No team besides the Golden State Warriors has represented the Western Conference in the NBA Finals since 2014, but when the 2019/20 season begins, the Warriors almost certainly won’t be most fans’ pick to come out of the West again.
In the wake of their acquisitions of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, the Clippers emerged as the betting favorites to win the conference – and the NBA championship – and it’s not hard to see why. George was one of the league’s best players in the regular season last season, while Leonard was the best postseason player. They join a 48-win team that’s bringing back many of its most important role players.
Still, the Clippers aren’t the overwhelming frontrunners. Leonard only played 60 games last season and battled a leg injury in the playoffs, while George underwent surgeries on both shoulders this spring and isn’t a lock to be ready for opening night. Plus, it’s not as if the Clips are bringing back all the key members of last year’s team — Danilo Gallinari and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander had be to be dealt for George.
The Lakers are viewed as perhaps the most significant threat to the Clippers in the West, as they added a perennial MVP contender themselves by trading for Anthony Davis. He’ll join LeBron James and a collection of role players both new (Danny Green, Quinn Cook, Avery Bradley) and returning (Rajon Rondo, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, JaVale McGee). The Lakers also managed to hold Kyle Kuzma out of the Davis blockbuster and signed DeMarcus Cousins to a team-friendly deal in the hopes that he can recapture his All-Star form.
Outside of Los Angeles, there are a number of other clubs threatening to make a deep playoff run in the West. The Nuggets claimed the No. 2 seed last season and will bring all their primary contributors back, along with newly-acquired Jerami Grant, a versatile defender and someone who can make three-pointers on offense.
The Trail Blazers, who beat Denver to advance to the Western Finals this spring, underwent some changes this summer, with the likes of Al-Farouq Aminu, Maurice Harkless, Meyers Leonard, Evan Turner, Seth Curry, and Jake Layman being replaced by Hassan Whiteside, Kent Bazemore, Anthony Tolliver, Nassir Little, and Mario Hezonja. Most importantly though, the club’s stars – Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum – will be back.
The Rockets appeared on the verge of blowing things up after a disappointing second-round exit this spring, but they now seem prepared to bring back a strong group led by James Harden, Chris Paul, Clint Capela, P.J. Tucker, and Eric Gordon. During the past two seasons, no Western team came closer than Houston to knocking off the Warriors.
Speaking of those Warriors, it’s definitely premature to write them off, as they still have a trio of All-Star caliber players in Stephen Curry, Draymond Green, and newly-acquired D’Angelo Russell. If Klay Thompson returns to full strength from his torn ACL down the stretch, no one will want to face Golden State in the postseason.
Finally, the Jazz had one of the most impressive offseasons of any NBA team, revamping their starting five by acquiring Mike Conley in a trade and then signing Bojan Bogdanovic in free agency to join Rudy Gobert, Donovan Mitchell, and Joe Ingles. While Utah will miss contributors like Derrick Favors and Jae Crowder, the team did well to add role players like Ed Davis, Jeff Green, and Emmanuel Mudiay on the cheap.
What do you think? Which of these Western teams is your early pick to make it to the Finals next spring? Or is there another team in the conference that you like even more?
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