May 31, 2014; Oklahoma City, OK, USA; San Antonio Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard (2) and Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant (35) and Thunder forward Serge Ibaka (9) go after a loose ball during the fourth quarter in game six of the Western Conference Finals of the 2014 NBA Playoffs at Chesapeake Energy Arena. San Antonio won 112-107. Mandatory Credit: Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports
The Western Conference remains an NBA powerhouse. How do the rankings project for the 2014-2015 season?
#1 – San Antonio Spurs
They have their entire roster that won the NBA title last season back. Chemistry is sky high, as is experience. The San Antonio Spurs need to stay healthy and manage the minutes of their older veterans very carefully.
#2 – Oklahoma City Thunder
Kevin Durant has focused his efforts on rest in hopes of being fully ready for a championship run this season. The Oklahoma City Thunder look really good on paper but can’t afford any injury setbacks.
#3 – Los Angeles Clippers
Donald Sterling isn’t quite in the rearview mirror yet but he should be by the time the season starts. Doc Rivers will have the Los Angeles Clippers settled and playing good basketball. Their improved depth will help them in the rankings.
#4 – Dallas Mavericks
Chandler Parsons and Tyson Chandler are in house and Dirk Nowitzki is back. The Dallas Mavericks should be better than the team that barely made the playoffs last season and could be a sleeper in the title picture.
#5 – Houston Rockets
Parsons may be gone but the Houston Rockets still have James Harden and Dwight Howard. Kevin McHale also got a boost to his defense with Trevor Ariza. That may not be enough for a championship, but it still gets them in the top five.
#6 – Golden State Warriors
Their failure to get Kevin Love doesn’t raise them much higher from where they were in the standings last year but the Golden State Warriors are still a very good team in a stacked conference.
#7 – Portland Trail Blazers
Damian Lillard and Lamarcus Aldridge remain fixed in the starting lineup and for that reason the Portland Trailblazers are a top ten team with the serious capacity of making an unexpected run as they gain experience.
#8 – Denver Nuggets
Injuries really gutted the Denver Nuggets last season. Most of their roster is back healthy now. If they can keep it intact this time, they are a playoff-caliber team.
#9 – Memphis Grizzlies
The tragic truth of the NBA Western conference is that being a good team may not be good enough. The Memphis Grizzlies are a veteran group led by Marc Gasol with loads of playoff experience. Unfortunately they may be on the cusp of a decline.
#10 – New Orleans Pelicans
At the same time, the young New Orleans Pelicans and their rising star Anthony Davis are due for a big step forward. They likely won’t make the playoffs but their record should reflect considerable progress.
#11 – Phoenix Suns
Of all the teams in the conference, this one may be the hardest to gauge. From a talent standpoint the Phoenix Suns have enough to make the playoffs but with so many more experienced teams ahead of them, that looks like a tough sell.
#12 – Utah Jazz
Retaining Gordon Hayward was a nice step in the right direction and a solid draft has a young core of talent in place and building. The Utah Jazz aren’t ready to compete yet but they are getting there.
#13 – Sacramento Kings
It’s really hard to say if the Sacramento Kings got better from a roster standpoint compared to last season. They remain solid in terms of talent but really lack star power. That deficiency will leave they little better than where they were last year.
#14 – Los Angeles Lakers
Julius Randle will make a great future piece for the Los Angeles Lakers but for the most part this team is destined for another down season, even with the return of Kobe Bryant.
#15 – Minnesota Timberwolves
Losing Kevin Love is unavoidable but the Minnesota Timberwolves have a bright future with Andrew Wiggins coming their way. Still, they will struggle early on until they are deep and experienced enough to handle the rigors of the West.