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Breaking Down the Western Conference Offseason

The NBA’s offseason has “officially” been underway for less than a month still, but things are already seeming to wind down.

For a while there, though, players were being traded and amnestied seemingly every day. Free agents were flying off the shelves like Tickle-Me-Elmos (1998 references: 1). Dwight Howard has gone from being a Net to being a Rocket to being a Laker, all while remaining on the Magic roster.

On top of all this, the Las Vegas Summer League just finished, and Team USA is going through training camp and pre-Olympic tune-up games.

In summary, basketball is happening.

The Los Angeles Clippers have been one of the more active teams in the market, so let’s recap what they and their Western Conference bunkmates have been up to recently.

Dallas Mavericks

Notable Additions: PG Darren Collison (trade with IND), SG Dahntay Jones (trade with IND), C Chris Kaman (UFA from NO), PF Elton Brand (amnesty claim), SG O.J. Mayo (UFA from MEM)

Notable Losses: PF/C Ian Mahinmi (sign/trade with IND), PG Jason Kidd (UFA to NY), SG Jason Terry (UFA to BOS), C Brendan Haywood (amnesty claim by CHA), Lamar Odom (trade with LAC)

Things were looking pretty grim for the 2010-11 champs after losing out on top target Deron Williams just days after free agency officially opened. However, a slew of recent moves have them actually looking younger and potentially better than they were last season.

They essentially passed on the chance to repeat their title when they decided to let Tyson Chandler walk to the Knicks prior to the beginning of last season, and middled through a completely average year that saw them getting swept by OKC in the first round of the playoffs.

Dirk Nowitzki likely only has two or three years of top-tier basketball left in his legs, and Mark Cuban and Donnie Nelson are doing all they can to keep that championship window pried open. They’ve added some impressive names on paper, but there are tons of variables.

Darren Collison stormed onto the scene backing up Chris Paul as a rookie in New Orleans, but struggled a bit in his two seasons as the primary starter in Indiana. Which Collison are the Mavericks getting? O.J. Mayo has had a similar career arc, challenging for Rookie of the Year in his first year before being relegated to bench duties, where his numbers dipped in a big way. Perhaps a change of scenery is just what the doctor ordered for the both of them.

Chris Kaman has had a solid career as an offensive center, but has battled injury problems for years. Ditto for Elton Brand. Those two give them better frontcourt depth than they had last year, certainly, but how much better can they be?

These moves look solid, but are the Mavericks, as currently constructed, any better than a No. 5 or 6 seed in the Western Conference? Tough to see it.

Denver Nuggets

Notable Additions: PG Andre Miller (re-signed), C JaVale McGee (re-signed), PF Anthony Randolph (UFA from MIN)

Notable Losses: SG Rudy Fernandez (back to Europe), F/C Chris Andersen (amnesty)

The Nuggets haven’t been all that busy this offseason, but they have made a few noteworthy moves, including their last-minute amnesty of fan-favorite Chris Andersen. Birdman fell out of the rotation last season after rookie Kenneth Faried took his spot, and Denver saw no reason to pay him nearly $10 million to ride the pine for the next two years.

The move cleared the necessary space to sign mercurial forward Anthony Randolph, formerly of the Timberwolves. Randolph, a former lottery pick by the Warriors, averaged just over seven points and three rebounds per game in 34 games with Minnesota last season. He’s shown flashes of brilliance several times throughout the early stages of his career, but has never really gotten the opportunity to put everything together. In a game April 11 against Denver, Randolph poured in 28 points to go along with six rebounds and five blocks. He’s still just 23.

They also have reportedly given a five-year, $50M contract to their own restricted free agent center, JaVale McGee. Like Randolph, the 24-year-old McGee appears to have a super high ceiling, as evidenced by his nice first-round performance against Andrew Bynum and the Lakers last season, during which he averaged 8.6 points, 9.6 rebounds and over three blocked shots per game.

Other than that, this has been a fairly quiet offseason in Denver. Last season, they got off to a red-hot start before coming back down to earth and eventually bowing-out to the aforementioned Lakers in the first round.

