The condensed NBA season was an exciting one with the Miami Heat being crowned champions and Lebron James finally winning his long awaited ring. Let’s take a look at the five hottest teams in the Western Conference right now. We will grade these five teams based on their seasons and account for the recent flurry of trades and trade rumors in the NBA. We will be be providing two different takes on these teams provided by Razorgator insiders, Sam Rodgers and Gabriel Najar.
Los Angeles Lakers: B-
Kobe, Kobe, Kobe. The Lakers were far too reliant on the Black Mamba this season. Yes, he is still the most clutch player in the NBA and you should run your offense through him at the end of the game. However, the Lakers have won their championships by having the best team and running through the playoffs with a strong supporting cast. Pau Gasol was obviously bothered by trade rumors and let’s face it, went soft. Andrew Bynum put some big numbers up and is the second best center in the league, but he has got to show some maturity. You are a professional athlete, show it. Ron Artest picked up his play in the playoffs, but he was dead weight during the season and did not provide much help to the Lakers. Kobe is not getting any younger and he can only carry the team to a certain level (barely squeezing by the Denver Nuggets). Mike Brown is an established coach, but he will never come close to filling the shoes of the legendary Phil Jackson. The Lakers did the best that they could with a weak bench and an unreliable roster.
Trades: Steve Nash, the two-time MVP, is in a Lakers uniform. It looks like Mitch Kupchak has been a very busy man. The Lakers were in desperate need of an upgrade at the PG position and Nash has come to save the day. He is battle-tested and is going to do everything in his power to help the Lakers. Now, the question is, will the Lakers stick with Bynum or will they package Bynum and World Peace for Orlando’s Dwight Howard and possibly Hedo Turkoglu or Jason Richardson. Currently, it looks like the Nets are the most likely team to land Howard. The Lakers have just gotten better and you know Kobe wants to tie Michael Jordan and win his sixth ring. After scoring Nash, the Lakers are one of the most serious threats to the Heat. They still need to add another outside shooter to spread the floor though.
- Sam Rodgers
Los Angeles Lakers: B
B’s aren’t usually bad, but the Lakers are a team that should be getting A’s. With a team whose “Big 3” consist of Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, and Andrew Bynum, they should have not been so easily defeated by Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma Thunder in the conference semifinals. If that wasn’t bad enough, they went seven games in the first round of the playoffs against a Melo-less Denver Nuggets. The Ramon Sessions trial is over. When it comes to the regular season, Sessions was a valuable point guard, but when they got to the big stage, he got stage fright. Sessions averaged only half of his assists in the playoffs than in the regular season. Andrew Bynum proved himself as a powerful center, and showed a lot of improvement from seasons before. Pau Gasol also proved himself last season, even though he almost wasn’t a Laker before the season started. Kobe Bryant averaged over 20 PPG in the regular season, and 30 PPG in the postseason, but the Lakers need a point guard who can deliver, and a solid bench who can take over after Kobe leaves.
Looking to the future: If the Lakers want to become championship contenders again, they need to a point guard who can pass and shoot. Enter Steve Nash. Ever since the draft ended last week, and the free-agent signings began, NBA rumors have been buzzing like bees on flowers. Along with the Deron Williams deal, one of the biggest transaction news has been the Steve Nash-Lakers deal. Nash is exactly what the Lakers, and every other Western conference team needs, a point guard who can assist. During the regular season Nash was second only to Rajon Rondo in assists per game. It’s unfortunate Nash won’t be wearing his lucky number 13 jersey, unless he can score more than retired Lakers number 13 Wilt Chamberlain.
- Gabriel Najar
Los Angeles Clippers: A-
The Clippers are arguably one of the most talented teams in the NBA with their roster. Their depth is remarkable and they have the balance between young athleticism and veteran leadership that so many teams crave. Coach Vinny Del Negro weathered the storm of roller coaster season with a star studded cast. Bottom line, the NBA lockout really hurt this team especially because they had so many new pieces with so little time to become a team. A healthy Chauncey Billups is always dangerous. The Clippers will be an even more formidable team this season, if “Lob City” can learn from its series with the Spurs and improve their fundamentals.
Trades: Lamar Odom is back in town and with his former team, no not the Lakers. The Clippers picked up Odom from the Dallas Mavericks. Odom had a subpar season which he dubbed in large part to personal matters. Lamar Odom is wonderfully talented, there is no way around it. If he gets his head on straight, and can find his passion for the game of basketball again, then Clippers fans are in for a treat to see Lamar back in a Clippers jersey. The underrated Jamal Crawford is coming to town. The Clippers are locked and loaded and are now one of the best teams on paper. Look out.
