The Northwest division is made up of five teams: the Denver Nuggets, Minnesota Timberwolves, Oklahoma City Thunder, Portland Trailblazers and the Utah Jazz. They each have their own storylines heading into the 2012-13 season.
For Denver: the Nuggets were a part of the Dwight Howard trade that went down earlier this summer. In the deal that sent Dwight Howard to the Lakers, the Denver Nuggets sent Arron Afflalo and Al Harrington to the Orlando Magic and in return received Andre Iguodala from the Philadelphia 76ers. They got yet another great wing player that should ensure a return trip to the NBA Playoffs next season with a better chance of advancing. Adding Iggy gives the Nuggets a defensive anchor and he fits seamlessly into the "run and gun" style of play, we'll see out of Denver this season. A lot of very athletic and quick players at each position that can spread the floor and get out and run. For Denver to establish themselves as one of the West's best. They'll need a breakout season from JaVale McGee and have Ty Lawson finally realize how good he really is. Beyond that, they also have some incredible depth on the roster. They're basically 'two-deep' at each position: Lawson & Miller, Iguodala & Brewer, Gallinari & Chandler, Faried & Randolph, McGee & Mozgov. Of course, I'll be keeping an eye on how Anthony Randolph is doing in his new digs. Honestly will be wishing him the best.
For Oklahoma City: For the past few years they've slowly worked themselves up the ladder in the Western Conference. They gave the Lakers a scare a few years back, battled the eventual champion Dallas Mavericks two years ago and last year the Thunder pushed to the NBA Finals, but lost in five games to the Heat. If continued improvement is the 'main entree' for OKC, anything less than a championship will be a major disappointment. Of course, there's plenty of other teams in the West and of course the East, that'll present big challenges (but we'll get to the rest of those teams these next few weeks). OKC added two players this offseason, neither of which is likely to have a big impact in their 'new digs'. Those two players? Small forward Hollis Thompson and center Hasheem Thabeet. Thompson was an undrafted free agent that will provide some depth at small forward, battling Lazar Hayward & Perry Jones for minutes behind Kevin Durant. The Thunder also re-upped Serge Ibaka for four-years and about $12million a year. Does that mean they won't have money to resign James Harden next season? Nonetheless, the four core of Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka a return to the Finals is expected.
For Portland: Portland's going through a rebuild and although they have a handful of talented players, it's a lot of young guys and a lot of question marks for the Blazers this season. There's a good chance they'll be starting two rookies: Damian Lillard at point guard and Meyers Leonard at center (though they could go with a frontcourt of Hickson & Aldridge). The building blocks are there (LaMarcus Aldridge, Nicolas Batum & Damian Lillard), but that's exactly what they need to do...build. There's the outside chance they could put things together quickly and make a push for a playoff spot. They're also be under a new head coach: Terry Stotts. If I was a betting man, I'd put my money on the Trailblazers returning to the lottery, next season.
For Utah: The Jazz have added some new pieces this offseason, however it remains uncertain if the moves they made were the correct ones to make. The Jazz traded for Mo Williams and sent Devin Harris to Atlanta, while also acquiring small forward Marvin Williams from Atlanta. The Jazz drafted swingman Kevin Murphy in the second round (the TWolves owned their first-round pick--which was sent to Houston) and finally, signed free agent and former Wolf Randy Foye. If things go south in the first few weeks of the regular season, I wouldn't be surprised that if they're out of the playoff picture by the deadline, they trade Paul Millsap or Al Jefferson (or both) as they tear it down and rebuild. However, a starting lineup of Williams, Burks, Hayward, Millsap & Jefferson is certainly going to be competitive (and in reality, better than last season). I could see the Jazz as one of the bottom playoff seeds in the West this year, however their success will rely heavily on whether their young wings: Alec Burks & Gordon Hayward can have a breakout season.
For Minnesota: I won't make this too long, because it's something I'll talk about quite a bit these next few months, up until the season starts. The Timberwolves are relying on free agent signings Andrei Kirilenko & Brandon Roy to push them into a territory they haven't been in almost a decade! THE PLAYOFFS. Neither of them played in the NBA last season, however that doesn't mean they can't/won't be effective. With AK47 the TWolves have a competent small forward (FINALLY) as well as a bonafide defensive anchor (something they've REALLY lacked these past few seasons), he'll chip in 8-12 points a night, some steals, blocks, rebounds...really, just do it all. For Roy...no one knows what to expect. Can he return to All-Star form? Can he even be effective? Can he stay healthy? A LOT of question marks for Roy heading into the season. They dumped the knuckleheads they had on payroll (Wes Johnson, Michael Beasley, Anthony Randolph, Martell Webster and Darko Milicic) and added some really nice new pieces (Roy, Kirilenko, Chase Budinger, Dante Cunningham, Alexey Shved and Greg Stiemsma). There's also a good chance the TWolves could trade away someone like Barea or Ridnour and thereby create cap space to sign another big man and potentially another wing. Things are looking up in Minnesota. With a true superstar (Kevin Love) a legendary coach (Rick Adelman) and the return of Ricky Rubio as well as the blending of Roy & AK47...I can't wait for November 2nd!
The Northwest Division is going to be VERY competitive this season. With four of the teams (OKC, DEN, UTH & MIN) legitimately chasing a playoff berth.
I'm REALLY looking forward to the Thunder vs. TWolves matchups this season. They were AWESOME last year; highlighted by that triple overtime MIN loss in which K-Love scored over 50 and both Durant & Westbrook had over 40!
That's all for now and remember this is just part one of a six part story we'll be running these next couple weeks on HOWL! Until then, thanks for reading and GO WOLVES!