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Western Conference primer (cont.)

Posted: Tuesday October 2, 2007 3:51PM; Updated: Tuesday October 2, 2007 5:20PM
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Western Conference Camp Primer
Last season's record: 39-43 (4th in Southwest)
Key additions: Morris Peterson, Julian Wright (No. 13)
Key losses: Desmond Mason
Key camp question: How will the new guy, DaChris Stojakojack, do?
Actually, when you tote up the games missed due to injury by Peja Stojakovic, Chris Paul, David West and Bobby Jackson, you get 143, which is nearly the equivalent of two key players missing from the Hornets' lineup last season. Admittedly, Stojakovic hasn't been his old self since the 2004 playoffs, but having him healthy for more than 13 games (back surgery) to boost the Hornets' outside shooting with newcomer Peterson would open up the inside for West, Tyson Chandler and Paul's penetration.
Key additions: Grant Hill, Alando Tucker (No. 29)
Key losses: Kurt Thomas
Key camp question: Who's minding the paint?
We'll play along with the Phoenicians and accept their upbeat prognosis on the scoping of big man Amare Stoudemire's right knee (at least it wasn't the left). But even when Stoudemire is healthy, the Suns are marshmellowy in the middle, a predicament that only worsened when they shed Thomas for payroll purposes. That makes it essential for a guy Phoenix can't seem to keep happy -- Shawn Marion -- to keep playing three inches taller than his listed 6-7 height.
Last season's record: 30-52 (T-3rd in Northwest)
Key additions: Greg Oden (No. 1), Steve Blake, Channing Frye, James Jones
Key losses: Zach Randolph, Fred Jones, Jamaal Magloire
Key camp question: How much does Oden's knee surgery hurt the Blazers?
Certainly it puts a damper on the start of this season, relative to the excitement of watching Oden develop with his young and talented teammates. But there is enough here to focus on, from Brandon Roy's all-around excellence to the promise shown by LaMarcus Aldridge last spring and Sergio Rodriguez's skills as a raw point guard. With everyone around him getting an extra season under them, Oden will join a group that's more ready to win in 2008-09.
Last season's record: 33-49 (5th in Pacific)
Key additions: Coach Reggie Theus, Mikki Moore, Spencer Hawes (No. 10)
Key losses: Coach Eric Musselman, Corliss Williamson
Key camp question: How different will this crew look by late February?
Ron Artest, Mike Bibby, Shareef Abdur-Rahim and even Brad Miller all are candidates to be traded, and have enough value to bring back some young players or draft picks. But a wholesale makeover will rewind Theus' rookie season as head coach, wasting training camp and three months or so that he figures to spend installing his system and a whiff, at least, of defense.
Last season's record: 58-24 (2nd in Southwest)
Key additions: Ime Udoka
Key losses: Jackie Butler
Key camp question: Whose young legs are going to log the heavy minutes?
This team is built for the playoffs, with a bench full of savvy role players who play to their strengths in the clutch. But one of these years, the workload in January, February and March is going to catch up to some combination of Robert Horry, Bruce Bowen, Brent Barry or Michael Finley, San Antonio's resident oldsters. An even-number season (2007-08) adds to the concerns.
Last season's record: 31-51 (5th in Northwest)
Key additions: Coach P.J. Carlesimo, Kevin Durant (No. 2), Jeff Green (No. 5), Kurt Thomas, Wally Szczerbiak, Delonte West
Key losses: Coach Bob Hill, Ray Allen, Rashard Lewis
Key camp question: Will the franchise's uncertain future hurt Durant's development?
The conventional wisdom says that Durant will welcome the distraction caused by fears of a move to Oklahoma City before the 2008-09 season, that all the hand-wringing will take some of the savior pressure off of the 19-year-old. Don't believe it. What Durant needed more was a couple of veterans like Allen and Lewis to shoulder the load on and off the court. At least he won't be facing day-by-day comparisons to the injured Oden.
Last season's record: 51-31 (1st in Northwest)
Key additions: Morris Almond (No. 25), Ronnie Price, Jason Hart
Key losses: Derek Fisher, Dee Brown
Key camp question: Can Andrei Kirilenko become a central part of the Jazz's game plan again -- before coach Jerry Sloan strangles him?
Actually, Sloan let his mad Russian's fussin' roll off his back as camp began, secure that he and the team hold all the leverage. Kirilenko still has four years left on the $86 million contract he signed in 2004 and no real options. The Jazz had a terrific 2006-07 season thanks to Carlos Boozer and Deron Williams, with Kirilenko pushed to a supporting role. The best thing for the multiskilled forward to do is to shut up, stay away from blogs in any language and play.

Steve Aschburner covered the Minnesota Timberwolves and the NBA for 13 seasons for the Minneapolis Star Tribune. He served as president of the Professional Basketball Writers Association from 2005-2007.

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