This offseason, a major bombshell was dropped on NBA fans: Kevin Durant joined the 73-win Golden State Warriors. This is arguably the greatest team in NBA history. I say this with full confidence even though they haven't seen one minute of court action together yet. It is a legitimate possibility that, barring injury, this team could go 82-0. While the Warriors appear to have several championship rings locked up (at least, the betting people agree), other teams can make some moves to at least position themselves well for the years to come. I ordered this list by where I expect team's to finish in the standings next year. For each team, I give a short idea of what they should do for the future and an assessment of their current roster.
1. Golden State Warriors: Bug everyone until you get the optimal center, win rings.
Warriors organization, great job. You've shown that building through the draft is the best route. You've showed everyone the true value of the 3-point shot. Your organization will probably be heralded as changers of the NBA zeitgeist, from the antiquated triangle offense to the screen-heavy, high intensity Kerr offense (although Big Pop did it first). Your team is almost perfect. If you all can get a starting-caliber center, you may secure your rightful spot as the greatest team in NBA history. JaVale McGee is an athletic beast and Damian Jones has lots of potential, but I think y'all can do better. Bug the hell out of the Nets until you can get Henry Sims. I also think Kelly Olynyk could make an interesting addition to the Warriors, if they can nab him from the Celtics in free agency next year.
2. San Antonio Spurs: Get a replacement point guard by any means necessary.
I got teary eyes when I heard Tim Duncan retired. I know Manu is at the end of the line. Tony only has a couple more years left, and they should be off the bench. I was hoping the Spurs could get Mike Conley, but instead he ended up signing the biggest NBA contract ever in Memphis. The Spurs don't necessarily need a star point guard; just someone that Big Pop can push to his highest potential. Maybe Jrue Holiday or Michael Carter-Williams? And I think Nerlens Noel coming here to play defense next to Kawhi would be awesome. As long as Kawhi and Popovich are in town, the Spurs will continue their truly historic reign of dominance: 19 straight seasons of making it to the post season.
3. Los Angeles Clippers: Panic, call everyone, and ask for trades.
The end of the line is here for the Clips. Both Blake and CP3's contracts end. Even if they extend their contracts through the player option after this season, they will both likely leave for greener pastures in the following off season. CP3 has long dreamed of playing with a true superstar. and Blake could go to the Celtics, who will definitely need a strong power forward to rise above the Cavs in the East. Without all 3 of their core players (including the 7'0 tall Tyler, the Creator impersonator), they have no chance. They should try to trade both CP3 and Blake immediately for young talent. To who, for what, I don't know. But the Clips are in a scary position for a team that recently had championship aspirations.
4. Memphis Grizzlies: Do the best you can now.
The Grizzlies re-signed Mike Conley to the richest contract in NBA history (take that, Michael and Kobe). They signed Chandler Parsons, finally giving them the perimeter shooting threat they've needed for years. But their core is old. Marc Gasol is 31. Z-Bo is 35. Defensive star Tony Allen is 34. Conley is 28 and Parsons is 27 so maybe the team can rebuild in a few years after their backcourt talent declines in talent. Until then, the Grizzlies will likely do well and advance to the second round of the Western Conference's playoffs. But no way they beat the Clippers, Spurs, or Warriors in a playoff series.
5. Oklahoma City Thunder: Just trade Russell.
Russell Westbrook is poised for an excellent season. As YouTuber AFunkyDiabetic put it, he might "get his Oscar Robertson on". Yeah, he might average a triple double. Hell, no one thought anyone would ever get a Triple Crown in the MLB ever again and then Miguel Cabrera did it. But since I'm thinking as a GM and not an owner, I don't care for such theatrics. I want my team to be good in the long term, not make money. I think trying to trade Russell to the Lakers for DeAngelo Russell and Randle plus a first round draft pick is the best move. A lineup to build for the future of DeAngelo Russell, Victor Oladipo, Andre Roberson, Julius Randle, and Steven Adams with Cam Payne and Enes Kanter off the bench has much better chances for a ring than Russell Westbrook chasing Oscar Robertson's legend with Victor Oladipo riding shotgun. And the Warriors are gonna be so good that building for the future should be what every team in the West does anyway.
6. Portland Trail Blazers: Develop!
The Trail Blazers were a surprise last season. I never would've guessed they would make the playoffs. But underappreciated star Damian Lilliard and C.J. McCollum and the rest of their low-budget roster came together quite well. For next season, point forward Evan Turner can help out with the frontcourt situation (despite his awful contract). I see them making the playoffs and losing in the first round every year for the next few years. But hey, that's not too bad.
7. Dallas Mavericks: Let Dirk retire in style.
The Mavericks team is a very weird hodgepodge. Of course, there's a Hall of Fame German who will make post fadeaways all day. Bogut and Barnes both came from the Warriors. Steph Curry's younger brother can provide some shooting off the bench. There are a fair number of good players, but this team has no clear direction. Almost half of their bloated 20-man roster is over the age of 27. Harrison Barnes is horribly overpaid for being such a mediocre player who sometimes shined in an excellent system. For context, Harrison Barnes is earning only $4,000,000 less than his replacement, Mr. Kevin Durant. The Mavericks do have a lot of young talent, particularly Justin Anderson, but it is very unclear what their plan is aside from being good enough to make the playoffs in the West while being too mediocre to progress past the first round.