- Sam Rodgers
Los Angeles Clippers: A
Three years ago people forgot that there was a second team in Los Angeles, and if David Stern didn’t veto Chris Paul’s move to the Lakers, people would still forget. The last time the Clippers were in the playoffs Blake Griffin was in high school. Drafting Griffin and later signing Paul has been the best thing to happen to the Clippers in a long time. Both men shoot, Griffin rebounds like a beast, and Paul passes like my potential prom dates. A team once considered a laughing stock is now gaining wins over teams like Dallas and Oklahoma City. They made it through the first round of the playoffs, but were swept by San Antonio in the next round. They may not be championship contender material next season, but they will certainly be one of the most exciting teams to watch, and toughest team to play against. Any other team with a similar record would get a B, but the Clippers are lucky this grade is based on a curve.
Looking to the future: Lamar Odom returns to L.A., but in a Clippers jersey. Odom, along with Chauncey Billups provides a lot of experience to the Clippers’ roster. Odom didn’t make a huge splash last season in Dallas, but with the Clippers he can provide good backup to Griffin. Unfortunately, Chris Paul’s attempt to recruit Ray Allen went nowhere, as Allen signed with the NBA Champions Miami Heat, which would give the Clippers a great shooter from the perimeter, which is something they are extremely lacking. The Clippers recently signed Jamal Crawford and re-signed Chauncey Billups, giving them a stacked shooting bench.
- Gabriel Najar
Oklahoma City Thunder: A
They are fast, young, and talented. We saw that that OKC has an arsenal that is to be reckoned with because they can be dangerous on any night. Their big three consisting of Durant, Westbrook, and Harden carried them to the Finals, which was OKC’s best showing so far as a franchise. Kevin Durant is an undisputed superstar and arguably the purest shooter in the league, winning his third consecutive scoring title in 2012. Westbrook keeps maturing and his athleticism is remarkable. James Harden is the reigning sixth man of the year and was an integral part of the Thunder’s success. Coach Scott Brooks showed his ability to keep a young team together and should be given more credit. The Thunder defeated a veteran Spurs team that was clicking on all cylinders, but fell short to the better Miami Heat team. OKC could not have done any better this season because they made it out of the West and showed the league that there is a new dynasty forming.
Trades: This offseason, the Thunder need to ensure that James Harden remains in Oklahoma City. Harden is a critical young piece to this team and I’m sure that he is working harder than most guys this offseason based on his lackluster performance in the NBA finals. The Thunder have secured Hasheem Thabeet. He was a former number two pick in the 2009 NBA Draft. Thabeet has underperformed and was a cheap pick up for the Thunder. If Thabeet can flourish under Coach Scott Brooks, this spells for an increased presence down low for the Thunder.
- Sam Rodgers
Oklahoma City Thunder: A
Four years since moving from Seattle to Oklahoma City, the Thunder have made leaps and bounds. Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and James Harden have become household names in Oklahoma, especially Harden’s beard. They are also one of the youngest teams in NBA history with a majority of their players age 25 and under. They were second in the Western conference behind one of the oldest teams in the league, the San Antonio Spurs. Durant led the league last season in scoring, with Westbrook not too far behind. They are great perimeter shooters, and whenever you see Durant or Harden shoot for a three, you can pretty much call it in the air. The Thunder also led the league in blocks, thanks to Serge Ibaka who has provided great backup to the team. Kendrick Perkins failed as a big man player, and let a lot of Heat players get passed him in the paint. The Thunder can shoot, but that’s all they can really do, and that was able to carry them to the finals. The Thunder trailed the league in assists per game, and that really showed in the finals against the Heat when they passed like a bad game of hot potato near the paint.
Looking to the future: The team has good chemistry, and even though they’re passing isn’t too great, they still have a lot of time to develop. Westbrook needs to pass the ball more, especially against teams with great defenses like Memphis, New York, and Chicago. Don’t expect to see major changes to the Thunders lineup. Derek Fisher is the most likely player to leave the Thunder, but he won’t make a huge impact on the Thunder’s roster.James Harden, Erik Maynor, and Serge Ibaka’s contracts expire, but the Thunder organization can still re-sign and extend deals for the three.
- Gabriel Najar
Minnesota Timberwolves: C
Kevin Love is dynamic every night and put this Timberwolves team on his back. This UCLA Bruin has become the face of the franchise. Ricky Rubio was a strong compliment to Love this season, when he was healthy. A torn ACL is unfortunate for Rubio because he is a pleasure to watch. The TImberwolves are moving up in the NBA and have a bright future.
