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2014-15 NBA Season Preview: Northwest Divison

Northwest Division

1. Oklahoma City Thunder

westbrook ibaka durant jackson jones thunder

Last season: 59-23 (1st in the Northwest Division, 2nd in the Western Conference)

Season ended: Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals against the San Antonio Spurs

Key Additions:

  • Mitch McGary – Draft (No. 21 in the 2014 NBA Draft)
  • Anthony Morrow – Free agent signing
  • Sebastian Telfair – Free agent signing

Key Departures:

  • Thabo Sefolosha – Signed with the Atlanta Hawks
  • Caron Butler – Signed with the Detroit Pistons
  • Derek Fisher – Retired (Head coach of the New York Knicks)
  • Hasheem Thabeet – Traded to the Philadelphia 76ers

Season Preview – After years of relying on internal improvement/development, the Thunder finally threw their hat into the free agency fray. They failed in getting Pau Gasol or Mike Miller to OKC, but did get the deep-range threat they coveted in Anthony Morrow. If healthy, this team is one of the best in the league. Sporting the current MVP and another top 5 players in Westbrook, the Thunder should benefit from their more versatile additions. When it comes to a team like the Thunder, though, its all about May and June. With the team’s shortcomings in the playoffs with such a talented roster, might this be the year that coach Scott Brooks starts to feel the heat?

2014-15 will be successful if: The Thunder win the championship

Projected 2014-15 Record: 61-21

2. Portland Trailblazers

aldridge batum lopez matthews lillard trailblazers

Last season: 54-28 (2nd in the Northwest Division, 5th in the Western Conference)

Season ended: Game 5 of the Western Conference Semi-Finals against the San Antonio Spurs

Key Additions:

  • Steve Blake – Free agent signing
  • Chris Kaman – Free agent signing
  • James Southerland – Free agent signing

Key Departures:

  • Mo Williams – Signed with the Minnesota Timberwolves
  • Earl Watson – Unsigned

Season Preview – The Trailblazers basically bring back the same team as last season, but with a little bit more veteran presence. Chris Kaman and Steve Blake should help shore up some of the inexperience off the bench. With that said, the Blazers’ Achilles heel this season will be the same as last season’s: lack of bench production. Second year guard CJ Mccollum will be expected to fill the production provided by Mo Williams. They were lucky the injury bug didn’t bite that hard last season. They will need similar health next season to produce the same output.

2014-15 will be successful if: The Blazers make it to the Western Conference Finals

Projected 2014-15 Record: 52-30

3. Denver Nuggets

Indiana Pacers v Denver Nuggets

Last season: 36-46 (4th in the Northwest Division, 11th in the Western Conference)

Season ended: Last day of the regular season

Key Additions:

  • Arron Afflalo – Obtained in a trade with the Orlando Magic
  • Gary Harris – Draft (No. 19 in the 2014 NBA Draft)
  • Jusuf Nurkic – Draft (No. 16 in the 2014 NBA Draft)

Key Departures:

  • Evan Fournier – Traded to the Orlando Magic
  • Jan Vesely – Signed overseas
  • Anthony Randolph – Signed overseas
  • Aaron Brooks – Signed with the Chicago Bulls

Season Preview – I only wrote three names on the “Key Additions” section, but with half the team coming back from injury, you could easily add about 5 players to that section. Now, half the team is a bit of an exaggeration, but the players who are coming back are core members of the rotation. JaVale McGee, Danilo Galinari, JJ Hickson, and Nate Robinson all missed time last season with surgery necessitating injuries. With all those key players coming back and Kenneth Faried coming off a great showing in the FIBA World Cup, Denver becomes the wild card in the Western Conference. Two seasons ago, they were the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference with many of these players on the team. It may take Denver a bit to gel, but I could definitely see them being a nuisance come the second half of the season.

2014-15 will be successful if: The Nuggets make it to the playoffs

Projected 2014-15 Record: 40-42

4. Utah Jazz

burke hayward favors jazz

Last season: 25-57 (5th in the Northwest Division,  15th in the Western Conference)

Season ended: Last day of the regular season

Key Additions:

  • Trevor Booker – Free agent signing
  • Dante Exum – Draft (No. 5 in the 2014 NBA Draft)
  • Rodney Hood – Draft (No. 23 in the 2014 NBA Draft)
  • Steve Novak – Obtained in a trade with the Toronto Raptors

Key Departures:

  • Richard Jefferson – Signed with the Dallas Mavericks
  • Marvin Williams – Signed with the Charlotte Hornets
  • Brandon Rush – Signed with the Golden State Warriors
  • Diante Garrett – Traded to the Toronto Raptors

Season Preview – The Jazz are probably at the midway point of their rebuild. Their young guys from 2-3 seasons ago are starting to come up for extensions and they have yet to show much fruit. They had to pay Gordon Hayward max money in order to keep him away from Charlotte. And their backcourt consists of a rookie (Exum) and a 2nd year player (Trey Burke). I think the Jazz take a step this season. Not necessarily a big one, but a 5-7 win improvement through the internal development of Hayward, Enes Kanter, Derrick Favors, and Trey Burke. Show improvement and the team probably stays the course. But, flounder again, and the team may be looking at a smaller rebuild for the future.

