The NBA free agency period is slowly starting to wind down and most players have made their intentions as to where they're going to play. Miami was the big winner this summer, while teams like Chicago and New York made a postive dent. It seems like the discrepancy between the "haves" and the "have-nots" has continued to widen. The Lakers seem to retool with an additional set of players to compliment their currently stacked roster, while teams like Golden State and Minnesota remain in stagnant mode. The West will once again be brutally tough and competitive for our Jazz. Here's how I see it shaking out... Everything hinges on the health of star players.
1. LA Lakers - Out goes Jordan Farmar and possibly Shannon Brown. In comes Steve Blake and Matt Barnes. The core remains remarkably the same... Kobe, Fisher, Artest, Odom, Gasol and Bynum. How do you stop this team? I envision another 3-peat on the horizon. Yuck!
2. Portland TrailBlazers - The rise of the Blazers will start this year. They're big... Oden, Camby, Pryz, Aldridge. They're athletic... Batum, Roy, Matthews. They're deep... Bayless, Fernandez, and Babbitt. And they're experienced... Dre Miller. This team is ready to blow up.
3. Dallas Mavericks - I don't know what to think of the Mavs. They're a solid regular season team with limited ability to win in the playoffs. With Dirk, they'll always be competitive. Perhaps this is the team that will drop out. But, I don't see it. Kidd, Marion, Butler, Terry and their youth (Beaubois and Jones) will keep them in the hunt.
4. Utah Jazz - Al Jefferson should have a huge year. He'll replace Boozer admirably. Millsap will get more opportunity. And we have the best point guard in the NBA. The Lakers always await us though...
5. OKC Thunder - OKC made the right moves this summer. They got bigger with Aldrich and added depth shooters with Daquan Cook and MoPete. Westbrook, Harden, and Green will improve and Durant will be an MVP candidate.
6. Denver Nuggets - Still much of the same for the Nuggets. Perhaps with the return of Coach Karl, the Nuggets could regain higher positioning in the West. However, nothing has changed with their team. Al Harrington will provide some additional bench scoring.
7. San Antonio Spurs - Tim Duncan won't allow this team to fall out of playoff contention. Despite getting older, the Spurs will still be a solid team. Perhaps they can improve with better continuity and the addition of Tiago Splitter from Euroball. However, Phoenix absolutely destroyed these guys in the playoffs last season and causes me to think... they could be done.
8. Houston Rockets - The Rockets will be the deepest team in the NBA. From player 1-12, they're very solid. With a healthy Yao, Houston could actually rise up to #4 or #5. Scola, Martin, Battier and Ariza will keep them in contention without Yao.
Phoenix - On first thought, losing Amare will be devastating to the Suns. Who will they play in the post? However, on second thought, Turkoglu, Childress, and Warrick were solid additions. This was a deep and talented team to begin with. Even without Amare, Phoenix could sneak into the playoffs.
New Orleans - The Hornets still have Chris Paul
LA Clippers - The Clipshow could easily rise from the ashes. They could be the most improved team from last year. Blake Griffin will make a huge difference.
Memphis - This team has improved over the summer. With a few breaks, the Griz could outlast another injury prone team for a playoff spot.
Sacramento - Youth. The team of the future.
Minnesota - A long ways to go...
Golden State - A longer ways to go...