Trades: Brandon Roy returns in a Timberwolves Jersey. Roy has recovered from his knee surgeries and if he is anywhere close to the player that was a superstar, then the Timberwolves are going to be scary. Another former Portland Trail Blazer, Nicholas Batum is going to be in Minnesota. The Houston Rockets have traded Chase Budinger, an athletic three point shooter to Minnesota as well. Budinger played for Rick Adelman in Houstan, while Adelman was head coach of the Rockets. This is a good addition by the TImberwolves. Michael Beasely is now with the Suns and this was fine for Minnesota because they got some quality acquisitions.
- Sam Rodgers
Minnesota Timberwolves: C-
The reason the Timberwolves get a C- is because the Golden State Warriors, and Sacramento Kings are still in the League. But that shouldn’t take away anything from NBA All-Star Kevin Love. He was able to step in and filled in hole Kevin Garnett left in the Target Center five years ago. The Minnesota Timberwolves ranked fifth in the league in rebounds per game, just ahead of Oklahoma City, which is surprising because have you seen Durant’s arm length? Love also average over 20 points per game last season. The team also has Ricky Rubio, who played really well at beginning of the season, but unfortunately tore his ACL and couldn’t finish the rest of the season. Michael Beasley helped Love in the points department, but is signing with the Phoenix Suns as a free agent. The Timberwolves had a solid “Big 3” who can shoot and play defense, but need someone who can shoot from the perimeter. Injury woes also troubled a very young, and inexperienced team. Luke Ridnor did a good job in replacing Rubio, but it wasn’t enough to secure a playoff space. It’s the team’s “Big 3” that gives them a C, but it’s the team’s inability to build a solid bench around them that makes them tread D territory.
Looking to the Future: With Beasley out, the Timberwolves lost a good shooter who can help get points along with Love.Former Portland Trail Blazers player Brandon Roy has announced his comeback to basketball after recovering from a knee procedure. Roy can shoot from the free throw, and has great field goal percentage. He missed last season, and who knows if his knee problems will return. Even with Love, Rubio, and a returning Roy, the Timberwolves are still in need of a good perimeter shooter. The Timberwolves made Nicolas Batum of the Portland Trail Blazers an offer, which could give Minnesota a more solid roster.
- Gabriel Najar
Phoenix Suns: C The Suns finished .500. Coach Alvin Gentry did the best he could with what he had. Phoenix saw the last of Steve Nash, until he is seen again in purple and gold. The Suns are faced a decision similar to many other NBA teams. Can you assemble a superstar cast like the Miami Heat or draft and develop young players like the Oklahoma City Thunder? Realistically, the only option for the Suns’ organization is to rebuild and they did this with shipping Nash off. The Suns some high draft picks from the Lakers and will be a competitive team again very soon.
Trades: The Steve Nash Era is over. The Suns had to make a trade and they did, which was the right decision. The Suns had to start rebuilding and it was the right time to move Nash. They picked up Michael Beasely from Minnesota. He is young and talented, so we will see how Coach Alvin Gentry can mold him. The Suns also picked up Eric Gordon from the New Orleans Hornets. Gordon is a legitimate guard that is an excellent addition. The Suns have picked their point guard in resigning Goran Dragic.
- Sam Rodgers
Phoenix Suns: C
The Phoenix Suns were in the top ten last season in points per game (PPG), assists per game (APG), and blocks per game (BPG), but somehow they allowed a lot of points against. The Phoenix Suns receive a C because this team is not playing to its full potential. The Suns of the 2000s were perennial playoff contenders, but have not been able to have the same success this decade. Nash played a crucial role in getting the Suns many points, thus is the best in the west when it comes to assists. Marcin Gortat, and Jared Dudley have done a good job in scoring twos. Grant Hill is the second oldest player in the NBA, but plays like younger veteran. Even though the Suns were eighth in the league for PPG, they don’t have any great shooters who can knock down threes. Their lack of cohesion in defense is also a problem, which allowed them get an average point differential of -0.2.
Looking to the future: The Los Angeles Lakers recently acquired Steve Nash in a sign-and-trade deal, and Grant Hill became a free agent. That shouldn’t worry the Suns too much because with the loss of two old, veteran players, they acquired three young players. The Suns offered Eric Gordon, who averaged 20 PPG last in New Orleans, a four-year $58 million deal. If the Hornets can’t match the Suns’ offer, Gordon could be seen wearing an orange jersey next season. The Suns have also reached verbal agreements with Michael Beasley of the Minnesota Timberwolves, and Goran Dragic of the Houston Rockets. The duo will certainly provide great backup in scoring if Gordon goes to Phoenix. Nash’s exit leaves a major hole in assists, but today’s NBA game has shifted towards more one-on-one plays.
- Gabriel Najar