We’re two-and-a-half weeks into the free agent period and most of the signings and trades have been made. Camp rosters are pretty much set. So the question to answer at this point is how the Utah Jazz stack up against the new-look Western Conference. The Jazz have finished fifth three times in the last four years and were sixth last season. How likely is that to change? Which teams are moving up, which are set to take a dive and who is likely to stay in roughly the same spot in the standings?
Key Additions: (G) Chris Paul, (F) Jae Crowder, (G) Langston Galloway, (G) E’Twaun Moore, (C) Damian Jones
Draft: (F) Jalen Smith
Key Departures: (G) Ricky Rubio, (F) Kelly Oubre, (C) Aron Baynes, (C) Frank Kaminsky, (G) Ty Jerome, (G) Elie Okobo
Adding Chris Paul is almost the entire preseason narrative for the Suns. Despite hitting age 35 this year, Paul is still a threat and a great team leader. He willed the Oklahoma City Thunder to the playoffs last year with a rag-tag group of underrated, no-name guys.
Something that shouldn’t be looked over though is that the Suns lost a lot of their 2019-20 roster this offseason. Rubio, Oubre and Baynes combined for 148 starts. Rubio and Oubre in particular were every-night starters. Phoenix did cover their bases in replacements though. Oubre, the Suns’ second-leading scorer last year, will be replaced by incoming wings Jae Crowder, Langston Galloway and E’Twaun Moore (and probably more reliance on third-year forward Mikal Bridges). Baynes’ replacement is Damian Jones. Where the most questions lie for Phoenix is how the new players, they added will make up for players now gone.
From an outside perspective, the math on the replacements seems to add up, and Paul’s addition gives the Suns potential legitimacy. This new-look Phoenix team should push the franchise into the playoffs for the first time since 2010.
Key Additions: (F) Kelly Oubre, (G/F) Kent Bazemore, (G) Brad Wanamaker
Draft: (C) James Wiseman, (G) Nico Mannion, (G) Justinian Jessup
Key Departures: (G) Ky Bowman
Will the Warriors really be a championship contender with Klay Thompson out for another season? Probably not. Nevertheless, having Steph Curry around all year will vault Golden State right back into the playoffs with a solid cast around the superstar guard. Draymond Green, Andrew Wiggins and Oubre are all solid starters and Wiseman should be able to be productive at center.
Key Additions: (F) Robert Covington, (C) Enes Kanter, (G) Derrick Jones Jr.
Draft: (G) C.J. Elleby
Key Departures: (C) Hassan Whiteside, (F) Trevor Ariza
The Trail Blazers get to use the old “Alec Burks is our best free agent signing” PR line not once, but twice this preseason on behalf of Rodney Hood and Jusuf Nurkic. While both Hood and Nurkic played minutes for Portland last season, both were largely unavailable for the season due to injury and both will be back for the upcoming campaign. Losing Whiteside basically won’t hurt at all thanks to Nurkic’s return and the addition of Kanter. Bringing in Covington is also a brilliant move. Damian Lillard might actually have the help he needs this season.
Key Additions: (C) Steven Adams, (G) Eric Bledsoe, (C) Willy Hernangomez
Draft: (G) Kira Lewis
Key Departures: (G) Jrue Holiday, (C) Derrick Favors, (G) E’Twaun Moore
Losing Jrue Holiday is the only immediate problem for the Pelicans, but Eric Bledsoe should suffice and will make sleeping on the pile of assets they got in exchange for Holiday that much easier. After that, this offseason has been a string of successes. Land Adams as an replacement for Favors, draft Kira Lewis to shore up the backcourt more, re-sign Brandon Ingram. All that plus they should get more games out of Zion Williamson who averaged 22.5 points in his 24 games as a rookie.
Key Additions: (C) Al Horford, (G) George Hill, (F) Trevor Ariza, (F) Justin Jackson
Draft: (F/C) Aleksej Pokusevski, (G) Theo Maledon, (G) *Vit Krejci
Key Departures: (G) Chris Paul, (F) Danilo Gallinari, (C) Steven Adams, (G) Dennis Schroeder, (G) Terrence Ferguson, (C) Nerlens Noel, (G/F) Andre Roberson
Sam Presti sold everything of value from his 2019-20 playoff squad. What’s left is a promising rebuilding project with a handful of veterans who might keep the Thunder somewhat relevant. But this squad is set for a nosedive in the standings.
