The Warriors were clearly the best Western Conference team last year, but we are now in a midst of one of the craziest off seasons in NBA history. So did one of these changes kick-start a team that can challenge Golden State for the Western Conference championship? Possible teams that could challenge the Warriors include: Houston Rockets, San Antonio Spurs, Oklahoma City Thunder, and Minnesota Timberwolves.
Houston Rockets: The Houston Rockets acquired guard Chris Paul in a trade with the Los Angeles Clippers that also sent Lou Williams, Patrick Beverly, Sam Dekker, Kyle Wiltjer, Montrezl Harrell, Deandre Liggins, Darrun Hilliard, a protected first round pick, and cash considerations. However, this blockbuster trade may not have put the Houston Rockets over the top. Although they gained a superstar guard in Chris Paul, they lost key role players in Lou Williams and Patrick Beverly. Lou was a consistent scorer off the bench, and led the league in bench points last season, while Beverly brought energy to the team and was the heart and soul of their organization. There are also questions about how Chris Paul and James Harden will mesh together on the same team. Both are athletic playmakers who are dominant ball handlers. However, despite all of these doubts, the Houston Rockets will still outplay most of the competition in the Western Conference, and end the season as the two seed.
San Antonio Spurs: The San Antonio Spurs have added one key piece (so far) this free agency in Rudy Gay. Gay is a solid scorer and should fit nicely next to superstar forward, Kawhi Leonard. The Spurs are also trying to land former league MVP, Derrick Rose, who would most likely take the starting spot of Tony Parker. However, the Spurs are openly shopping former all-star power forward, Lamarcus Aldridge, who seems to be severely agitated that Kawhi is the teams first option, over himself. The team is also frustrated as they feel Aldridge performed sub-par following the Kawhi Leonard injury. Whether or not Aldridge will be on the team next year is questionable, however, if Kawhi Leonard continues to improve at the same rapid rate he has been, and Rudy Gay proves he is still one of the leagues best scorers, you can never count coach Popovich out of the race.
Oklahoma City Thunder: After just one season, the Oklahoma City Thunder have already attempted to replace former superstar, Kevin Durant. In the trade of the off season, the Thunder sent away Victor Oladipo and Damantas Sabonis for the All-NBA forward. This trade also salary dumps Victor Oladipo who is currently under a four year $84 million dollar contract extension. Although it’s clear that Paul George is not as good as Kevin Durant, he is still a nice compensation that will dominate while Westbrook is off the court, which was Oklahoma Citys biggest problem last year. The Thunder get eaten alive when Westbrook is off the court, but Paul George will be able to play a lot of those minutes, and soften the blow. George will also help when Russell is fatigued in the fourth quarter, and starts to take bad, off balance shots. However, the Thunder still have not put enough pieces together to support their stars in order to compete with such a team as the Warriors.
Minnesota Timberwolves: This might just be the most interesting team to watch this season. It was already obvious that the Timberwolves were building towards something special the last few seasons, but with the addition of Jimmy Butler, the Minnesota Timberwolves are finally ready to make the next jump into the playoffs. The Wolves also added other veteran presences such as Jeff Teague and Jamal Crawford. Teague is a solid point guard who can act as a fourth option in the starting lineup. Crawford is one of the best sixth men of all time, and still averages over 12 points per game. Barring some sort of injury, the Timberwolves will no doubt grab a playoff spot. However, the Wolves still have some years to go before they can compete with the top level Western Conference teams.
With this said, barring any sort of injury, the Warriors should still roll through the Western Conference. However, in a few years, any of these teams could grow and challenge the Warriors for a spot in the NBA Finals.