After an action filled All-Star weekend in the Windy City, the NBA playoffs and off-season are on the horizon. Here’s one question that each Western Conference team should think about for the rest of the season or in the offseason.
Dallas (33-22): “Is Luka’s ankle a problem?”
Luka Doncic is unquestionably one of the NBA’s next stars for the foreseeable future. Since the Mavericks obviously won’t be able to win the title after Dwight Powell’s season ending injury, should Mark Cuban and the Mavericks start to load manage Luka? As frustrating as it is for the fans, it would be the smartest thing to do for many reasons. Porzingis will continue to recover from his injury, the Mavericks could get a better draft pick to add cheap talent, and the Mavs won’t risk injuring their franchise player. Getting a good player this year in the draft is essential due to their limited cap space and Dallas’ firsts starting to go to New York.
Denver (38-17): “Can they win in the playoffs?”
Denver is starting to seem like the 2015-2018 Raptors where they are regular season warriors but can’t get it done in the playoffs. Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. were slumping early in the season, but the pair are starting to come into their own. Nikola Jokic went on a tear while three out of the Nuggets’ starting five was out injured. Against two of the best defensive centers in the league, Jokic put up a 30-21-10 triple-double vs. Rudy Gobert and a 39-10-11 triple-double against Andre Drummond. Could he do the same thing in the playoffs and carry Denver to the conference finals?
Golden State (12-43): “What do you do with your assets?”
The Warriors blatant tanking should be punished by the NBA as their players are milking their injuries, primarily Steph Curry. That being sad, the Warriors now have some good assets on their hands that they could do to revamp their roster. Having a top 4 pick all but locked up for this year’s draft, do they select it, or do they use it to restart the Warriors dynasty? If I’m the Golden State GM, I’m drafting James Wiseman and if he’s not there, I’m trading that pick and Andrew Wiggins for Bradley Beal. I cannot see Wiggins fitting in well with Klay, Curry, and Draymond due to his high amount of shot attempts, and low field goal percentage. I hate the Warriors and I know you all hate the Warriors, but the dynasty isn’t over, similarly to the Patriots, they won’t go away as long as the Splash Brothers are on the roster (and healthy obviously).
Houston (34-20): “Will the Rockets finally do it?”
The Rockets are starting to become notorious chokers when it comes to the playoffs, and D’Antoni is firmly on the hot seat. Harden is starting to really cool off and now that Houston went all in by trading away their centers for Robert Covington, they have to win this year, but it won’t happen. I don’t know why the Rockets decided to go full-on small ball as they were a CP3 hamstring away from beating the Warriors two seasons ago, and a Harden eye-poke away last year. Unfortunately for D’Antoni and the Rockets, I don’t know if the Harden-Hero ball will ever get it done. The Westbrook trade is seeming to be worse and worse as CP3 is an All-Star in OKC and West“brick” is back as he can’t make a three to save his life this year.
Los Angeles Clippers (37-18): “Will Playoff P come again?
Kawhi is as dominant as ever, but Paul George either really on or really off. Similarly to the Rockets, George turns into “Playoff P” where he plays horrendously and disappears on the floor. The Clippers are 6-1 when Kawhi and PG both score 20+ points. The Clippers check every box of a title winner, and since Kawhi was able to do it last year with a worse team around him, there’s no reason they couldn’t do it this year. Adding Marcus Morris was an incredible acquisition and could be enough to put them over the top.
Los Angeles Lakers (41-12): “Supporting cast enough?”
As long as you have LeBron James on your team, you’re a threat in the league. LeBron has his best ever teammate currently in Prime Anthony Davis, but is that enough? While thinking about who’s the best team in LA, most agree that the Lakers’ dynamic duo is better than the Clippers, but the Clippers’ bench is far better than the Lakers bench. Danny Green, Avery Bradley, Alex Caruso, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, JaVale McGee, Kyle Kuzma, and Dwight Howard might not be enough to win the title this year with the Juggernauts of the Clippers and Bucks.
Memphis (28-26): “Is there a championship window coming up?”
The Memphis Grizzlies won the 2019 NBA Draft. Ja Morant is a STUD and the league is starting to take notice. Morant, along with Dillon Brooks, Jaren Jackson Jr., Brandon Clarke, and recent acquisition Justice Winslow all combine to form a great young core. All of these players are making less than $10 million a season and with contracts like Gorgui Dieng, Tyus Jones, and Kyle Anderson, Memphis can use those players to match salary for a veteran to bolster their team. I would say that Memphis should wait till the 2021 summer where they will have around $30-35 million in cap space to sign a free agent as that young core, but primarily Ja Morant, will make Memphis a free agency destination, and then, their championship window will open.
Minnesota (16-37): “How can they get to the next level?”
