Ranking the West

From the author who brought you this, I now bring you the much anticipated and highly sought after ranking of the Western Conference. Some big deals have gone down the past few weeks out West that should shake up the landscape quite a bit, but I’m sure we’ll all agree that the West begins and ends with these guys…


1)      The Los Angeles Lakers, final wins prediction – who cares? Does it matter how many games they win in the regular season? Do you care how many games they win out of 82? Do theycare how many games they win out of 82? If you answered “Yes” to any of the above you can only be one thing – a Lakers fan. LA doesn’t care about regular season, it’s playoffs for them. And that’s where they’ll be again this upcoming season, as the number one seed in the West and quite possibly the league. Five reasons they’ll be hungrier then ever to retain their crown – become the first NBA team ever to do three three-peat’s, Kobe is one ring away from Jordan by the way, those guys in Miami, that guy who’s now in Boston and the possibility of this being Phil Jackson’s final season. Not to mention chasing down the Celtics for winningest franchise in league history. I stated that Miami will be awesome on the perimeter defensively, but LA may take the biscuit completely. Kobe, Artest, Barnes and Odom are four versatile guys who could all potentially be on the floor at the one time – if those guys lock in you’re not getting easy baskets. Steve Blake and newly re-signed Shannon Brown will make Jordan Farmar’s silhouette on the bench disappear easily. I haven’t even mentioned Gasol and Bynum, who if healthy will annihilate any duo from Miami, Boston or Orlando – and also any bigman combo the West can throw at them, with the possible exception of…


2)     The Dallas Mavericks, final wins prediction – early to mid fifties. Dirk Nowitzki has two capable allies in Tyson Chandler and Brendan Haywood to battle the Gasol/Bynum duo, which would make a Dallas/LA series very interesting. Outside of those three guys, Dallas are pretty solid in all other areas also. Jason Kidd (who along with Rajon Rondo was the only guy to be in the top five in steals and assists last season) is still a more than able to run the point. You also have the ankle-breakingly fast Rodrigue Beaubois waiting in the wings to fill in when Kidd has to head back to the old folks home. The irony regarding Beaubois in that last sentence was not intended by the way. Shawn Marion, Caron Butler and Jason Terry all provide key components to assist a contending team – it’s just a question of consistency with those guys. Rick Carlisle is a pretty good head coach and seems to have the respect of the locker room, it’s now a question of getting one more big season from Dirk and Kidd and having the rest of the pieces fall into place.


3)    The Oklahoma City Thunder, final wins prediction – early to mid fifties. The label “potential” only sticks around for so long, people soon get tired of hearing “Oh those guys have major potential” and begin to expect results. Last season was the start of that, and expect a vicious encore this season from the Kevin Durant inspired Thunder. In Durant they have one of the five best players in the NBA, and maybe the best pure scorer around. He’s going to be even better this year than last, which is a pretty daunting prospect when you consider he won the scoring title last season. Russell Westbrook could very well get himself into All-Star consideration if he continues his rapid development, and in my opinion is a very good outside bet in the category “Point Guard with most triple doubles” this season. The supporting cast are solid – not spectacular – but do their job very well and know their roles. James Harden, Jeff Green and Nenad Krstic are perfect compliments to Durant and Westbrook. Eric Maynor, Thabo Sefolosha and newly acquired Daequan Cook and Morris Peterson provide a competent bench that offers all sorta things welcome on any team. Two guys worth watching on the roster are Serge Ibaka and former Buckeye BJ Mullens – worth watching if you can take your eyes off Durant that is.



4)     The Portland Trailblazers, final wins prediction – early fifties. If I could get one wish for the NBA that didn’t directly affect the Cavs, it would be to wish for these guys to get one full season of everyone being healthy. We haven’t gotten that yet, so we are yet to determine how good they actually are. I know how good they could be, and I fully believe that if their core is kept intact and all their main guys get a good run of health they have a Championship in them. What’s not to like about a team containing Brandon Roy (All-Star, game closer, clutch performer), LaMarcus Aldridge (All-Star, stretch four who keeps getting better), Andre Miller (still very able to run a team and score if needed) and Greg Oden (potentially a DPOY if he gets fit). With role players in Bayless, Fernandez, Batum, Camby (though he’ll be a starter this season), Wes Matthews, Jeff Pendergraph and Dante Cunningham their roster is brimming with ability. But the one thing holding the Blazers back for what seems like an eternity is health. I’m fed up of hearing “they could be great”, followed by the word “if”. Just one season with a clean bill of health, please? 


5)    The Denver Nuggets, final wins predictions – early fifties. Could be the final year of the Billups/Melo era, with free agency and old age looming in the not so distant future. But while it’s still here, it could be quite beneficial to the Nuggets. Carmelo is an elite player in our league, and seems to finally be turning the corner in regards to taking the step and putting in the effort to be great. Billups doesn’t seem to age, so that’s a good sign? While clearly not able to stay in front of the quicker guards, his experience, size and shooting ability more than makes up for his lack of speed. JR Smith is an enigma, but I love the guy and his game also – even if he does fall in love with the three point shot just a tad too much. Al Harrington may turn out to be a very good pickup for them, but a lot depends on Kenyon Martin and how he fares this season. Him missing a significant part at the end of the season hurt them more than we all think, so having a full season with him around will be very beneficial to all parties.


