Western Conference rankings (cont.)
8. Suns: Like the Mavs, these one-time top title contenders are hoping a new coach (Terry Porter) can find a way to incorporate a big-name star (Shaquille O'Neal) and earn some kind of payoff for last season's big midseason blockbuster trade. But also like the Mavs, the Suns haven't done much this summer to add pieces. Matt Barnes comes over from the Warriors to provide scoring off the bench, big man Robin Lopez was drafted to help add toughness and the Suns are working on signing second-round pick Goran Dragic of the Spanish league to back up Steve Nash. With a new coach, an aging Shaq and a slowing Nash, the Suns could be in for a fall.
9. Nuggets: After yet another first-round playoff ouster, it's no surprise that they might take steps to break it down and start over. GM Mark Warkentien seems to be paving the road for a big trade, perhaps next year. It's the only way to explain the giveaway trade of Marcus Camby to the Clippers while adding only role players Renaldo Balkman (trade with Knicks) and Chris (Birdman)Andersen (free agent). The Nuggets will still be competitive this season with Carmelo Anthony, Allen Iverson and Kenyon Martin, but they also might implode.
10. Clippers: No team has been more active in the offseason. Gone are leading scorers Elton Brand (Sixers) and Corey Maggette (Warriors). In their place are free-agent signees Baron Davis (formerly of the Warriors), Ricky Davis (Heat), Jason Williams (Heat) and Brian Skinner (Suns), as well as Camby. The Clippers probably still won't be good enough to make the playoffs, but they will be fun to watch.
11. Warriors: The sudden departure of Davis to the Clippers left them scrambling, and they settled for signing free agents Maggette and Turiaf. The good news is they also managed to re-sign Monta Ellis, Andris Biedrins and Kelenna Azubuike, while acquiring a decent point guard prospect in former Nets first-round pick Marcus Williams. Don Nelson still has firepower, but the loss of his catalyst Davis appears to be a fatal blow for Golden State's playoff hopes.
12. Kings: The loss of Artest signals they are (wisely) thinking of the future. Bobby Jackson might not be as talented as Artest, but he's a decent backup and a more stable presence in the locker room. President Geoff Petrie also re-signed point guard Beno Udrih, one of their few bright spots from a year ago. Along with Kevin Martin, Francisco Garcia, Spencer Hawes and John Salmons, in addition to 2008 first-round pick Jason Thompson, the Kings have put together a young nucleus that as it develops will get them back in the playoff race.
13. Timberwolves: Mike Miller (formerly of the Grizzlies) and rookie forward Kevin Love headline the big offseason changes. Beleaguered team vice president Kevin McHale also picked up a future No. 1 pick and cash, as well as reserves Rodney Carney and Calvin Booth, from the Sixers without having to give up any bodies in return. The Timberwolves still have a long way to go to get back to respectability, but the presence of the veteran Miller should join with rising star Al Jefferson to at least keep them moving in the right direction.
14. Oklahoma City: They made a huge offseason move, literally, shifting the entire franchise from Seattle to the Plains. On the personnel front, GM Sam Presti brought in veteran forwards Joe Smith and Desmond Mason (via a three-team trade with the Cavaliers and Bucks) for Luke Ridnour and Adrian Griffin. He also added two prospects in first-round picks Russell Westbrook and D.J. White. Smith and Mason (the latter of whom played collegiately at Oklahoma State) should provide some much-needed leadership to Kevin Durant and Co., but the franchise's debut season in OKC still won't feature a lot of Ws in the standings.
15. Grizzlies: They tried to appease fans still angry over last season's giveaway of Pau Gasol by signing ... Marc Gasol. Pau's 7-foot younger brother, who had been playing professionally in Spain, is actually a solid prospect who should be able to contribute right away. Memphis also obtained rookie guard O.J. Mayo on draft night (in the deal with the Timberwolves for Miller). With Gasol and Mayo joining Mike Conley and Rudy Gay, the Grizzlies have an exciting young core around which to build. But look for more growing pains in '08-09.