK: The talent is there. Alas, so is youth. With Towns, Wiggins and LaVine, the Wolves will likely start three 21-year-olds, but the hope is the youngsters will blossom under Thibodeau’s hard-driving leadership. If Wiggins can make the leap in his third season and Rubio adds improved shooting to his playmaking and defensive prowess, these Wolves could make it to the playoffs and end a 12-year postseason drought.
OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER
LAST SEASON: 55-27, lost in Western Conference finals.
COACH: Billy Donovan (second season, second NBA season).
PROJECTED STARTING FIVE: F Andre Roberson (4.8 ppg), F Domantas Sabonis (rookie), C Steven Adams (8.0 ppg), G Russell Westbrook (23.5 ppg.), G Victor Oladipo (17.4 ppg).
ADDED: Oladipo, Sabonis, F/C Joffrey Lauvergne, F Ersan Ilyasova, G Ronnie Price, G/F Alex Abrines, G Reggie Williams.
LOST: F Kevin Durant, F Serge Ibaka, G Dion Waiters.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Westbrook. He’s a former scoring champion and two-time All-Star MVP who no longer has to share the spotlight with Durant. Westbrook had 18 triple-doubles last season, the most since Magic Johnson had 18 in 1981-82. He averaged career-highs of 10.4 assists and 7.8 rebounds last season, and there’s no telling what he’ll do this season.
OUTLOOK: Oklahoma City should still be a danger. The Thunder added Oladipo in the offseason, a player nearly as athletic as Westbrook, to play shooting guard. Adams emerged as a legitimate scoring threat during last year’s playoffs. Enes Kanter, a key reserve, will have a greater role. Sabonis is versatile and mature beyond his years.
PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS
LAST SEASON: 44-38, lost in Western Conference semifinals.
COACH: Terry Stotts (fifth season, ninth NBA season).
PROJECTED STARTING FIVE: G Damian Lillard (25.1 ppg), G CJ McCollum (20.8 ppg), F Maurice Harkless (6.4 ppg), F Al-Farouq Aminu (10.2 ppg), C Mason Plumlee (9.1 ppg).
ADDED: G Shabazz Napier, F Evan Turner, C Festus Ezeli.
LOST: G Gerald Henderson, G Brian Roberts, C Chris Kaman.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Lillard. His scoring and assist averages have gone up with each season, and last year he averaged 25.1 points and 6.8 assists. Only two players reached 50 points in multiple regular-season games last year — Stephen Curry did it three times for Golden State, and Lillard did it twice.
OUTLOOK: The Lillard-McCollum pairing is probably as good as almost any other 1-2 punch in the NBA. Portland looks to build on its success of last season, but the Blazers — and all the other teams in the West — will have difficulty overcoming the Warriors. The Blazers might have been considered a surprise last season. More success won’t surprise anyone this season, though the Blazers open with a tough stretch of 18 of their first 30 games being on the road.
LAST SEASON: 40-42, missed playoffs.
COACH: Quin Snyder (third season, third NBA season)
PROJECTED STARTING FIVE: F Gordon Hayward (19.7 ppg), F Derrick Favors (16.4 ppg), C Rudy Gobert (9.1 ppg), G Rodney Hood (14.5 ppg), G George Hill (12.1 ppg).
ADDED: Hill, F Joe Johnson, F Boris Diaw.
LOST: G Trey Burke, F Trevor Booker.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Hayward. The seventh-year forward should be in his prime after playing at a borderline All-Star level the last two seasons. He added muscle during the offseason and worked on playing at his own pace. Hayward is expected to exercise his player option to become a free agent after the season, so both he and the team are looking to make an impression.
OUTLOOK: It’s playoffs-or-bust for the Jazz. The organization spent the last several seasons slowly rebuilding a roster with young talent and allowing it to grow without the addition of veterans who could stunt that development. Now it’s time to reap the benefits. The Jazz added veterans in Hill, Johnson and Diaw understanding that depth and experience is needed to reach the postseason for the first time since 2012.
GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS
LAST SEASON: 73-9, lost NBA Finals.
COACH: Steve Kerr (third season, third NBA season).
PROJECTED STARTING FIVE: G Stephen Curry (30.1 ppg), F Kevin Durant (28.2 ppg), F Draymond Green (14.0 ppg), G Klay Thompson (22.1 ppg), C Zaza Pachulia (8.6 ppg).
ADDED: Durant, Pachulia, F David West, G Patrick McCaw.
LOST: C Andrew Bogut, F Festus Ezeli, C Marreese Speights, F Harrison Barnes.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Take your pick — from two-time NBA MVP Curry, All-Stars and Olympians Durant, Green, Thompson, new center Pachulia or defensive menace and high-flying scoring threat Andre Iguodala or Shaun Livingston coming off a deep bench that gives Kerr so many lineup options. The Warriors are loaded.
OUTLOOK: Even with Durant joining Curry, Thompson and Green, the Warriors realize it might take time to get in sync. And as much as the 73-wins record meant to Golden State last season, the Warriors would rather bring home another championship after falling just short against LeBron James and Cleveland in Game 7 at home. Curry probably won’t top his record 402 3-pointers either given Durant will now take some of his shots. Watch Nov. 3 — the first time Durant faces his former Oklahoma City team.
LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS
LAST SEASON: 53-29, lost in Western Conference quarterfinals.
COACH: Doc Rivers (fourth season, 21st NBA season).
PROJECTED STARTING FIVE: F Blake Griffin (21.4 ppg), G Chris Paul (19.5 ppg), C DeAndre Jordan (12.7 ppg), G J.J. Redick (16.3 ppg), F Luc Mbah a Moute (3.1 ppg).
ADDED: F-G Alan Anderson, F Brandon Bass, G Raymond Felton, F Brice Johnson, F-C Marreese Speights, C Diamond Stone.
LOST: C Cole Aldrich, F Jeff Ayres, F Branden Dawson, F Jeff Green, G Pablo Prigioni, G C.J. Wilcox.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Griffin. Heads into his sixth season together with Paul still looking to get past the second round of the playoffs. Griffin missed 41 games last season with a left quadriceps injury that he re-aggravated in the team’s first-round playoff exit. He also was suspended four games after breaking his hand while punching a former staff member.
OUTLOOK: This could be the last go-round together for Griffin, Paul and big man Jordan if they don’t make a deep playoff run. Paul and Griffin will be free agents at season’s end, while Jordan has two years remaining and Paul Pierce is playing his final season. A complete roster revamp seems likely unless the team finally produces.
LOS ANGELES LAKERS
LAST SEASON: 17-65, missed playoffs.
COACH: Luke Walton (first season, first NBA season).
PROJECTED STARTING FIVE: F Julius Randle (11.3 ppg), F Luol Deng (12.3 ppg), C Timofey Mozgov (6.3 ppg), G D’Angelo Russell (13.2 ppg), G Jordan Clarkson (15.5 ppg).
ADDED: Deng, Mozgov, F Brandon Ingram, C Ivica Zubac, G Jose Calderon, F Yi Jianlian, F Thomas Robinson.
LOST: G Kobe Bryant, F Brandon Bass, C Roy Hibbert, C Robert Sacre, F Ryan Kelly.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Russell. With Bryant’s retirement, control of the Lakers’ offense belongs to the point guard who showed glimpses of his ample potential during his rocky rookie season. Walton expects the 20-year-old to improve his shot selection while ramping up his playmaking in an up-tempo offense. The Lakers’ future is tied to Russell’s continued development into an elite NBA player.
OUTLOOK: After the three worst seasons in team history and Kobe’s departure, the 16-time champion franchise is starting over with a new coach and a young, intriguing roster. The new mix seems highly unlikely to yield an immediate return to the playoffs, but the Lakers are hoping Russell, Randle and Ingram will be the core of an eventual contender.
LAST SEASON: 23-59, missed playoffs.
COACH: Earl Watson (second season, second NBA season).
PROJECTED STARTING FIVE: F P.J. Tucker (8.0 ppg), F Jared Dudley (7.9 ppg), C Tyson Chandler (7.2 ppg), G Devin Booker (13.8 ppg), G Eric Bledsoe (20.4 ppg).
ADDED: Dudley, G Leandro Barbosa, F Marquese Chriss, F Dragan Bender, G Tyler Ulis.
LOST: F Mirza Teletovic, F Jon Leuer, G Ronnie Price.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Booker. NBA general managers voted the young guard as their pick to be this season’s “breakout” player. LeBron James picked Booker as the under-the-radar player most likely to develop into a superstar. So the pressure is on for the 6-foot-6 guard to live up to those lofty expectations. He made the all-rookie team last season.
OUTLOOK: After a dismal, injury-plagued season, the Suns went young with the drafting of Bender and Chriss early in the first round and added stabilizing veterans in Dudley and Barbosa. The raw but marvelously athletic Chriss was impressive in the preseason. The strength of this team is the backcourt of Bledsoe, Booker and sixth man Brandon Knight. But the West is loaded, so a tough season may await.
LAST SEASON: 33-49, missed playoffs.
COACH: Dave Joerger (first season, fourth NBA season).
PROJECTED STARTING FIVE: F DeMarcus Cousins (26.9 ppg), F Rudy Gay (17.2 ppg), C Willie Cauley-Stein (7.0 ppg), G Arron Afflalo (12.8 ppg), F Darren Collison (14.0 ppg).
ADDED: Afflalo, G Ty Lawson, F Matt Barnes, G Isaiah Cousins, F Skal Labissiere, C George Papagiannis, G Malachi Richardson, G Garrett Temple, F Anthony Tolliver.
LOST: G Rajon Rondo, G Marco Belinelli, G Seth Curry, F Quincy Acy.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Cousins. The talented but temperamental big man added the 3-point shot to his repertoire last season, making 70 out of 210 after hitting only 11 his first five seasons. The Kings hope the experience of winning an Olympic gold medal will help him become an even better team player after years of feuding with coaches.
OUTLOOK: With a new defensive-minded coach and a fancy downtown arena, the Kings enter the season with a positive outlook after missing the playoffs for 10 straight seasons. But the roster still lacks impact players beyond Cousins. Finding pieces to build around with Cousins is the first step needed before the team can think of getting back to the playoffs.