Utah, Minnesota, Denver, Oklahoma City, Portland....as far I'm concerned, all but one of these teams has the potential to make the playoffs. That only leaves 4 spots for the other two divisions. In other words, West is best, and has been for a long time. I really don't think these 4 teams will make it, but the potential is there.
Of the 11 so-called experts on NBA.com, 8 of them said OKC would win the division, 2 said Portland would, and one predicted Utah. Let's talk about each team from the bottom up:
5. Minnesota - They traded their best player, Al Jefferson, for Kosta Koufus and a couple of draft picks. Then they picked up Michael Beasley, who didn't live up to expectations in Miami and won't live up to expectations in 'sota. Next comes Darko Milicic. We are remember that he was drafted before Carmelo, Bosh, and Wade, right? The only thing this club has going for it is Kevin Love, who will thrive in Jefferson's absence, and the dreams of Rubio once day joining them from across the Atlantic.
4. Denver - I don't care if 'Melo wants to stay or not; all this talk has done nothing but mess with team chemistry. Throw in the fact that coach Karl missed the playoffs last year which led to the team falling apart in their series against Utah. Has anyone heard the latest on Karl? He's the only one who can keep J.R. and Kenyon's heads in check. Too many egos and too much inconsistency to make any substantial run this year.
3. Portland - Will Oden make it past game 1? I hope so but I'm not counting on it. Is Camby healthy? Is Przybilla healthy? Is Aldridge healthy? I know Roy is healthy. I don't have much to say for, or against, the Blazers. They're just there. If they avoid injury, they'll be good. That's about all there is to it.
2. Oklahoma City - First of all, Durantula is a stupid nickname. You'll never catch me calling him that. Alright, I know he's phenomenal. I honestly think he will win the MVP this year. But win the division? the conference? the title? I'm not sold. The bandwagon has passed me by and I didn't hop on. When Westbrook is your #2 guy, you're not getting to the conference finals. He's good and he'll probably win most improved player. Unless I missed something, their biggest pick-up this offseason is rookie Cole Aldrich. He'll be a good center for them, but he's not taking them from an 8 seed to a 2 seed. I know they're older. I know they're more experienced. I'm not denying their goodness. I'm denying their greatness (for this season, anyway...)
1. Utah - Ok, if I wasn't a Jazz fan, I might have the Thunder at #1 and Jazz at #2, but I know the Jazz better than that. There's talk of Sloan winning COY this year if the Jazz make a good run with their new assets. It's about time. Boozer's gone. Oh well. Anyone who saw Milsap play for Boozer while he was injured knows that he'll be just as good. Bell is back and he loves to mess around with Kobe. Hayward has shown some potential in pre-season: 24 points one game. I'm not counting on him for this season, but he'll be a shooter for them in the years to come. I can't deny my excitement for Jefferson. I own his jersey. My sister-in-law told me last week that she hasn't seen me without his jersey on since I bought it. Jefferson will be an All-Star. He was almost one in Minnesota when he was double teamed every play...just imagine him with a point guard to get him the ball, and other guys to draw defenders away. To summarize, they lost Boozer but still have Milsap, so that's a wash. They got Jefferson for nothing (they needed more size to compete with the Lakers, remember). They lost Korver and picked up Bell and Hayward to replace him. All in all, a better team. #1 in the Northwest. I love this division. Thunder and Jazz will provide years of entertaining basketball.