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NBA season preview: Northwest Division

Johnny Ludden
Yahoo Sports

Seattle sent Ray Allen to Boston. Kevin Garnett soon followed. Portland shipped Zach Randolph to New York. Rashard Lewis found a $118 million contract in Orlando and Andrei Kirilenko offered $63 million to get out of Utah.

Then there's the entire SuperSonics franchise, which might be headed to Oklahoma City by season's end.

Welcome to the Northwest Division, the NBA's Grand Central Station. Looking for greener pastures? Just take the No. 9 out of town.

Keeping track of the Northwest's daily transaction report this summer became quite the chore. Greg Oden, the league's top draft pick, didn't even make it to training camp before Portland shelved him for microfracture surgery.

Which, of course, is why the two teams with the smallest turnover are the two most likely to contend for the division title.

Predicted order of finish within division:

1. Utah Jazz

Allow us to introduce: Jason Hart, Ronnie Price, Morris Almond, Kyrylo Fesenko

Dearly departed: Derek Fisher, Dee Brown, Rafael Araujo

Is that confetti in your hair? After an impressive run to the Western Conference finals, the Jazz made only a couple of minor tweaks to their roster. Deron Williams and Carlos Boozer, quickly resembling another formidable Utah pick-and-roll combo, anchor the team's impressive core. Mehmet Okur is coming off an All-Star season and second-year guard Ronnie Brewer is making a strong bid to start.

How's Cancun in June? Shortly before camp opened, Kirilenko announced he no longer wanted to play for the Jazz. He didn't find much sympathy from his teammates. Williams criticized Kirilenko's work ethic and shot selection on a local radio show. And that came after both Williams and Boozer seemed to complain about the performance of some of their international teammates during the conference finals.

In the crosshairs: Since a trade that would have sent him to Phoenix for Shawn Marion failed to materialize, Kirilenko has been on his best behavior. The Jazz now hope former guard Jeff Hornacek can fix not only Kirilenko's shot, but also his confidence.

2. Denver Nuggets

Allow us to introduce: Chucky Atkins, Stacey Augmon, Steven Hunter, Bobby Jones

Dearly departed: Steve Blake, Reggie Evans, DerMarr Johnson

Is that confetti in your hair? Allen Iverson didn't appear to have much trouble playing alongside Carmelo Anthony by the end of the regular season. The Nuggets went 10-1 in April and gave the Spurs a scare in the first round before losing in five games. Anthony has continued to steadily improve each season and Denver also hopes Kenyon Martin is ready to contribute again.

How's Cancun in June? Blake's departure to Portland could end up hurting the Nuggets. He's not in Atkins' class as a scorer, but he proved to be a willing distributor and an active defender – a good fit for a team that rarely lacked for points. Marcus Camby returns as the Defensive Player of the Year, but staying healthy always seems to be a problem. J.R. Smith, meanwhile, has worn on coach George Karl with his immaturity – the same way he earned a ticket out of New Orleans.

In the crosshairs: After undergoing microfracture surgery on both knees – procedures that have limited him to 58 total games the past two seasons – Martin now claims to be pain free. His minutes have been limited during the preseason, but any court time for the bruising forward figures to be a plus for the Nuggets, who could use his toughness.

3. Portland Trail Blazers

Allow us to introduce: Greg Oden, Steve Blake, Channing Frye, James Jones, Taurean Green, Josh McRoberts

Dearly departed: Zach Randolph, Ime Udoka, Jamaal Magloire, Fred Jones, Dan Dickau

Is that confetti in your hair? Losing Oden for the season certainly didn't help the Trail Blazers' playoff chances, but they have another talented young big man poised for a breakout season. LaMarcus Aldridge, whose development made it easier for Portland to part with Randolph, has frustrated opponents with his inside play. With Brandon Roy, last season's Rookie of the Year, quickly growing into a leader, Portland's young roster could contend for a playoff berth sans Oden.

How's Cancun in June? Roy has already been slowed by a sore left heel – the same injury that caused him to miss 20 of Portland's first 25 games last season. And among all those young legs, the Trail Blazers have just two true veterans: Joel Przybilla and Raef LaFrentz, the latter of whom played in only 27 games last season.

In the crosshairs: Given a $12 million contract and an opportunity to start, Travis Outlaw showed up at training camp and promptly failed the team's conditioning test. Even worse: Outlaw's greatest basketball skill, allegedly, is his athleticism. He also arrived late for the Blazers' first preseason game, quickly earning him another meeting with coach Nate McMillan and general manager Kevin Pritchard.

4. Seattle SuperSonics

Allow us to introduce: Kevin Durant, Jeff Green, Kurt Thomas, Wally Szczerbiak, Delonte West

Dearly departed: Ray Allen, Rashard Lewis, Andre Brown, Mike Wilks, Danny Fortson

Is that confetti in your hair? New Sonics GM Sam Presti quickly made Durant the team's new cornerstone by shipping out Allen on draft night. With Lewis leaving for Orlando, Presti and fellow Spurs alum, P.J. Carlesimo, are building for the future. But the team isn't devoid of talent. Depending on how quickly Durant and Green develop – and whether Carlesimo can get consistent production from at least one of his three young big men – the Sonics could spoil someone else's playoff chances even if their own don't look too good.

How's Cancun in June? Cancun? Try Oklahoma City. The Sonics aren't generating much positive press while trying to wrestle their way out of KeyArena. For now, the only win-loss that seems to matter is the team's impending arbitration battle with the city of Seattle.

In the crosshairs: Szczerbiak is due $26.6 million over the next two seasons. That's a lot of change for someone who has missed at least 30 games in three of the previous five seasons.

5. Minnesota Timberwolves

Allow us to introduce: Al Jefferson, Ryan Gomes, Antoine Walker, Michael Doleac, Wayne Simien, Sebastian Telfair, Gerald Green, Theo Ratliff, Juwan Howard, Corey Brewer, Greg Buckner

Dearly departed: Kevin Garnett, Mike James, Ricky Davis, Mark Blount, Trenton Hassell, Troy Hudson, Justin Reed

Is that confetti in your hair? This figures to be the first time in four seasons the Timberwolves don't fail to meet their fans' expectations. Of course, few people are expecting much of anything from the team this season. Trading Garnett to Boston left Minnesota with a promising young forward in Jefferson and a lot of question marks.

How's Cancun in June? Minnesota likely will use the season to evaluate and develop its younger players. Jefferson could become a franchise cornerstone, but Telfair and Green have yet to show much. If nothing else, the Timberwolves should be able to position themselves for a high lottery pick.

In the crosshairs: Unable to surround Garnett with enough talent to make the Timberwolves a legitimate contender, GM Kevin McHale will now try to rebuild them from the ground up. Most Minnesota fans don't have faith he'll succeed.

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