8. Utah Jazz: Hold onto the back court, build the front court.
One day, we may think of Hayward, Favors, and Gobert as an all-time back court. Hayward's highly-efficient shooting, combined with the already great defense of Favors and Gobert, only bodes well for their future. George Hill was a good addition, but Dante Exum will have to develop a respectable jumpshot and not get hurt anymore for this team to truly prosper. Being the Australian Rondo would not be the ceiling of Exum, nor should he let that happen. If Exum can't develop his jumpshot to a respectable level, they can pursue Jrue Holiday or Jeff Teague in free agency. The signing of Joe Johnson was also great and he provides instant offense, plus he can teach Hayward a thing or two. I think this is the year where the Jazz finally make it back to the playoffs. But they will lose. It will be brutal. The only positive is that these young players need playoff experience to prepare them for their bright future. Hayward is just 26. Favors is 25. Gobert is 24. Perimeter shooting guard Rodney Hood is 23 and Exum is 21. The future may belong to the Utah Jazz if they stay together and build up.
9. Houston Rockets: Hope that the 3-point shot is all you need.
The Rockets are in a weird spot. Offensive superstar James Harden is basically a ghost on the defensive end. Not because he doesn't have the capability, but because he doesn't seem to try. Dwight Howard helped to cover up for his defensive weaknesses. But now, Clint Capela has replaced Dwight. This, combined with the addition of stretch-4 Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon's sexy jumpshot, mean that the Rockets will literally live and die by the 3-pointer and effectively forego defense. A bold strategy. Too bad they fired Kevin McHale; I think he could pioneer this strange offensive theory better than Mike D'Antoni can.
10. Minnesota Timberwolves: Get a star.
The Timberwolves are going to be beasts... in 3 or 4 years. The ceiling of Lavine, Wiggins, and Karl-Anthony Towns is in the stratosphere. Kris Dunn is gonna be an elite defender. Ricky Rubio is a serviceable, albeit inefficient, point guard. The only thing the Timberwolves need to do is get a star. I think trying to trade for Jimmy Butler is their best move. Ricky Rubio and Nikola Pekovic, plus a first round draft pick for Butler? Absolutely. All this, plus Anthony Davis' contract ends in 4 years. A potential team of Kris Dunn, Jimmy Butler, Andrew Wiggins, Anthony Davis, and Karl Anthony-Towns with Zach Lavine and Shabazz Muhammad off the bench? Unstoppable.
11. Los Angeles Lakers: Hope for a free agent star.
A lineup with DeAngelo Russell, Jordan Clarkson, and Julius Randle has great potential. The serious overpay of Mozgov does not improve this team and Luol Deng is past his prime. They need a bonafide star. I'm talking Kevin Durant, DeMar DeRozan, Hassan Whiteside. Fortunately for them, Blake is across town and his contract ends this year. He's likely frustrated of them never making it over the hump. So maybe they can truly become the Blakers for next season? Acquiring Blake would put them in an awkward spot; should they put Blake at the center spot and leave Randle at power forward? Or start Blake beside Mozgov and have Randle come off the bench? Either way, figuring out how to maximize your talent between those two big men is not a bad spot to be in. Not to mention they have skinny future star Brandon Ingram. I think Ben Simmonds is currently a better player but Ingram has a higher ceiling, especially in the perimeter shooting department.
12. Phoenix Suns: End the 2 point-guard experiment, give Devin Booker more minutes.
Eric Bledsoe went from Chris Paul's backup to a bonafide star. Brandon Knight, no matter how good he plays, will be better known as the NBA player who gets bullied the most. Trade Brandon Knight to the Sixers for Jahlil Okafor or Nerlens Noel. Start Devin Booker. Let Devin Booker be great. Quietly become one of the best teams in the NBA. Don't let a cheap owner hold you back from greatness this time around.
13. Denver Nuggets: Develop their young talent and make a tangible plan.
The Nuggets are in a unique position: their roster is inundated with young talent. Two great 21-year old centers in Nurkic and Jokic. Twenty-year old point guard Mudiay, who charges at the rim with a full head of steam. 3 & D guy, Gary Harris. Rookie Jamal Murray, who has high expectations. 3-point shooting big man Joffrey Lauvergne. So much young talent. Too much, in fact. They need to trade some of the young players for veterans who can steer this team in a clear direction. Lots of talent, but little direction and not enough minutes to go around.
14. New Orleans Pelicans: Do everything to hold onto Anthony Davis.
Anthony Davis is the Pelicans' meal ticket. Without him, the team has no direction, no substance, and no future. The Pelicans need to do whatever he says will keep him happy. If he leaves by free agency in 2021, the Pelicans will be decimated and have no real plan moving forward. On the bright side, I predict that Buddy Hield will be a good guard for the future. Langston Gallaway and E'Twaun Moore are both good bench players. But Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson left to the Rockets, Tyreke Evans never developed after his Rookie of the Year campaign, Omer Asik should not be on the floor if the Pelicans have the ball (but he's starting!), and the bench is overall fairly weak. Not ideal.
15. Sacramento Kings: Trade Boogie. ASAP.
Boogie Cousins is not happy with the Kings, understandably so. They haven't given him the talent that he would need to advance. Trade Boogie to a suitor who can reinvigorate the Kings with some young talent. Let Rudy Gay go too. No point in trying to compete with a roster that's noncompetitive, even with the best center in the league. Darren Collison and Arron Afflalo are reliable starters. Willie Cauley-Stein is good enough to start. But this team has nothing that shoots out and says "Wow!" except Boogie. And he wants out. The Kings will at least finish ahead of the Nets, if you consider that a positive.
That's just my take on what should happen in the Western Conference. Thanks for reading.