The NBA Western Conference remains a tough place to play heading into the 2014-15 season. There is no easy route to the playoffs and there will be a few teams jealously looking East again this season.
However, most of the teams dragging up the rear will be better and win more games – the rebuilding Timberwolves being the obvious exception. Look for the bottom 5 to make life uncomfortable for franchises in the tier just above them and to bring down the win totals of the playoff bound teams in the West this season.
As usual injuries, hidden agendas and plain old fashioned luck will impact the final standings.
Ranking The Bottom 5
11. New Orleans Pelicans – Projected 39-43, last season 34-48
The mash unit that is the Pelicans has the talent to grab a better record and possibility even challenge for a playoff spot, if – and it’s a big if – everyone comes back from injury as good as before and the injury bug doesn’t bite anywhere near as hard as it did last season.
Jrue Holiday is returning from a stress fracture in his right leg. Eric Gordon is returning from knee surgery. Tyreke Evans hopes to be returning from knee surgery and Ryan Anderson is hopeful of making a comeback from his neck problems. Now that’s a fine looking foursome in just about any team’s rotation, if they can actually play.
The potential of Anthony Davis becoming a bona fide superstar continues to give the Pelicans hope, but even he missed 15 games last season. If New Orleans can stay healthy, look out, but the only kind of luck this franchise has experienced recently has been bad luck.
12. Sacramento Kings – Projected 34-48, last season 28-54
The Kings were a much better team after the trade with Toronto that landed them Rudy Gay. They won 38 percent of their games with the new lineup. Even losing Isaiah Thomas’ 20 points per game this summer probably doesn’t hurt them as Darren Collision and Ramon Sessions will add a badly needed level of maturity to this roster. Like last season, Sacramento will not have problems scoring points this year either.
Everyone continues to wait on DeMarcus Cousins to grow up and become the dominant center his natural ability says is in him. His time on Team USA this summer should help him, although his immaturity still showed through at inappropriate times and at 24-years-old, it’s time that stopped.
13. Los Angeles Lakers – Projected 33-49, last season, 27-55
It’s hard to know what to make of the hodge-podge of talent Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak has put together other than this group of players should win more games than last year. A group of cast offs that other teams had believed in before – generally with good reasons – and two aging superstars returning from injuries in Steve Nash (40) and Kobe Bryant (36) could surprise people on any given night.
For the Lakers to have a good season, good as in challenge for a playoff spot, Nash needs to stay healthy and be a dime generating machine that can nail three-pointers like in the good old days. You shouldn’t be holding your breath, but it would be nice to see. Then Kobe has to be able to score like before and still have enough left to play some defense.
There is a very good chance the Lakers become an exciting enough offensive team that they are fun to watch and Bryant resembles some of what fans pay good money to see. However, it is hard to believe this collection of players can find the chemistry needed to win enough games in time to be relevant.
14. Utah Jazz – Projected 29-53, last season 25-57
The very young Jazz are another year older and wiser. Still too young and inexperienced to be a significant threat on most nights, they will win more games than last season.
The starting lineup of Trey Burke, Alec Burks, Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter will keep the opposition honest as they continue to improve.
15. Minnesota Timberwolves – Projected 22-60, last season 40-42
Kevin Love is gone and the Timberwolves are loaded with young exciting potential superstar level talent. If Minnesota can develop Andrew Wiggins, Zach LaVine, Anthony Bennett and Gorgui Deng into the players they are envisioned as becoming and can retain them long term, the future looks bright.
For this year, Ricky Rubio, Kevin Martin, Corey Brewer, Thaddeus Young and Nikola Pekovic are the guys the Timberwolves will need to turn to for wins. Hopefully, Head Coach Flip Saunders doesn’t let winning get in the road of player development.
Risks and Obstacles
The Pelicans could be treading water waiting for injured players to return or just round back into form and the Lakers appear to be waiting until next season, but both teams have talent if everything breaks in their favor. Plus, everyone has been waiting for the Kings to figure things out and play up to their talent level long enough to put them into the show-me category. Now these situations are not usually a formula for success, but the teams bear watching.
The Jazz and Timberwolves are in true rebuild mode and expectations are low. However, they have young exciting talent and in Minnesota’s situation in particular, their head coach can move the win total up or down significantly.
Who do you think finishes last in the West? Which one of the teams in the bottom 5 will be first to overtly start tanking the season? Can any of these teams exceed expectations and make the playoffs? Let us know in the comments below.