Golden State Warriors

Notable Additions: PG Jarrett Jack (trade from NO), F Harrison Barnes (draft)

Notable Losses: SG/SF Dorell Wright (trade to PHI)

The Warriors haven’t been super active either, yet they may be one of the league’s most improved teams next season. Swingman Brandon Rush, who was quietly very good in his first season with Golden State last year, is a restricted free agent, and has reportedly drawn interest from the Lakers. If the Warriors can keep him on board, they will have a very solid rotation on the wing consisting of Rush, rookie Harrison Barnes, Stephen Curry, Jarrett Jack and Klay Thompson.

They landed center Andrew Bogut in a trade that sent Monta Ellis to the Bucks last season. Bogut, if healthy (BIG “if”), is one of the league’s premier defensive centers. We know how starved Golden State has been for a difference-maker in the paint in recent years. They may have finally found their guy.

If all breaks right, they’re a dark horse candidate to nab one of the West’s final playoff spots.

Houston Rockets

Notable Additions: PG Jeremy Lin (RFA from NY), C Omer Asik (RFA from CHI), G Toney Douglas (trade from NY), F Terrence Jones (draft), F Royce White (draft), G Jeremy Lamb (draft), F Gary Forbes (trade from TOR)

Notable Losses: PF Luis Scola (amnesty to PHX), PG Goran Dragic (UFA to PHX), PG Kyle Lowry (trade to TOR), SF Chase Budinger (trade to MIN), C Marcus Camby (sign/trade to NY), C Samuel Dalembert (trade to MIL)

No team’s offseason has been more chaotic than that of Daryl Morey’s Rockets thus far. First, they put all their eggs in the Dwight Howard basket, hoping that their bushel of first-round draft picks and young players would be enough to nab the All-Star from Orlando on draft night. That didn’t work out, so now they’re just stuck with a ton of young, unproven players.

The team’s veteran core is nearly all gone, with Dragic and Scola having wound up in Phoenix and Lowry shipped off north of the border. Talented two-way guard Courtney Lee is an unrestricted free agent whom the Rockets apparently have no interest in bringing back. Scoring guard Kevin Martin (and his $12M expiring contract) seems highly unlikely to be playing opening night in a Rockets uniform.

They’re still trying to get Howard. Morey has been trying ever since the respective physical breakdowns of Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady to get his star, and this appears to be the closest he’s come. If they can’t get Howard, there are also reports that the Rockets would be interested in helping facilitate a three-way trade that landed Howard with the Lakers and center Andrew Bynum in Houston. Either way, Houston is winding up with a big man they hope they can build around for the next decade.

We haven’t even gotten to the insane Jeremy Lin saga. The Rockets have signed Linsanity to a three-year deal worth a grand total of $25 million.After taking nearly the full three days to deliberate, the Knicks decided not to match the offer, as the final year of the contract would’ve forced them to pay Lin nearly $15 million, putting them DEEP into the luxury tax. The Rockets, because they’re under the salary cap, are allowed structure the deal differently for themselves, so that they’ll be paying Lin about $8 million per season.

They have also reportedly agreed to sign Omer Asik away from Chicago for a similar $25M deal. Chicago is reportedly on the verge of signing former Thunder backup big Nazr Mohammed, and they’re unlikely to match the offer sheet on Asik.


Los Angeles Clippers

Notable Additions: F Lamar Odom (trade from DAL), SF Grant Hill (UFA from PHX), G Jamal Crawford (UFA from POR), G Chauncey Billups (re-signed), C Ryan Hollins (UFA from BOS)

Notable Losses: PF Reggie Evans (UFA to BKN), G Mo Williams (trade to UTA), SG Nick Young (UFA to PHI)

Obviously, excluding the Hill signing from Tuesday, I’ve already run down the previous Clippers moves. Odom will be the primary big man off the bench that provides a degree of versatility the team lacked sorely last season, assuming he can get back to being anything like the player that won the 2010 Sixth Man of the Year award with the Lakers.

One of Crawford and Billups will likely start in the backcourt with the other coming off the bench as the first reserve guard. Crawford went through one of his worst seasons as a pro last year in Portland, but after agreeing to pay him upwards of $25 million over the next four years, clearly the Clippers see 2011 as an anomaly.

Hill will be 40 once the season starts, but, after having lost much of the prime of his career due to a slew of injuries, he’s resurrected his career over the last two years with the Suns.