2014-15 will be successful if: The Jazz win 35 games

Projected 2014-15 Record: 31-51

5. Minnesota Timberwolves

"blg 04 wolves state fair"

Last season: 40-42 (3rd in the Northwest Division, 10th in the Western Conference)

Season ended: Last day of the regular season

Key Additions:

  • Anthony Bennett – Obtained in a trade with the Cleveland Cavaliers
  • Zach Lavine – Draft (No. 13 in the 2014 NBA Draft)
  • Glenn Robinson III – Draft (No. 40 in the 2014 NBA Draft)
  • Andrew Wiggins – Obtained in a trade with the Cleveland Cavaliers (No. 1 in the 2014 NBA Draft)
  • Mo Williams – Free agent signing
  • Thaddeus Young – Obtained in a trade with the Philadelphia 76ers

Key Departures:

  • Kevin Love – Traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers
  • Luc Richard Mbah a Moute – Traded to the Philadelphia 76ers
  • Alexey Shved – Traded to the Philadelphia 76ers

Season Preview – The Timberwolves seem to have a problem holding on to great power forwards. Kevin Garnett about seven years ago and Kevin Love this offseason. But they got a much better haul this time around for Love than they did for Garnett. Wiggins has franchise player potential and Bennett has match-up problems potential if he is healthy this season. Thaddeus Young is a good veteran stopgap at the forward spot, but is also young enough to grow with this group. I believe this team will surprise some people. Rubio is made to be a fast break point guard and now has the horses to let loose his talent. In the end though, this team is extremely young and will have plenty of growing pains this season. Luckily, they’ll also be exciting as hell.

2014-15 will be successful if: The Timberwolves’ young players show development throughout the season, and they still garner a Top 5 pick.

Projected 2014-15 Record: 30-52

On Second Thought: An NBA Postscript

thunder warriors tip off

When the season begins, every writer and media pundit has predictions for how teams will do. Sometimes they are spot on. Sometimes they are dead wrong. Here a collective of how many people thought the seasons of each team would go, and how they really went.

Atlanta Hawks – After years of mediocrity, the Hawks are in a position to begin rebuilding with the selection of Dennis Schroder and Lucas Nogueira.

  • Reality: The Hawks are still mediocre, but crept into the playoffs in the terrible Eastern Conference.

Boston Celtics – With the team blown up, Boston looks to rebuild through the draft.

  • Reality: Boston actually performed a little bit better than people thought, but are still in rebuild mode.

Brooklyn Nets – With the acquisition of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Jason Terry from Boston, the Nets look to stack a team to contend with the likes of Miami and Indiana.

  • Reality – It took a buzzer beater from Joe Johnson in early January to finally get this team kick started. Since then, they are 34-15, and appear to be the strongest contender in the East to challenged Miami and Indiana.

Charlotte Bobcats: Biggest free agent signing in team history, but the team still has too many holes to contend for a playoff spot.

  • Reality – New head coach Steve Clifford brought a defense first attitude that transformed the identity of the team and made them competitive every night. Al Jefferson and Kemba Walker have formed a dangerous offensive duo that could give a contender trouble come playoff time.

Chicago Bulls – The return of Derrick Rose will bring this team back to the position it was two seasons ago: a title contender.

APphoto_Bulls Rose Basketball

  • Reality – Yeah, about that return. It lasted 10 games. A torn meniscus derailed Rose’s comeback plans and once again, derailed Chicago’s chances of contending. They still play hard and will give whoever they play fits in the playoffs because of their defense. But the reality is that, without Rose, they don’t have any one player dynamic enough to take over in the playoffs.

Cleveland Cavaliers – With 2 No. 1 picks and 2 No. 4 picks on the roster within the past 3 years, the young Cavs are looking to take the next step as a franchise.

  • Reality – Sometimes, youth and immaturity go hand in hand. Going from a rebuilding team to a playoff contender can be a difficult leap to take if most of your players have never been there.

Dallas Mavericks – The acquisitions of Monta Ellis and Jose Calderon will help Dirk Nowitzki and the Mavs contend for a playoff spot.

  • Reality – That basically is the reality. A healthy Dirk and an efficient (by his standards) Monta Ellis have helped Dallas get back to the playoffs after a one year absence.