The Timberwolves won this year’s trade deadline (tied with the Clippers) by acquiring D’Angelo Russell. D-Lo might have finally found a home and Karl-Anthony Towns finally found a co-star. Evan Turner’s $18.6 million and Allen Crabbe’s $18.5 million coming of the books this summer and James Johnson’s $16 million expiring contract are going to give Minnesota some wiggle room to add a third piece to their roster. Omari Spellman, Malik Beasley, Josh Okogie, and Jarrett Culver are all on very cheap and team friendly contracts, so Minnesota has to act fast to bring in another star. Devin Booker speculation will probably dominate the summer as KAT and D-Lo are great friends with Booker, but I would suggest DeMar DeRozan as a third star. Bringing in DeRozan would bring some much-needed experience to this young team.
New Orleans (23-32): “How do you build this team?”
The Pelicans won the Anthony Davis trade, wait what? Yes, I think that if you’re able to get some real assets back while getting rid of a franchise player, you did well. Lonzo Ball is a knockdown shooter now, Brandon Ingram is a franchise player, Josh Hart is a great role player, and Zion! Zion is a bull in the post as he just bullies people seemingly getting every rebound. Jrue Holiday is also on the roster but does he fit the timeline? Do you pay Ingram? Do you build around Zion? Personally, I’d pay Ingram, and trade Holiday. While he’s an elite defender, I feel that he’s overrated a tad and the Pelicans could add to their youth and pick arsenal by capitalizing on his value.
Oklahoma City (33-22): “Do you have a contender?”
How is OKC doing this? They were supposed to be at the top of the lottery this year but due to CP3 turning the clock back and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander becoming a borderline All-Star, the Thunder find themselves firmly in the playoffs. OKC has a great blend of youth and veterans that could be a piece away from a legit contender. Dennis Schroder’s $15.5 million contract is a great trade piece. I would absolutely LOVE to see the Thunder use some of their seemingly hundreds of draft picks and Schroder to get Bradley Beal to OKC. A lineup of CP3, SGA, Beal, Gallinari, and Adams could work, and would be very interesting to watch.
Phoenix (22-33): “What is going on?”
It took me a long time to even come up with a question for the Suns because I have no idea what’s going on here. The Suns should be good with their current roster but similarly to the Lions, I find myself going “well it’s the Suns.” They have some good young pieces, a star in Devin Booker, and finally some competent coaching and management, so what’s going on? Obviously, I don’t know the answer, but I think that they need another star. The role players on the Suns are among the league’s best but they need more than Booker. Chris Paul, Jrue Holiday, or Julius Randle would all be great fits in Phoenix.
Portland (25-31): “Time to trade McCollum?”
What the heck is going on in Portland? Lillard went thermo-nuclear before the All-Star Break scoring at will, yet the Blazers are still below .500. At 25-31, the Blazers are underperforming and need a change this summer as they honestly might not make the playoffs. As Lillard is clearly the man in Portland, McCollum will have to make way. Flipping McCollum to Philadelphia along with Nurkic for Embiid could be a crazy play, but one that might make Lillard and the Blazers take the next step and get back to the Western Conference Finals. Again, Bradley Beal’s name will come up in this article as a pick or young player along with C.J. should be enough for Washington to send Beal out West, no matter who it is, the Blazers have to do something.
Sacramento (21-33): “Buddy or Bogdan?”
Recent 3pt Contest Champion Buddy Hield has made it pretty clear he’s not happy with his current role as the sixth man for the Kings. After getting a contract extension this summer, Buddy seemed to be the answer to the question, Buddy or Bogdan? Bogdan Bogdanovic has been playing pretty well this season, but he will be a restricted free agent this summer. One of the two will be off the roster next year and I have to guess it would be Bogdanovic. The Kings are tied with the Cavs for the most dysfunctional franchise as they are still fighting about taking Marvin Bagley over Luka Doncic. I don’t really know what’s going to happen in Sacramento but if you ruin De’Aaron Fox I will be quite unhappy with you.
San Antonio (23-31): “Is it time to finally rebuild?”
The end of the Spurs dynasty is finally here. Coming from a Red Wings fan, trust me Spurs fans, this is a good thing as mortgaging your future to keep a stupid streak alive has left the Wings screwed for the foreseeable future. I feel like the Spurs wanted to keep the streak going by not trading DeRozan at the deadline. They have some nice pieces, but they have to move on as DeRozan and Aldridge aren’t going to get it done. Having a competent front office and coaching staff, something increasingly rare in this league, should lead to a quick and effective re-build in San Antonio. With the Spurs’ 25-year streak ending, the Pittsburgh Penguins now hold the longest streak in professional sports with 13 seasons in a row.
Utah (36-18): “Can Conley find form?”
The Jazz are a very complete team who I think are the third best team in the West after the Los Angeles teams. One problem is the poor form of Mike Conley. The Jazz are still cruising thanks to the unexpected breakout season from Jordan Clarkson as their sixth man. Clarkson has averaged 16.2 points a game since his move and his scoring was much needed. If Conley can get back to his Memphis form and All-Stars Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Golbert keep up their great seasons, the Jazz could find themselves in the Conference Finals.