Western Conference Contenders for Next Season

DENVER, CO - MAY 12: Jamal Murray (27) of the Denver Nuggets and Nikola Jokic (15) react after Evan Turner (1) of the Portland Trail Blazers hit two of two free throws to give his team a four-point lead with just over eight seconds to play during the fourth quarter of the Trail Blazers' series-clinching 100-96 win on Sunday, May 12, 2019. The Denver Nuggets versus the Portland Trail Blazers in game seven of the teams' second round NBA playoff series at the Pepsi Center in Denver. (Photo by AAron Ontiveroz/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images)

The Western Conference has been the tougher of the two conferences in the NBA for years now. Next season will be no different. Kawhi Leonard makes his return to the West, and many other stars already there switched teams. The Western Conference is loaded with contenders for next season.

Western Conference Contenders for the 2019-20 Season

Los Angeles Lakers: New Contenders

Last season was the first season since 2009-10 that did not feature LeBron James in the Finals. This, of course, did not bode well with James. The Los Angeles Lakers acquired superstar Anthony Davis in a trade that cost them most of their young core. Parting with young and talented players will always be tough, but it’s the price to pay for a generational talent.

After acquiring Davis, the Lakers were not finished. They were rumored to be in the hunt for Leonard, but he ultimately moved to the rival Los Angeles Clippers. As soon as his move was announced, the Lakers swiftly picked up DeMarcus Cousins and Danny Green. Cousins hasn’t been the same since his Achilles injury, but he and Davis were an elite duo while on the New Orleans Pelicans. Green, on the other hand, is a reigning NBA champion and one of the best “three-and-d” wings in the league.

Avery Bradley, Kyle Kuzma, Rajon Rondo, and JaVale McGee, and others round out the roster as role players. The Lakers are stacked. The league knows to never count out a James-led team as contenders.

Los Angeles Clippers: New Contenders

Leonard shook the NBA world when he decided to join the Clippers. Minutes later, it was also announced that the Clippers completed a trade with the Oklahoma City Thunder for MVP-finalist Paul George. Leonard and George are a fearsome NBA duo. The proven winners and elite defenders can drop 30 points any night they choose to do so.

Before the Leonard and George madness, the Clippers managed to keep Patrick Beverley in Los Angeles. Beverley will never light up the stat sheet, but his defense and hustle are second to none in the league. Beverley is a true leader and an asset to any team. In addition to him, the Clippers have the top bench threat in the league in Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell, one of the league’s breakout stars last season.

Landry Shamet and Maurice Harkless are great defenders, Rodney McGruder will be another spark plug off the bench, and Ivica Zubac showed immense improvement last season. The Clippers are arguably the best two-way contenders on paper.

Houston Rockets: Re-Shuffled Contenders

James Harden was always going to keep the Houston Rockets in the thick of things. The real question mark was Chris Paul, but the Rockets managed to include him in a deal for former MVP Russell Westbrook. Harden and Westbrook are two of the best offensive talents in league history. Their fit together, however, is questionable because they are both extremely ball dominant. The two used to be teammates with the Thunder, so they have experience playing together. Furthermore, the Rockets were one of Westbrook’s preferred destinations, so it’s likely he and Harden already discussed this.

After all the wild signings and trades, it’s easy to forget that the Rockets still have one of the better centers in the Western Conference in Clint Capela. He’s a strong rebounder and good in the paint, and he simply fits better as a role player than a second option. Eric Gordon, whether he starts or not, is a fantastic spark plug. PJ Tucker and Austin Rivers will provide a lot defensively, and can knock down open jumpers when asked to. The rest of the Rockets bench doesn’t necessarily stand out, but one of Harden or Westbrook will be on the floor more often than not. The Rockets will remain contenders, and perhaps a better one than before.

Golden State Warriors: The Resilient Dynasty

The Golden State Warriors lost Kevin Durant in free agency and Klay Thompson to an ACL injury. They’ll be fine in the regular season, as they still have former MVP Stephen Curry, perennial All-Star Draymond Green, and one-time All-Star D’Angelo Russell. The fit between Curry and Russell will be interesting to watch develop, as both are lethal offensive talents. Curry is arguably the best shooter the NBA has ever seen, while Russell took a massive step in his game last season.

Cousins was not a major loss for the Warriors as he played sparingly. Kevon Looney returned to the squad, and Willie Cauley-Stein was a sneaky good pick-up at the center poisition.

The Warriors were forced to part ways with veterans Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston. Both players were great leaders and bench players. Although the experienced Warriors still have plenty of leaders, their bench is largely unproven. Alfonzo McKinnie and Jonas Jerebko have Finals experience, but it doesn’t look great that one of two will be expected to play often and regularly. The rest of the Warriors rosters is rounded out with tons of youth, so they’re banking on something unreliable, especially in the Western Conference. Curry is the ideal mentor for the young guards, however. Green’s determination to win is obvious, and although he has a reputation as one of the league’s “villains,” his role in the forwards’ development in crucial. Once Thompson returns, however, no one will take this team lightly as contenders.

