Represented by only one team in the playoffs, the Northwest division was the weakest division in the West last season. The Trail Blazers had a decent campaign, winning 51 games, but needed a good postseason to convince their free agent star LaMarcus Aldridge to stay. The Grizzlies needed only five games to dispose of Portland in the first round, heralding a tough summer for Blazer fans.
Largely due to injuries, the Oklahoma Thunder didn’t make the playoffs last year, finishing ninth in the conference. After making Scott Brooks head coach in 2009, the Thunder made the playoffs every single year, but missing last year’s postseason eventually cost his job. Out went Brooks and in came Billy Donovan, a seasoned college coach but with no NBA experience.
Donovan’s job will be a bit easier, nevertheless, now that Kevin Durant is back and healthy, after missing 56 games last year. Apart from changing head coach, Oklahoma’s front office was rather quiet this offseason. Donovan will have a roster at his disposal that is championship ready, but the biggest issue he will need to figure out is how to make Russell Westbrook and Durant more efficient when both are on the floor. If he can find the formula, the Thunder will be one of the favorites to come through the rugged West.
The chance that the Northwest division will only have one playoff team again this year is rather big. Last season’s division winner Portland had a rough offseason, losing All-Star Aldridge to the San Antonio Spurs. They offered a max contract and the keys to the franchise to Damian Lillard, but after losing Aldridge, the Trail Blazers didn’t match offers for Wesley Matthews, Robin Lopez and Nicolas Batum, losing four of their starters.
As a result, Portland went into a rebuilding phase, bringing in younger talents like Mason Plumlee, Ed Davis and Al-Farouq Aminu to surround C.J. McCollum and Lillard, with Moe Harkless and Gerald Henderson bringing fire off the bench. Portland will have one of the youngest rosters in the West and although Lillard will be an All-Star again this season, it is highly unlikely that he will be able to lead Portland back to the postseason.
The Utah Jazz were one of the hottest teams after the All-Star break, so it made sense to leave the roster intact and give this young team another year to develop. Unfortunately, Dante Exum saw his season end before it even began when he injured himself this offseason while playing for the Australian national team. The Jazz have a very young team if you consider that Gordon Hayward, with only four years in the league, is one of the most experienced players on the roster. With Hayward, Derrick Favors, last season’s revelation Rudy Gobert, Alec Burks and Trey Burke, the foundation is there, and with such a young but talented roster, it will be only a matter of time before the Jazz becomes significant again in the West. This season, however, may be a bit early.
For the Denver Nuggets, another forgettable season is in the making. They lost their best player in Ty Lawson and weren’t able to attract any good free agents all offseason. The only positive note might be drafting Emmanuel Mudiay, a big point guard who should be considered as one of the favorites to win Rookie of the Year this season. The Nuggets hope he will quickly develop into their new franchise player, and with the current roster, no pressure will be on him, as Denver is looking to go for the lottery once again this season. However, if Danilo Gallinari can stay healthy and Kenneth Faried can keep developing, the Nuggets will be an entertaining team.
Last year, the Minnesota Timberwolves were the worst team in NBA, winning only 16 games the entire season. As a result, they had the first pick in this off-season’s draft, choosing Kentucky’s big man Karl-Anthony Towns as their new future franchise player. Kevin Garnett, who will play his 21st year in the league this year, will be in his ear all season.
The starting line-up looks extremely talented, but very, very young: Towns, ROTY Wiggins, LaVine, Dieng and Rubio have a combined eight years of experience in the league. Minnesota made sure, however, they have their proper mentors to guide them as Garnett, Tayshaun Prince and Andre Miller have almost 50 years of NBA savvy between them. The Timberwolves will be an exhilarating team this season, but their inexperience will result in plenty of close losses.