That’s going to have consequences across the NBA, as the tectonic plates of the Western Conference might have just violently shifted around Los Angeles. All offseason, fans prepared for a giant to be formed on the Los Angeles Lakers. Now, there will be two at Staples Center, and the bigger one might be wearing red.
Thanks to that change, as well as one of the more eventful NBA offseasons in recent memory, it’s time to re-evaluate the West. Who’s now on top?
NBA Western Conference power rankings
The non-playoff teams: There are some teams we can probably write off at this point. The Oklahoma City Thunder just lost George and may have to move on from Russell Westbrook as well. They have a boatload of picks thanks to the George trade, but that’s for tomorrow.
The Minnesota Timberwolves missed out hard on D’Angelo Russell and might find themselves back where they started this offseason, with a star in Karl-Anthony Towns and an anchor in Andrew Wiggins. The Memphis Grizzlies parted ways with Mike Conley and are in the midst of retooling. The Phoenix Suns are ... still the Phoenix Suns.
The playoff hopefuls: Before we get to ranking the likely playoff teams, there are some teams to recognize as postseason-worthy. The problem is we can only put eight teams in the playoffs, so some good teams are going to fall by the wayside.
The Sacramento Kings were an exciting young team last year and could grow even more this year. The Dallas Mavericks have Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis, but haven’t done much to add to that this offseason. The San Antonio Spurs still have Gregg Popovich and most of last year’s team, but that might not be enough this year.
And now, the playoff field.
8. New Orleans Pelicans: After missing the postseason and losing a superstar like Anthony Davis, you’re not supposed to be making the playoffs the next year. And if you do, you’re not supposed to be as set up for the future as well as the Pelicans are.
But then the Pelicans won the Zion Williamson lottery, landed a haul in the Davis trade and brought in veterans JJ Redick and Derrick Favors. David Griffin might just be in for some Executive of the Year votes.
7. Golden State Warriors: Well, this is something. The Warriors lost Kevin Durant and Andre Iguodala for good and Klay Thompson for most of the season, but they still have Stephen Curry. They also, somehow, have D’Angelo Russell. How are they this low?
Until Thompson fully recovers from a torn ACL, that backcourt is going to get buckets on offense and be a turnstile on defense. The frontcourt will be anchored by strong defenders in Kevon Looney and Draymond Green, but there’s not a ton of scoring potential there. It’s tough to count out Curry and coach Steve Kerr, but next year is shaping up to be an awkward one for Golden State.
The Blazers will be scary as long as they have Lillard, and yet they may be dealing with some new predators.
5. Los Angeles Lakers: Look, even with a flurry of late-night, post-Kawhi moves, we still don’t entirely know what the Lakers will look like next season.
The Lakers have LeBron James and Anthony Davis, as well as Danny Green, Kyle Kuzma, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope ... and JaVale McGee and Jared Dudley. We might not be dealing with championship-level depth here. Having LeBron and AD still counts for a lot though.
Update: The Lakers have since rebounded by adding, among others, DeMarcus Cousins with a one-year deal on Saturday, which may be worth a bump or two in these rankings.
4. Houston Rockets: Low-key the second-best team in the NBA over the last five years, the Rockets might finally be able to end their season later than the Warriors.
The team wasn’t able to land Jimmy Butler, but the Rockets have been banging on the door enough for the last few years that it might be time to listen. Or the locker room could erupt in flames at some point in the next season. Who knows?
3. Denver Nuggets: The Nuggets have done little to change this offseason beyond bringing back Paul Millsap and extending Jamal Murray, but you’re not supposed to try to change much after a breakout season.
Nikola Jokic is still awkward and terrifying, and the supporting cast behind him remains strong. Some teams might have leapfrogged them this offseason, but you can’t blame the Nuggets for wanting to run it all back with last year’s 54-win team.
2. Utah Jazz: Outside of Los Angeles, the Jazz might be your big offseason winner for next year. Take a 50-win team from last year, turn Ricky Rubio into Mike Conley, then add yet another sharpshooter in Bojan Bogdanovic.
The Jazz suddenly have a starting five that should work extremely well together. Donovan Mitchell is still a star, Conley and Rudy Gobert should form an incredible combination on defense and pick-and-rolls, and Bogdanovic and Joe Ingles are two guys you just can’t leave alone on the perimeter. They even managed to find a great Derrick Favors replacement in Ed Davis.
1. Los Angeles Clippers: So, remember all of that talk about how even though the Lakers have strip-mined their roster of all depth, their superstars should be able to put them in title contention?
Now, imagine a team that actually made the playoffs last year, actually kept most of their young core together and actually knows how to play together with a strong coach, then adding the reigning NBA Finals MVP and an MVP finalist.
A starting five of Leonard, George, Patrick Beverley, Mo Harkless and Ivica Zubac would grind down offenses night after night. And then there’s Lou Williams, Montrezl Harrell and Landry Shamet scoring off the bench, with coach Doc Rivers calling the shots.
They might be in for a rough few years in the future with all those draft picks gone, but, for now, Clippers are a juggernaut.
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