Denver Nuggets: Contenders on the Rise

The Denver Nuggets have had a relatively quiet offseason. They kept Paul Millsap and added Jerami Grant via trade. They did not have to do much to remain contenders, however, as they boast one of the deepest rosters in the Western Conference and the league. Nikola Jokic took center-stage in the playoffs and looked like one of the league’s elite talents, while Jamal Murray continues to become better. Gary Harris is a great shooter and defender, while Will Barton brings energy off the bench.

The Nuggets can truly become great if Michael Porter and Bol Bol prove why they were considered lottery talents. Porter was widely regarded as a top-five talent in the 2017 Draft before injuries, while Bol dropped to the second round for the same reasons. Both players have all the talent in the world, and in a situation where they won’t be rushed to be vital, they will add to the Nuggets’ elite bench.

The team’s playoff success will be centered around Jokic. He was unstoppable in the postseason last year. He can score at will and has the passing talents of a point guard. If everything around him clicks, the league will not sleep on the Nuggets once again.

Utah Jazz: New Contenders

The Utah Jazz have been great the past two seasons, but seemed to be just missing something to make them contenders in the Western Conference. Knowing this, they traded for Mike Conley and added Bojan Bogdanovic through free agency. These moves vaulted their starting five into one of the best in the league. Conley has probably had the best non-All-Star career in the league, while Bogdanovic is the ideal stretch forward for this team.

Rudy Gobert will anchor the team in the middle. The reigning defensive player of the year is a force in the paint and also a talented scorer. Third-year player Donovan Mitchell should lead the team in scoring, and is on the brink of finding himself on his first All-Star team. Of course, the team still has Joe Ingles to be their energy guy and spot-up shooter.

The Jazz made other shrewd free agency moves in picking up Jeff GreenEd Davis, and Emmanuel Mudiay as bench players. Green, a veteran wing, provides scoring in the second unit. Davis is a rebounding machine and another big body. Mudiay still has untapped potential and should flourish playing behind Conley. It’s understandable that many may have forgotten about the Jazz after the hectic offseason so far, but they have one of the most talented rosters in the league.

Portland Trail Blazers: Sleeping Giant

The Portland Trail Blazers are always a sleeper team as contenders in the Western Conference. Superstars Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum thrive in this situation, however. All season long they’re going to play like All-Stars, but a lot will go unnoticed. The same happened last season, and the Blazers found themselves in the Western Conference Finals.

Lillard and McCollum are two of the most lethal scorers in the league. They can succeed with whatever roster surrounding them. The Blazers, however, are going to have one of their more talented rosters in the last few years. Star center Jusuf Nurkic is not likely to return until the second half of the season, but the Blazers have Hassan Whiteside as a replacement. Whiteside is an elite rebounder and shot blocker. He can fill the hole until Nurkic’s return. Once Nurkic returns, the Blazers will boast a two-headed monster at center.

Zach Collins continues to grow, while picking up Kent Bazemore in exchange for Evan Turner fits this roster. Bazemore can score off the bench, as seen in his 12-point average per game in less than 25 minutes last season. Rodney Hood was a stud in the playoffs last season, and likely booked himself a place in the team’s starting line-up. Lastly, Anfernee Simons and Nassir Little are great young talents. The Blazers are very high on Simons’ development, while Little can prove to be a steal in the end of the first round. Little was a highly regarded high school recruit, but didn’t get to showcase his ability much at North Carolina. If he develops as well as his potential suggests, he will be a great piece off the bench.

Fringe Teams

Seven teams are likely to be playoff locks. The race for the eight-spot will be just as entertaining as the race for the top seed in the Western Conference. Competition for the last spot will be between San Antonio Spurs, Sacramento Kings, Dallas Mavericks, and New Orleans Pelicans.

The Spurs made the playoffs last year and return a similar, but unimproved roster. LaMarcus Aldridge and DeMar DeRozan are both fringe All-Star talents, however. Dejounte MurrayDerrick White, and Rudy Gay round out a roster with plenty of talent.

De’Aaron FoxBuddy Hield, and Marvin Bagley lead the rising Kings. Although they overpaid for a few veterans in free agency, they will certainly be welcomed additions. Harrison Barnes is a strong scorer, Cory Joseph is one of the better back-up point guards in the league, and Dewayne Dedmon is a strong rebounder who can spread the floor.

The Mavericks are young and hungry. Luka Doncic returns as the future of the NBA, while Kristaps Porzingis, an All-Star before his injury, is healthy again. Seth Curry is a sniper behind the three point line and Tim Hardaway has a knack for scoring.

Zion Williamson is going to be one of the most exciting talents in the league. The Pelicans surround him with the former Lakers young core, and proven veterans like Jrue HolidayJJ Redick, and Derrick Favors.

The Western Conference is full of contenders, and is no longer the Warriors and whoever may steal a game or two from them. The playoff race is going to be one of the most exciting ones we’ve seen in a long time.

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