While the Warriors will be for the foreseeable future the pick to win the NBA Western Conference, LeBron James’ arrival with the Lakers serves notice not only to Golden State, but also to the rest of the West that a new champion could be on the horizon.
That new champion likely will not emerge this season as James is surrounded by young players along with several journeymen, but if the four-time MVP can get a player like Kawhi Leonard to join him next season, there could be a shift coming in the powers of the West.
All that being said, until a team proves it can beat the Warriors, and that includes James with whomever he wants to team up with, this is Golden State’s conference.
Here’s a look at the NBA Western Conference in 2018-19:
Lakers — With the addition of LeBron James, Los Angeles is projected by Vegas to win than 13 more games than it did last season (48.5). While that may be a little bit optimistic considering the depth of the West, the Lakers are bound to get much better simply with the addition of the King.
Timberwolves — Jimmy Butler giveth and Jimmy Butler taketh away. After acquiring the former Bulls guard during the offseason in 2017, the Timberwolves went from 14th in the West with 31 wins to eighth with 47. Now Butler wants out, and until Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins prove they can lead this team to greener pastures, it would be far too optimistic to say this team wins more than 40 games. Case in point: Minnesota was 10-13 without Butler in its lineup last season.
Mavericks — This is not to say the Mavericks will make the playoffs, but with the addition of DeAndre Jordan, a second year for Dennis Smith Jr., a stud rookie in Luka Doncic and added talent around Harrison Barnes, it isn’t hyperbole to say Dallas, 24-58 in 2017-18, could win 10 more games this season and possibly even more than that.
Pelicans G Jrue Holiday — The New Orleans guard had a coming-out party of sorts in the Western Conference quarterfinals, when the Pelicans swept the Trail Blazers. Holiday averaged 23.9 points, 6.3 assists and 5.7 rebounds in the postseason and 19 points per game in the regular season. People realized who he was when he dominated Portland’s backcourt defensively, and he may now have the cachet and attention to earn a second All-Star selection.
Northwest: Thunder — OKC struggled all last season to incorporate Carmelo Anthony into its offense and it cost the team wins throughout the season. Now it’s the Russell Westbrook and Paul George show and with an entire season focusing on that, the Thunder should win the Northwest.
Pacific: Warriors — Do we even need to explain this? If so, you’re in the wrong place.
Southwest: Rockets — Houston lost two big defensive pieces in Trevor Ariza and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, but its biggest threat in the division, the Pelicans, lost DeMarcus Cousins, a huge reason for New Orleans’ success against the Rockets. Add that to a division with the Mavericks, Grizzlies and a recently injury-riddled Spurs team and Houston should win the Southwest again.
Warriors — Golden State is the four-time defending champion in the Western Conference and two-time reigning NBA champion, and it added if not the best, one of the best centers in the game in DeMarcus Cousins. And it lost virtually nothing from its core.
The Warriors return Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala. They lost JaVale McGee and Nick Young and are still trying to figure out Patrick McCaw’s contract, but Quinn Cook, Jordan Bell and Kevon Looney all got valuable postseason experience last season. And Shaun Livingston is back too.
This team is stacked and might be even better than it was last year. Absolutely nothing says the Warriors won’t win their third consecutive title and fourth in five years.