Last season, in just over 28 minutes per game, Hill averaged a little over 10 points per game on 44 percent shooting from the field. He’ll be Caron Butler’s backup at small forward.

Hollins will likely serve as the primary backup to DeAndre Jordan. He doesn’t really have any discernible basketball skills, other than the athleticism to block a few shots every now-and-then.

The Clippers have done a good job so far this summer of stockpiling depth and adding talent. If they can stay relatively healthy, and if Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan can continue to develop and evolve into more well-rounded players, they can be a legitimate threat to win the Western Conference.

Los Angeles Lakers

Notable Additions: PG Steve Nash (sign/trade with PHX), PF Antawn Jamison (UFA from CLE)

Notable Losses: PG Ramon Sessions (UFA to CHA)

The Clippers’ hostile takeover of the L.A. basketball scene won’t go without a fight from the Lakers. Despite the Clips’ meteoric rise last season, the Lakers still won the Pacific Division, and thus are still the team to beat.

With the additions of Steve Nash and now Antawn Jamison, the Lakers are looking more formidable. The addition of Nash speaks for itself (health assumed), but nabbing Jamison has potential to pay off, as well.

He averaged 17 points per game last year, but his rebounding numbers dipped, and he’s nearly non-existent defensively at this point. The scoring average is a bit deceiving, as well, as he had a true shooting percentage of just over 48 percent, which is beyond bad.

Still, though, the Lakers’ bench last season was absolutely useless, so Jamison likely won’t really be making things much worse than they already were.

Memphis Grizzlies

Notable Additions: PG Tony Wroten, Jr. (draft), Wayne Ellington (trade from MIN)

Notable Losses: SG O.J. Mayo (UFA to DAL), F Dante Cunningham (trade to MIN)

The Grizz have been super quiet this offseason, largely because most of their salary space is tied up in the likes of Rudy Gay, Zach Randolph, Mike Conley and Marc Gasol. They did acquire former first-round pick Wayne Ellington from the Timberwolves Tuesday in exchange for forward Dante Cunningham.

Ellington has been a disappointment with the Wolves since entering the draft early out of North Carolina. One thing he can do decently, though, is shoot the three, as he’s done so at a clip of nearly 38 percent through his first three NBA seasons.

Wroten is a big point guard with lots of raw talent, but there are questions about his decision-making skills, and he can’t shoot at all.

If Zach Randolph is healthy for the majority of this season (as wasn’t the case last year), Memphis should be able to get back out of the first round of the playoffs.

Minnesota Timberwolves

Notable Additions: SG Brandon Roy (UFA)

Notable Losses: F Michael Beasley (UFA to PHX), C Darko Milicic (amnesty), F Anthony Randolph (UFA to DEN)

So, the Wolves are finally getting their Brandon Roy mulligan.

On draft night in 2006, Minnesota famously drafted Roy, only to trade him to Portland in exchange for Randy Foye. While Foye has had an okay career, Roy was an annual All-Star when he was healthy.

Now, though, he comes with tremendous risk. He retired prior to last season when he was just 26 due to degenerative knees. He’s now been cleared medically to play once again, and the Timberwolves scooped him up on a two-year deal worth in excess of $10 million.

Obviously, there’s no telling which Roy Minnesota will be getting. He was a shell of his former self in his final season in Portland two years ago, only showing the occasional flash. However, if Roy is able to come back and be even 90 percent of the player he was in his heyday, the Wolves have gotten themselves a steal here, especially because there isn’t a clear-cut starting off-guard on the roster.

Roy had previously been amnestied by Portland when it was determined that he could no longer play.

If everything breaks right, the Timberwolves could be another team sneaking up on one of the conference’s final playoff spots.

New Orleans Hornets

Notable Additions: F/C Anthony Davis (draft), G Austin Rivers (draft), PF Ryan Anderson (sign/trade with ORL), SG Eric Gordon (re-signed)

Notable Losses: C Chris Kaman (UFA to DAL), C Emeka Okafor (trade to WAS), SF Trevor Ariza (trade to WAS), C Gustavo Ayon (trade to ORL)

Regardless of what transpired afterward, the Hornets’ offseason had to be deemed a success the moment they found out they’d won the draft lottery, allowing them to take Kentucky phenom Anthony Davis first overall.

