Yep, bored again at work.
Here's how I think the West will shake out.
1. Los Angeles Lakers
I hate the Lakers. Hate em. Unfortunately, they are not only the team to beat this year, but next year as well. And quite possibly the year after that. No, it's not because of Kobe. Or team chemistry. It's about Andrew Bynum. Look at the Lakers' record last year - with Bynum in the lineup this was a +.500 team. When he got injured the team was merely .500 (as they were the previous year). When Gasol arrived they were +.500 again. Now Bynum is back, and that makes the Lakers a +65-win team. Brutal.
2. New Orleans Hornets
With the best player in the game (Chris Paul), the most underrated big man (Tyson Chandler), and new addition James Posey, who has proven to be a productive bench player, the Hornets should have no problem finishing in second again.
3. Utah Jazz
The Jazz were fourth last year and are returning pretty much the same team. This is an easy pick, and I'm putting them third not because of any improvement, but rather because the Spurs have fallen out of the top tier.
4. Dallas Mavericks
I fully expect Dirk Nowitski to bounce back from a bad shooting year. That alone will net the Mavs several more victories.
5. Houston Rockets
The Rockets drafted very well, picking up a monster rebounder in Joey Dorsey. They also swiped the extremely productive Brent Barry from the interstate rival Spurs. The Rockets have productive players galore, just no truly dominant ones. But those players go a long way since there's no dead weight.
6. San Antonio Spurs
This is still a great team, they're just really going to miss the big minutes Brent Barry used to deliver. Now they're going to look to the mediocre Michael Finley to replace that production - hilarity will ensue. (Also it looks like Manu Ginobli is out for the first 15-20 games. That's going to hurt them in the final standings for sure.)
7. Pheonix Suns
Poor Pheonix. I was really rooting for them to win a championship... they were unsuccessful a few years running and then ditched Shawn Marion. Shaq is, well, Old Shaq, but he played pretty well with the Suns last year, just not up to Marion's level. And Nash is one year older. As Dave Berri said, these Suns are setting...
8. Portland Trailblazers
Picking the last playoff team in the West is really, really tough. I'm going with Portland by default - they were only 10 games out last year and are adding Greg Oden. Problem is he'll probably replace last year's leading rebounder Joel Pryzbilla. There's a lot of other things that can go wrong with this team, too. I just don't trust them. But I trust the next few teams less.
9. Golden State Warriors
Another tough call here. After losing Baron Davis the Warriors picked up Corey Maggette and Ronny Turiaf, then lost last year's most improved player (although he didn't win the award) Monta Ellis for three months to a dubious injury. Hmm. The new signings are strong, but it seems all too likely that Turiaf will come off the bench behind the overrated Al Harrington (although you never know with Don Nelson). Bottom line - if Ellis comes back healthy the Warriors should finish just out of the playoffs. Again.
10. Denver Nuggets
Good God, this team gave away their best player and got nothing in return. Ok, let me rephrase that - they gave away their most productive player. Marcus Camby is a rebounding and shot-blocking God. Carmelo Anthony and Allen Iverson are both vastly overrated (although they've played much better in recent seasons, particularly this last one). Still, you can't lose your best player and expect to get better. Sure, Nene's back, but I see this team finishing out of the playoffs.
11. Los Angeles Clippers
A few of the teams at the bottom of the West have gotten stronger, but still suck. They just suck less. This is true of the Clippers, who probably had the strangest offseason of any team. First, they signed Baron Davis. Huge. Then, they somehow lost Elton Brand. Hugely disappointing. Then they lost Corey Maggette. Not good. Then they were gifted Marcus Camby. Huge. The net effect is this - the Clippers have one of the best trios in the entire NBA (Davis, Camby and my man Chris Kaman). Problem is, they have almost no productive players after this. There's no doubt the Clippers will be better than last year, but that just isn't saying much.
12. Sacramento Kings
I don't really know what to say about this team. They're not very good. Kevin Martin is spectacular, but they paid a ton of money for Mikki Moore, who pretty much blows. They claim to have a lot of young 'talent', but in reality they just have a lot of young players.
13. Minnesota Timberwolves
Kevin McHale should not have a job. Still, it seems like he got an offseason right for the second time in his career (the first being when he drafted Kevin Garnett). Trading OJ Mayo for Kevin Love on draft night will go down as the steal of the draft. Love projects to be a dominant post player, while Mayo looks more like the consummate inefficient 'scorer' who does little else (aside from committing a lot of turnovers). McHale somehow managed to grab Mike Miller in the draft as well, but then went and traded newly-drafted Mario Chalmers to the Heat for no good reason. He would have helped this team a lot. Like the Clippers, this will be a better team than last year, but it doesn't mean much.
14. Oklahoma City Thunder
Weird writing that name. Let's face it - this team sucks. The only thing to hope for is a drastic improvement in Kevin Durant's game, but not so drastic that they lose out on draft position. Their recent draft picks are unlikely to do anything this year.
15. Memphis Grizzlies
Last year Memphis traded away Pau Gasol, a proven productive player, for lottery tickets. Then the offseason saw them trade a sure thing in Kevin Love, as well as their other proven productive player in Mike Miller, to Minnesota for Disaster Transport (Cleveland joke) rookie OJ Mayo. I hope you enjoy watching Mayo score 20+ points a game, Memphis, cause that's all he'll do, and his point average will probably surpass his team's season win total.