*Vit Krejci is expected to be a draft-and-stash prospect
Key Additions: (C/F) Montrezl Harrell, (G) Dennis Schroeder, (C) Marc Gasol, (G) Wesley Matthews
Draft: No draft additions
Key Departures: (G) Rajon Rondo, (G) Avery Bradley, (G) Danny Green, (C) Dwight Howard, (C) JaVale McGee
If anything, I’d actually say the Lakers got a tad better thanks to signing Schroeder and Harrell, but being the reigning champions and top seed in the Western Conference last year, there’s not much more room to go up. Most of the departures are replacement-level players who have now been replaced by other replacement-level players.
Key Additions: (F/C) Serge Ibaka, (G) Luke Kennard
Draft: (C) Daniel Oturu, (G) Jay Scrubb
Key Departures: (C/F) Montrezl Harrell, (G) Landry Shamet, (F) JaMychal Green
Losing Harrell, who was probably the best bench big in the league last year, will mostly be offset by Ibaka who can replace much of what Harrell did while also adding shooting. Kennard replaces Shamet and the Clippers will be able to tank Green’s loss just fine. Kawhi Leonard and Paul George will spur a second run at an NBA title provided things don’t fall apart in the locker room.
Key Additions: (F) JaMychal Green, (C) Isaiah Hartenstein
Draft: (G) R.J. Hampton, (C) Zeke Nnaji
Key Departures: (F) Jerami Grant, (G/F) Torrey Craig, (C) Mason Plumlee
Most of what the Nuggets lost were depth pieces with Grant being the biggest loss as top bench guy and occasional starter at 26 minutes per game. Green should be able to make up for that, though whether Plumlee’s backup center minutes can be filled effectively remains to be seen. Nnaji and Hartenstein, though both promising young bigs, are both highly inexperienced at the NBA level.
Key Additions: (G) Josh Richardson, (F) James Johnson, (F) Wesley Iwundu
Draft: (G/F) Josh Green, (G) Tyrell Terry, (F) Tyler Bey
Key Departures: (G) Seth Curry, (F) Justin Jackson, (G) Delon Wright
The Mavericks still have the exciting duo of Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis, but their offseason was rather underwhelming for a team trying to climb the standings (kind of like the Jazz). Sure, Josh Richardson is a quality addition, but nothing overwhelming. Doncic will continue to put up absurd numbers guys under 23 shouldn’t be putting up, but significant movement doesn’t seem to be on the table just yet unless a major move is incoming.
Key Additions: (F) Mario Hezonja
Draft: (G/F) Desmond Bane, (F/C) Xavier Tillman
Key Departures: (F) Josh Jackson
You can make the argument that the Grizzlies will improve via internal development. Ja Morant and Brandon Clarke were both excellent as rookies and the 21-year old Jaren Jackson Jr., who is just entering his third season, is no less exciting than either of those two.
Generally speaking though, until the youth they have transitions their talent into consistency and winning Memphis will remain an exciting, though ultimately irrelevant team at the back end of the playoff race.
To Be Determined
Key Additions: (G) John Wall, (C) DeMarcus Cousins, (F) Christian Wood
Draft: (F) Kenyon Martin Jr.
Key Departures: (G) Russell Westbrook, (F) Robert Covington, (G) Austin Rivers, (F) Jeff Green, (G) James Harden?
It’s too soon to have a final say on this since the Harden drama is still ongoing. The championship window in Houston has likely closed, but if Harden stays, the Rockets have the pieces to still be a solid playoff team. No, Wall isn’t going to be as good as Westbrook and losing Covington without a suitable replacement hurts. But Wood is a very good addition and if Cousins comes even close to his old peak it’ll be enough to make this a dangerous team night-in and night-out.
If Harden leaves, then the Rockets will drop from the middle of the playoff pack to a fringe playoff team at best.
Where the Jazz stand
So much of the west got better with only one team that looks to be getting worse in the short term. But not all of the teams climbing may reach Utah’s level so let’s organize the west into tiers for now to get that final answer as to where the Jazz actually stand among the best in the west.
Legit title contenders, clearly ahead of Utah
- LA Lakers
- LA Clippers
Slightly ahead of Utah, but within reach
- Denver Nuggets
- Houston Rockets (with Harden)
Slightly below Utah
- Portland Trail Blazers
- Dallas Mavericks
- Golden State Warriors
- Phoenix Suns
Clearly below Utah
- New Orleans Pelicans
- Houston Rockets (without Harden)
- Memphis Grizzlies
- San Antonio Spurs
- Sacramento Kings
- Minnesota Timberwolves
Where do you think Utah ends the season in the standings?
This poll is closed