Most think Davis will be a game-changer from day one, with his instinctive shot-blocking ability anchoring the Hornets defensively for the next decade or so. They were also able to nab talented guard Austin Rivers out of Duke with the No. 10 selection. Opinions vary wildly on Rivers’ NBA prospects, but it’s a start.

Perhaps one of the more underrated moves of the summer came when they were able to lure sharpshooting big man Ryan Anderson from the Magic. Anderson was a restricted free agent, and, instead of matching the four-year, $36 million offer sheet from New Orleans, Orlando agreed to send him packing in exchange for center Gustavo Ayon.

Last season, Anderson averaged over 16 points and nearly eight rebounds per game, while shooting over 39 percent from three-point range. He was named the league’s Most Improved Player.

They also matched Phoenix’s maximum offer sheet for RFA Eric Gordon, seemingly much to his chagrin. Gordon was the prized piece the Hornets acquired in exchange for sending Chris Paul to the Clippers last December, of course. Gordon battled injuries throughout his first season with the Hornets last season, but averages over 18 points per game throughout his four-year pro career.

Suddenly, things are looking up for the Hornets, and, like so many others, they may be in contention for a playoff position.

Oklahoma City Thunder

Notable Additions: F Perry Jones III (draft), C Hasheem Thabeet (UFA from POR)

Notable Losses: PG Derek Fisher (UFA)

Derek Fisher is an unrestricted free agent and is unlikely to return to the Thunder, but, with the young Eric Maynor expected back from injury, the veteran is superfluous.

OKC lucked into having one of the “biggest upside” players in the draft, Baylor’s Perry Jones, fall all the way down to them at No. 28 overall in the first round. There are tons of questions about Jones’ work ethic and desire to be great, but there isn’t any question that the talent is there.

And, playing alongside a group of young-yet-battle-tested stars may be just what the doctor ordered. He’ll be in a no-pressure situation, as he’ll likely rather scoop up backup minutes behind the likes of Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka, as opposed to coming in right away and being expected to contribute heavily.

Phoenix Suns

Notable Additions: PG Goran Dragic (UFA from HOU), PF Luis Scola (amnesty from HOU), F Michael Beasley (UFA from MIN), SG Shannon Brown (re-signs)

Notable Losses: PG Steve Nash (sign/trade to LAL), SF Grant Hill (UFA to LAC), SF  Josh Childress (amnesty), PG Ronnie Price (UFA to POR)

Quite the offseason of change for the Phoenix Suns. As detailed above, they dealt franchise centerpiece Steve Nash to the rival Lakers in exchange for a few future first-round picks. One of their other wily veterans, Grant Hill, joined the Clippers.

They essentially get a do-over on Goran Dragic after signing the point guard to a four-year deal worth about $34 million. Just two years ago, they traded Dragic to the Houston Rockets for point guard Aaron Brooks. Needless to say, that one didn’t quite work out as planned. However, Dragic showed tremendous promise in his extended minutes as the starter in Houston for the latter half of last season, and he’ll be coming back to a comfortable situation.

He’ll be joined by Luis Scola, who was cut by Houston using the amnesty provision. Scola’s numbers dipped a bit last season, but he’s still just 32 and is an extremely reliable scorer on the low block. In order to make room for Scola, they amnestied Josh Childress. In related news, Josh Childress is useless, so that’s an upgrade.

The real question here is Michael Beasley. He’s been a disappointment since being taken second overall by the Miami Heat in the ’08 draft, and has shown the ability to do nothing in the NBA other than score. He’s a career 15-points-per-game scorer, but it’s not like he does so efficiently. He has tons of talent, but is three years and $18 million worth the possible frustrations and headaches?

Portland Trail Blazers

Notable Additions: SF Nicolas Batum (re-signed), PF J.J. Hickson (re-signed), F Jared Jeffries (trade from NY), PG Ronnie Price (UFA from PHX), PG Damian Lillard (draft), C Meyers Leonard (draft)

Notable Losses: PG Raymond Felton (sign/trade to NY), G Jamal Crawford (UFA to LAC), C Hasheem Thabeet (UFA to OKC), F/C Kurt Thomas (trade to NY)

The Blazers suffered through an absolutely miserable season last year that didn’t get much better after the midseason firing of longtime head coach Nate McMillan.