Denver Nuggets – The loss of Andre Iguadola will affect Denver’s defense, but their depth will help keep them in the playoffs.

  • Reality – Injuries (old and new) destroyed the depth the Nuggets had and prevented them from reaching the playoffs for the first time in 10 seasons.

Detroit Pistons – The acquisitions of Brandon Jennings and Josh Smith should help young big men Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe make the jump into their first playoff foray.

  • Reality – The continued development of Drummond and Monroe could not overcome the inefficiency of Smith and Jennings. The Pistons disappointed and long time GM Joe Dumars was let go.

Golden State Warriors – The addition of Andre Iguadola will provide the perimeter defense to balance the offense provided by Steph Curry and Klay Thompson. The Warriors will improve upon their surprising season from the previous year.

  • Reality – While the team has improved in terms of record, injuries to Andrew Bogut and David Lee may prevent the team from improving upon their 2nd round exit from last season’s playoffs.

Houston Rockets – The winners of last summer’s free agency sweepstake should easily see the team rise from playoff team to title contending team with the addition of Dwight Howard.

dwight howard houston rockets

  • Reality – Houston is a fringe title contender, but seems to struggle, surprisingly, on defense. Houston’s perimeter defense is porous, at best, which leaves Howard on an island in the paint and shooters open on the perimeter.

Indiana Pacers – The team that was a game away from knocking the Heat out of the playoffs looks to take that experience and build upon it.

  • Reality – What once looked like to an inevitable meeting between the Pacers and Heat came into doubt when the Pacers struggled after the All-Star break. Having recovered enough to get the No. 1 seed in the East, it will be interesting to see which Pacers team we get the rest of the way: the one from Nov – Jan or the one from the middle of February on.

Los Angeles Clippers – The team built around Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, and a bevy of shooters will throw their hat into the title contending conversation and will be a force come playoff time.

  • Reality – Chris Paul has Chris Paul’d and Blake Griffin has become what we all thought he would become (a double/double monster). The Clippers are a title contender if their shooters, namely JJ Redick and Jamal Crawford, remain healthy.

Los Angeles Lakers – If the team can stay afloat until Kobe returns in December, they could be a dark horse threat in the Western Conference.

  • Reality – Those 6 games in December were kind of like watching Michael Jordan in a Wizard uniform. But a lot like Derrick Rose, Kobe got re-injured and didn’t play another game for the Lakers. Unlike the Bulls though, the Lakers weren’t built to sustain a season without Kobe, and withered away under a cloud of Nick Young yolo-jumpers.

Memphis Grizzlies – After reaching (and getting swept) in the Western Conference Finals, the Grizzlies are hoping the additions of  Mike Miller and Kostas Koufos will help take the team to the next level.

  • Reality – After stumbling a bit early in the season due to an injury to Marc Gasol, the Grizzlies have recovered enough to secure a playoff spot. The question is whether this team has reached its ceiling.

Miami Heat – The defending champs should blaze through the regular season as one of the top teams, and have as good a chance as anyone else to find themselves holding the Larry O’Brien trophy at the end of the season.

  • Reality – Yep, it’s Miami. It’s Lebron. They coasted and played mediocre (by their standards), but still managed to get the No. 2 spot in the East while resting most of their main players throughout the season.

Milwaukee Bucks – After getting swept by the Heat in the previous season, the Bucks look to get younger and build for the future. Brandon Knight, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Larry Sanders will get plenty of development time this season.

giannis antetokounmpo bucks

  • Reality – If the goal was to get younger and build for the future, mission accomplished. The Bucks handed the keys of the ship to the kids and the results have gone as expected. The worst record and the best chance at drafting an impact player in this loaded draft.

Minnesota Timberwolves – The addition of Kevin Martin and the health (FINALLY!) of Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio should finally propel this team into the playoffs.

  • Reality – It’s hard to make the playoffs in the West. The Wolves had a +2.8 in terms of margin of victory, but still ended up 10th in the West. A positive MOV usually means you blow opponents out when you win, but you lose the close games. It’s the story of the Minnesota’s season.

New Orleans Pelicans – New name, new uniform, same rebuild. The addition of Jrue Holiday and the continued development of Anthony Davis should help the team improve from the previous season, but it won’t be enough for a playoff spot.

  • Reality – Injuries really did a number on the Pelicans this season, but above prediction was spot on.

New York Knicks – The ultimate hot/cold team. They did nothing to drastically improve the team in the offseason. They could either duplicate last year’s feat and win over 50 games or they could completely bottom out and win less than 40.

