Breaking down Warriors' competitors in the new-look Western Conference

Monte Poole
NBC Sports BayArea

The Warriors, for the first time in franchise history, have won four consecutive Western Conference championships, which somewhat justifies their relative inertia toward making high-impact moves this offseason.

Remember, DeMarcus Cousins reached out to them.

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The rest of the West, however, has been a hive of upheaval, not all of it logical. Nothing over the past couple weeks has been more riveting than watching those chasing the defending champs.

Here are some of the key changes, with assessments, for five retooling challengers hoping to make a deep playoff run:

ROCKETS: After earning the overall No. 1 seed by finishing with the best record in the NBA last season, the Rockers have spent the first 32 days of the offseason tinkering with the roster.

Their best wing defender, Trevor Ariza, is gone, off to the Suns after four years in the starting lineup. Also gone is key reserve Luc Mbah a Moute, their No. 2 wing defender -- and someone capable of guarding some centers. He's now a Clipper.

The Rockets did, however, retain Chris Paul, overlooking his injury history to sign him to a max deal. They re-signed Gerald Green, who is as inconsistent as he is electrifying. They added in Michael Carter-Williams an awful shooter they hope can be an effective wing defender.

Better or worse: Worse, considerably so if Clint Capela doesn't return.

THUNDER: Oklahoma City was starting to find its rhythm when elite wing defender Andre Roberson sustained a season-ending knee injury on Jan 27. Still, OKC rallied well enough to earn a No. 4 seed.

To the surprise of many, they were able to re-sign Paul George. They also brought back key reserve Jerami Grant. In addition, they're bringing in free agent Nerlens Noel, a terrific rim protector, if engaged, behind big Steven Adams.

Yet the most important factors for the Thunder may be the futures of Carmelo Anthony and Andre Roberson. They'd like to unload Melo, whose All-Star ability is gone. His departure would amount to addition by subtraction. Roberson is a crucial asset. His absence stung, as OKC's defense dropped from top-5 to ordinary.

Better or worse: Better, if Roberson meets his timetable and is ready for opening night.

PELICANS: Thanks to a sizzling second half by Anthony Davis, the Pelicans finished with the No. 6 seed and proceeded to demolish Portland in a first-round sweep.

New Orleans has replaced Cousins with Lakers free agent big man Julius Randle, who was recruited by Davis and would seem to be a better fit for this fast-paced offense. They'll also have sharpshooter Nikola Mirotic for a full season.

But losing Rajon Rondo, along with Cousins, should take some of the bite out of the offense. As a replacement, Elfrid Payton brings better scoring ability but lacks Rondo's floor command.

Better or worse: Potentially better, as long as Jrue Holiday is healthy and productive.

BLAZERS: Behind guards Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum and a crew of mostly nondescript characters, Portland played itself into a No. 3 seed. It was surprising then and would be downright shocking if it were repeated in 2019.

To a team featuring two star guards, the Blazers added . . . more guards: Seth Curry and Nik Stauskas through free agency, and Gary Trent Jr. in the draft.

And while the Blazers have agreed to a new deal with center Jusuf Nurkic, they let rugged rebounder Ed Davis walk for an affordable $4.4 million from the Nets. Davis will be missed.

Better or worse: Worse, unless Nurkic brings his "A-plus-plus" game.

LAKERS: After finishing 11th in the West at 35-47 and missing the playoffs for the fifth consecutive season, the Lakers knew what they had to do. And they did it.

They underwent a major overhaul, bringing in veteran free agents Lance Stephenson, JaVale McGee, Rondo and a superstar named LeBron James. They also re-signed starting shooting guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. Fans are dancing on freeways in Hollywood.

Though James and Rondo might be a load for coach Luke Walton and his staff, the vets should complement youngsters Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma and Lonzo Ball. Don't be surprised if, at times, they miss Randle.

Better or worse: Better. They'll make the playoffs, but don't yet have enough proven shooters to be a championship contender.

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