Western Conference rankings
We've already evaluated the Eastern Conference based on the offseason moves to this point. Now let's assess the West.
The West has been remarkably quiet so far -- at least among the top clubs. Other than the Rockets (who have acquired Ron Artest from the Kings), no elite team has really made a big move yet. It will be interesting to see if a top contender with tradable assets such as the Lakers or Jazz makes a deal to try to bolster its chances now or whether it stands pat.
At any rate, here's how we see the conference at the moment:
1. Lakers: The defending conference champs have had a mixed summer, re-signing Sasha Vujacic but losing reserve forward Ronny Turiaf (via free agency to Warriors). Turiaf's departure could be a significant blow, as L.A.'s reserve corps played a big role in last season's run to the Finals. The Lakers also lost out in the Artest sweepstakes, meaning Lamar Odom might be back after all. That's not necessarily bad, but it puts more pressure on 20-year-old Andrew Bynum to be a force under the rim next season in his return from a knee injury. Even so, the Lakers still have Kobe Bryant and that's enough to merit keeping them at No. 1 -- at least for now.
2. Rockets: It's tempting to put them ahead of L.A., now that they have Artest to pair with Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming. If Artest behaves, and T-Mac/Yao stay healthy, the Rockets could be that good. Keep in mind, they did post a 22-game winning streak last season. They also signed free agent Brent Barry to bolster their bench (and replace Bobby Jackson, who went to Sacramento in the Artest deal). But until we see how the volatile Artest gets along with his new teammates, we'll slot them here.
3. Hornets: Another legitimate contender for the top spot, they added free-agent forward James Posey (last seen helping the Celtics to the NBA title) to a club that won 56 games a year ago and reached the conference semifinals. Along with Chris Paul, David West, Peja Stojakovic and Tyson Chandler, it should put New Orleans right back near the top of the standings again. But the Hornets are about to lose key reserve Jannero Pargo in free agency, and it remains to be seen how they will handle the pressure of raised expectations next season.
4. Jazz: Their biggest move (outside of selecting center Kostas Koufos in the first round of the draft) has been to acquire veteran point guard Brevin Knight in a trade with the Clippers. Knight should provide quality backup for Deron Williams, but it's not as if he's going to push Utah over the top in the West. Still, the Jazz have a lot of weapons with Williams, Carlos Boozer, Andrei Kirilenko, Mehmet Okur, et al., and they know how to run that Jerry Sloan system. Even if they don't make a major trade, they should be right back in the thick of things.
5. Spurs: Only a fool would count out a team with Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker (especially in an odd-numbered year), but there is certainly reason to think San Antonio might slip a bit in 2008-09 -- at least in the regular season. To their aging core the Spurs have added free-agent guard Roger Mason, who is coming off a nice year with the Wizards, and 2005 first-round pick Ian Mahinmi, who averaged 17.1 points and 8.2 rebounds in the D-League last season. They also re-signed Kurt Thomas, and are waiting to see about Michael Finley and Robert Horry, but it looks as if this San Antonio team will be pretty much the same as a season ago -- only a year older.
6. Mavericks: Mark Cuban's team has been surprisingly quiet, with the most buzz being generated by the trade rumors involving Josh Howard. Dallas did reacquire center DeSagana Diop (via free agency from the Nets) and took a flier on former Slam Dunk champion Gerald Green, who finished last season out of the league after the Rockets waived him in March. Of course, the Mavs' big change came on the bench after the season when Rick Carlisle was hired to replace Avery Johnson.
7. Trail Blazers: One of last season's big surprises, the Blazers didn't want to tinker too much with their roster. They added forward Ike Diogu and rookie guard Jerryd Bayless in a trade with the Pacers for Jarrett Jack, and signed Spanish guard Rudy Fernandez, but general manager Kevin Pritchard otherwise pretty much stood pat. With Greg Oden set to join Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge, Portland appears primed to build on its 41-win campaign and return to the playoffs for the first time in six years.