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Scott Howard-Cooper

Utah's post-draft move to re-acquire Mo Williams gives them an early lift in the West race.
Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images

Second-tier teams in West send message in Draft, afterwards

Posted Jul 4 2012 8:45AM

The 24 hours that changed the Western Conference, for now and possibly an entire NBA generation, began with a predictable move that didn't hint at the days to come: the Hornets used the No. 1 pick on Anthony Davis. New Orleans will be improved, as everyone knew since the May 30 lottery.

Except the rollout of change didn't stop.

The Trail Blazers and Warriors did well in the Draft. The Rockets may have, too, with the uncertainty that it's impossible to know whether Jeremy Lamb, Royce White and Terrence Jones will be on the roster on Opening Night or elsewhere as part of the massive move Houston was envisioning a week ago. The selections broke right for the Kings to get Thomas Robinson at No. 5 when they would have given him a hard look if they possessed the No. 2 pick.

The West got a lot better in the Draft although the top teams, understandably, did not improve. One caveat: the Thunder could be rewarded one day for standing still and having the enigmatic Perry Jones III fall into their arms at No. 28. The clubs in the bottom half of the conference, though, all made moves that opposing executives saw as good calls, based on conversations with front-office decisions makers leading up to last Thursday night.

The Jazz got in the middle of the Clippers-Mavericks Lamar Odom deal the day after the Draft and came out of it with Mo Williams as a needed upgrade at point guard while giving up nothing.

Between the rare occurrence of sound picks all around and this move by Utah, the distance between the pack leaders in the West and those making the climb up got a lot smaller at once.

It's the early stage of the offseason, of course, and the bigger names will have a chance to push back. The Mavericks, one year removed from winning the championship, are shaping their salary cap for a bold strike -- though they've lost out on Deron Williams. The Clippers will have made an important addition if Odom re-engages. The Lakers are trying to be active. Tony Wroten Jr., the No. 25 pick by the Grizzlies, is a good pickup. But this has so far been about the second tier.

Houston (No. 9 pick), Phoenix (No. 10), Portland (No. 11), Golden State (No. 13), Sacramento (No. 14) and New Orleans (No. 15) all did well in the Draft and No. 8 Utah, with no first-rounder, made its move a day later with the trade (and followed up with getting Marvin Williams from Atlanta for Devin Harris.)

Only Minnesota, at No. 12, stayed low-key, sending the 18th pick to the Rockets for Chase Budinger rather than the uncertainty of the choice. The Timberwolves will be better next season with coach Rick Adelman finally getting a training camp to help second-year guard Ricky Rubio and forward Derrick Williams, among others.

"I'd like the West to get weaker," said Bob Myers, the general manager of the Warriors, one of the teams whose job just got tougher to make the playoffs. "The West always seems to be getting stronger."

• Houston -- No one had a bad Draft, but it was a disappointing one for the Rockets, a team in search of bigger game. Lamb, though, has the potential to be an impact scorer from the backcourt. White and Jones are versatile prospects who can fit in a variety of ways.

Phoenix -- Kendall Marshall was the best distributing point guard in the Draft and the second-best overall at the position behind scoring point Damian Lillard. Picking him to eventually replace Steve Nash made sense on a lot of levels. That it took less than a week from the Draft for Nash's departure to appear imminent makes the Marshall selection seem even better.

Portland -- With holes at both positions, the Trail Blazers got the best point guard available, Lillard, and the consensus second-best center, Meyers Leonard. They also landed well-regarded shooting guard Will Barton at No. 40. The night could not have turned out much better.

Golden State -- Myers, in his first major act as a rookie general manager, lost the ideal outcome once primary target Dion Waiters went No. 4 to the Cavaliers. But getting Harrison Barnes seventh, Festus Ezeli 30th and Draymond Green 35th was as well as the Warriors could have done under the circumstances, addressing small forward (Barnes and Green) and toughness (Ezeli and Green) needs.

Sacramento -- With Robinson, an athletic, nonstop worker at power forward, and DeMarcus Cousins, an emerging force at center, it is easy to see why the Kings envision their big-man tandem for the next decade.

New Orleans -- Davis, the clear best talent, would have been enough. But the Hornets added the potential of Austin Rivers as a versatile scorer with the 10th pick. They'll have to work through the adjustment of Rivers learning to distribute more, though. Darius Miller has a chance to stick as the 45th choice.

Utah -- Re-acquiring Williams? With the low risk of one year left on his contract? For a trade exception and the rights to unsigned 2008 second-rounder Tadija Dragicevic? No. Brain. Er.

That's a lot of good moves at once for several teams that either suffered through 2011-12 or, in the case of the Jazz, are early in the climb. That's a lot of teams that just greatly increased the depth of an entire conference. That's the new West.

Scott Howard-Cooper has covered the NBA since 1988. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

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