Earlier this week, we discussed the contenders to come out of the Eastern Conference in 2023/24, noting that many of the presumed favorites have major question marks hanging over them as training camps near.
The same is true in the Western Conference, where there’s no powerhouse poised to run roughshod over its rivals like Golden State did during the Kevin Durant years.
The Nuggets are the defending champions, and made a convincing case during their title run this spring that they’re the team to beat in the West. But they’re not bringing back quite the same roster that won the 2023 championship.
The team’s two most-used reserves in the postseason, Bruce Brown and Jeff Green, headed elsewhere in free agency, while Vlatko Cancar will likely miss the season after tearing his ACL this summer. Denver will have to rely on young players like Christian Braun, Peyton Watson, and Zeke Nnaji to take on increased roles and hope Reggie Jackson can give the club more than he did down the stretch last season.
The Suns have the most star-studded roster in the West, with Bradley Beal joining Durant, Devin Booker, and Deandre Ayton as part of an extremely talented starting lineup. But the rest of the roster is comprised of nearly entirely minimum-salary players, many of whom are newcomers, so it may take some time for Phoenix to develop chemistry. And an injury to one of its stars would seriously test the team’s depth.
The Warriors are a perennial threat as long as Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green are on the roster, and adding Chris Paul to the mix will give the franchise another experienced veteran to lean on in big moments. But all four of those players will be at least 34 years old when the playoffs tip off in the spring and may not withstand the rigors of a deep postseason run as comfortably as they would have a few years ago.
The Lakers made the Western Conference Finals last season and are bringing back a similar roster, swapping out role players like Dennis Schröder, Lonnie Walker, Troy Brown, and Malik Beasley for guys like Gabe Vincent, Taurean Prince, Christian Wood, Cam Reddish, and Jaxson Hayes. As long as LeBron James and Anthony Davis are healthy, Los Angeles is a contender, but that certainly hasn’t always been the case in recent years.
The other Los Angeles team, the Clippers, has had even more trouble keeping their stars – Paul George and Kawhi Leonard – healthy for the playoffs, but would be a legitimate threat in the West if both of those stars are at their best.
The Kings were one of the NBA’s best stories last season, with a feel-good squad that snapped a 16-year playoff drought. But their postseason run was short-lived, and it remains to be seen if De’Aaron Fox and Domantas Sabonis can be the best players on a title contender.
In the Southwest, Luka Doncic certainly looks capable of being the best player on a contender, but the Mavericks may still not have enough talent around him to seriously vie for a title. The Grizzlies have won 107 regular season games over the last two seasons, but have yet to translate that success to the playoffs, and will have to get through at least the first 25 games of the season without suspended star Ja Morant. The Pelicans looked like a potential top-four seed during the first half of last season when Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram were healthy, but that hasn’t happened often.
Among the dark horse options, the Thunder are an exciting team on the rise, but didn’t even make it out of the play-in tournament last season and may still be a year or two away from taking a huge leap. The Timberwolves could be a legitimate threat if Anthony Edwards makes the jump to superstardom, but they still have to figure out whether the Rudy Gobert/Karl-Anthony Towns experiment will work in the frontcourt.
The betting website BetOnline.ag currently lists the Nuggets (+240) as the favorite to win the West, followed closely by the Suns (+325). The Warriors (+650), Lakers (+750), and Clippers (+900) make up the next tier, followed by the Mavericks (+1200) and Grizzlies (+1400).
The Pelicans (+2000), Kings (+2500), Thunder (+3300), and Wolves (+3500) are all longer shots, while the Spurs, Rockets, Trail Blazers, and Jazz aren’t considered likely contenders.
We want to know what you think. Which team is your early choice to come out of the West? Are you taking one of the betting favorites or is there a dark horse that you like?
Vote in our poll, then head to the comment section below to weigh in with your predictions!