Raymond Felton was largely at fault, due to being awful after coming over from the Denver Nuggets. The Blazers have seemingly righted that wrong, having replaced Felton with rookie Damian Lillard, whom Portland had reportedly been extremely high on prior to the draft.

During the Vegas summer league, he showed why, averaging 26.5 points, 5.3 assists and over four rebounds per game and being named co-MVP. The team also has high hopes for Meyers Leonard, whom they selected 11th overall. He’s still very raw offensively, but is big enough and skilled enough defensively to potentially make a positive impact from the start.

Sacramento Kings

Notable Additions: PG Aaron Brooks (UFA), PF Jason Thompson (re-signed), PF Thomas Robinson (draft), F James Johnson (trade from TOR)

Notable Losses: F Donte Greene (UFA)

The Kings’ big offseason acquisition is Thomas Robinson, whom they selected fifth overall out of Kansas.

After averaging about 18 points and 12 rebounds per game, he was named 2012 Big 12 Player of the Year, and was a consensus AP All-American.

He’s a tad undersized at 6’9″, but his hulking frame and strength help to cancel that out a bit. He’s very offensively polished, and the frontcourt pairing of Robinson and DeMarcus Cousins has the potential to be a monster.

The Brooks signing was a tad curious, as the Kings already have a pair of score-first point guards in Isaiah Thomas and Jimmer Fredette playing alongside scoring off-guard Tyreke Evans.

San Antonio Spurs

Notable Additions: C Tim Duncan (re-signed), PF Boris Diaw (re-signed), G/F Danny Green (re-signed), PG Patty Mills (re-signed)

Notable Losses: None

The Spurs got a scare when Tony Parker’s eye was injured during the bizarre night club brawl between Chris Brown and Drake, but he’s reportedly fine and will be suiting up for France in the upcoming Olympics.

The biggest objective of the offseason was to re-sign Tim Duncan, who enjoyed a bit of a career resurgence last season, averaging over 15 points and nine rebounds per game while helping the Spurs lock-up the West’s No. 1 seed in the playoffs for the second consecutive season.

The Spurs seemed to be on a crash course with the Miami Heat in the Finals, as they won an incredible 20 straight games between the end of the regular season and the beginning of the postseason. They swept away the Jazz and Clippers in the first two rounds, and went up 2-0 on the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Then, for whatever reason, everything seemed to fall apart, as OKC caught fire and steamrolled the Spurs the rest of the way, winning four straight to reach the Finals.

They will be one year older, but at this point, can you really feel good about writing off the Spurs? Every year seems to be the last in their “championship window”, yet they keep finding ways to keep it pried open. Expect more of the same this season.

Utah Jazz

Notable Additions: G Mo Williams (trade from LAC), F Marvin Williams (trade from ATL), G Randy Foye (UFA from LAC), F Jeremy Evans (re-signed), G Jamaal Tinsley (re-signed)

Notable Losses: PG Devin Harris (trade to ATL), G C.J. Miles (UFA), F Josh Howard (UFA)

Utah’s most noteworthy offseason pickup is likely Mo Williams, whom they picked up from the Clippers as a part of the Lamar Odom trade.

Williams was very solid in his primary role as the sixth man with L.A. last season, scoring over 13 a game while shooting the three-ball at a clip of nearly 39 percent.

The young but talent-laden Jazz made a surprise playoff run last season, locking up the No. 8 seed before being swept away by San Antonio, as I just mentioned.

The real key for Utah will be the continued development of young big men Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter. Favors’ regular season numbers don’t jump off the page, but he really seemed to emerge in the brief playoff series, averaging nearly 12 points, 10 rebounds and two blocked shots over the course of the four games.

The only true issue is playing time. Utah still has Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap dominating the frontcourt minutes, so Favors and Kanter are essentially just left with the scraps.

While Favors has shown flashes, it appears as though Kanter has a long way to go before he’s a real contributor. He has a solid rebound rate, but his offensive game is still incredibly raw, which is understandable, considering he’s still just 20-years-old.

There’s still tons of room for this team to grow, but their future is looking incredibly bright.

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Taylor Smith is a writer for the Los Angeles Clippers.

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