  • Reality – The Knicks took what was behind Door No. 2. The Knicks came out the gate struggling to shoot the ball, and never recovered consistently throughout the season. They still had a chance at making the playoffs in the final month, but their inconsistent play was too much for them in the end.

Oklahoma City Thunder – The Thunder got their first dose of reality since settling in the Great Plains with Russell Westbrook’s injury. How the Thunder, and especially Kevin Durant, handle the absence of Russell Westbrook will go a long way to determining how this season will play out. Will they be the one man band they were in the playoffs last season or will they be more diverse and share the load?

slim reaper

  • Reality – Not only did the Thunder weather the initial storm, but they also weathered another storm in the middle of the season. Not only did Kevin Durant share the load, but he also learned how to completely take over a game. The “Slim Reaper” stretch from mid-January to the All-Star break pushed his game to an entire different level and probably won him the MVP. The team never wavered and is currently ahead of where most people thought they would be in the beginning of the season.

Orlando Magic – The post-Dwight Howard rebuild is in full-swing. The Magic have a ton of young players they need to develop in the next few seasons. This season will be no different than the last.

  • Reality – Yep, the Magic are in full rebuild mode.

Philadelphia 76ers – Another team that is in full rebuild mode. The team traded its only All-Star, Jrue Holiday, for Nerlens Noel and will probably look to trade Evan Turner and Spencer Hawes who will be free agents at the end of the year.

  • Reality – The prediction for this team was tame. This team hit rock bottom (tanktastic!) and then decided to keep on digging (26 game losing streak).

Phoenix Suns – Another team that is looking towards the future and not focusing on the present. The team traded their only post presence in Marcin Gortat for someone that will probably not suit up at all this season (Emeka Okafor). This combination of players will have the fans in Phoenix asking if the Sun has set yet.

  • Reality – Wow, completely wrong on this assessment. This is why you play the games. The Suns banded together under first year coach Jeff Hornacek, and surprised everyone from day one with their up-tempo offense and relentless energy. Unfortunately, their youth showed in the final week of the season as they dropped the two games they needed against the two teams ahead of them.

Portland Trailblazers – A talented team that has underachieved the last few seasons, the Trailblazers are at a cross-roads as to what to do with this current roster. They have good players, but the team has no idea what it’s ceiling is. If everyone stays healthy, this team could make some noise in the Western Conference.

  • Reality – The Trailblazers made it through the season virtually unscathed and have finally begun to put it all together. The starting 5 has been an offensive powder keg all season, but their depth and defense leave a lot to be desired.

Sacramento Kings – The fact that the Kings are in Sacramento for the foreseeable future makes this season a success for Sacramentans. On the court, this team is beginning to resemble a rebuild gone wrong. The key player (DeMarcus Cousins) is an immature malcontent and the rest of the team is a ragtag bunch of inefficient shooters, undersized power forwards, and shoot first point guards.

  • Reality – The Kings shuffled their personnel around throughout the season, but the result has been the same…bad basketball. Good news is that Cousins seems to be maturing and developing into a franchise player.

San Antonio Spurs – Every year, 29 other teams wonder when San Antonio will irreversibly age. And every year, 29 teams come out disappointed. With a team that was a Kawhi Leonard free throw away from winning the championship, this year will be business as usual. They’ll probably rest their players, win games, and end up near the top of the Western Conference.

tim duncan spurs


  • Reality – Yep, your 2013-14 San Antonio Spurs. Ol’ Faithful

Toronto Raptors – The Raptors are a team that is in the decision-making portion for their rebuild. They have developed some young players and now they have to see who is kept and who is quelled. With their inefficient shooters and inexperienced post players, look for this year’s Raptors team to look a lot like last season’s.

  • Reality – Well, surprise surprise. It’s a good thing the Thunder has the Raptor’s pick from last season, because it wasn’t going to be any good this season. The Raptors’ season took off after the Rudy Gay trade that gave them a ton of balance and depth. The young players, namely, DeMar DeRozan and Jonas Valanciunas, have developed into good players that the team can build off of. The lottery team has jumped all the way to the 3 spot in the East.

Utah Jazz – When a team doesn’t sign it’s two best players, who also happen to be free agents, that is usually a sign of an impending rebuild.

  • Reality – While the Jazz are currently in a rebuild, it is a staggered rebuild where they have been stockpiling young players (Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors, Enes Kanter, Alec Burks) for the past 3 seasons and now want to start a full-on rebuild. Results are still inconclusive.

Washington Wizards – With the addition of Marcin Gortat, the Wizards are starting to put together an extremely formidable starting line-up. If they can just get over the proverbial hump, they should be a power in the East for the next couple of seasons.

  • Reality – It took them a while to make it over that proverbial hump, but once they got a few games over .500, they maintained and are in the thick of the playoff race in the East.