6)    The Utah Jazz, final wins prediction – late forties. While Deron Williams is on another planet, Carlos Boozer is a loss people won’t fully comprehend until they see how the Jazz cope without him. Al Jefferson is a good, solid player – but he can’t stay healthy and constantly seems to get hurt which will leave them relying heavily on Paul Millsap. Now, if they can get Kirilenko and Okur ready to go from the jump, they should provide Williams with adequate assistance in their quest to get Coach Sloan back to the Finals. Speaking of Coach Sloan, how much more has he left in him? I’m looking forward to see if Gordon Hayward can make the jump from college sweetheart to NBA player, as I’m sure is every teenage girl in Salt Lake.


7)      The San Antonio Spurs, final wins prediction – late forties. Every year the Spurs get written off, every year they show us they have life left in them, so how the hell to you evaluate them in a pre-season ranking when they make a living off of showing people up? With Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobli on the wrong side of the age scale, this could very well be their last season of riding the Duncan era to elite status. Tony Parker is still relatively young and has shown he can carry these guys, but him alone is not enough to get another Championship for Pop and Tim. The best case scenario this season would go something like this; Splitter wins rookie of the year while averaging 18 and 12, Duncan averages the fewest minutes per game of his career due to Splitter and Blair being so dominant, Ginobli along with Jefferson and George Hill all have career years, James Anderson shows everyone they were stupid to pass on him in the draft, LA loses in the first round and Duncan signs off in style by winning another ring. That’s best-case scenario, heck that’s something now even Duncan will imagine possible. The reality is that while the Spurs are still a very good team in our league, they have fallen behind in the West and don’t have much time to catch up.


8)      I really don’t know – simple as. I can’t call this spot at all, and have spent a few days thinking about it, weighing up the pros and cons of the teams in contention but have yet to come to a conclusion worth putting on paper. I will say this though: Phoenix will be a very different team this season with Childress and Turkoglu but could still slip into the playoffs on the back of the evergreen Steve Nash. If Earl Clark ever figures it out in the desert he could be Lamar Odom/Trevor Ariza good in terms of value to the Suns. Houston will be fun to watch this season, and will be very strong IF (!?!?!) Yao Ming returns. Chris Paul is good, but with this kind of roster around him he has an uphill task to make N.O. contenders. If Marcus Thornton and Darren Collison had a bit more experience – and Collison didn’t play in the same spot as Paul – things may be different. If Paul stays fit then anything is possible, maybe kinda, but Okafor needs a big, big year. If the Clippers were called anything else but the Clippers they’d win fifty games this season. The roster is there without doubt, but it’s the Clippers.


Rounding out the West:


Memphis– Rudy Gay got waaayyyy too much money, and will Zach Randolph have another season like the one previous?

Sacramento– Tyreke Evans and DeMarcus Cousins…’nuf said.

Golden State – yeah, sure.

Minnesota– Michael Beasley, Kevin Love, Wes Johnson, Johnny Flynn and Martell Webster will be fun to watch, but not to support. They signed my favourite under-the-radar rookie in Lazar Hayward though, so that’s cool right?


Thoughts on Shaq…

So Shaq has joined the exclusive club of players to play with both the Lakers and the Celtics, and has just added a new storyline to what will be a drama-filled season. Shaq v Kobe in the Finals with the back drop of it being Boston v LA is sure to get TV execs drooling, perhaps even more so than an LA/Miami Final. I think this move works on a basketball front also, the Celtics aren’t a run and gun team, they play a lot of half court stuff and use a controlled pace in their game. Shaq suits them perfect in that regard, plus his passing will open up all kind of looks for Allen and Pierce on the perimeter. Shaq will be needed to spell minutes behind Perkins and O’Neal (Jermaine), and this could be a system where he thrive sand ends his glittered career on a high note. The realist in me however must have a say on this. He wants the world to know although this team has four future Hall of Famers in their ranks, it might not work. Shaq could end up being cut when he realises he’s third choice, or when averages less than ten minutes a game in mid-January. The bigger question here, and the one that will determine how this whole saga will play out is simple: Can Shaq sacrifice the love affair he has with himself for the good of the team and for the greater goal of a Championship? One thing’s for sure, it’s going to be dramatic and entertaining if anything.


Contact me for the Stepien Rules mailbag on dol-17@homtial.com, on Twitter @DOL17, or Facebook.

Brendan Bowers

About Brendan Bowers

I am the founding editor of StepienRules.com. I am also a content strategist and social media manager with Electronic Merchant Systems in Cleveland. My work has been published in SLAM Magazine, KICKS Magazine, The Locker Room Magazine, Cleveland.com, BleacherReport.com, InsideFacebook.com and elsewhere. I've also written a lot of articles that have been published here.