It’s quite possible -- no, very real -- that a division that lost a top-five player over the summer is nonetheless the best collection of teams in the NBA. Four of the five teams in the Northwest Division may be strong playoff contenders and two are 50-win quality. And one of them, which happens to be Kevin Durant’s former team, has a Kia MVP candidate. Last season the division was dominated by OKC, but the Portland Trail Blazers finished strong in the playoffs. And now, the Minnesota Timberwolves, with coach Tom Thibodeau taking over, and the Utah Jazz, with a mix of youth and vets, look to be much improved. Expect a spirited contest for the division crown between Portland and OKC, while the developing Denver Nuggets aren’t your typical basement dweller.
Team On The Rise
Minnesota Timberwolves -- A new coach and culture could mean a big leap from 29 wins a year ago.
Team On The Decline
Oklahoma City Thunder -- If you lose Kevin Durant of course you’ll stumble, but just a smidge. Russell Westbrook will see to that.
Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder -- He’s the best player in the NBA without an MVP award, although that could change as Russ prepares to be a solo star.
Player On The Rise
Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves -- The reigning Kia Rookie of the Year has already established himself among centers and is just getting started.
Terry Stotts, Portland Trail Blazers -- Stotts has the Trail Blazers humming by devising an exciting and offensively devastating system geared to maximizing guard play and shooting.
Coach On The Hot Seat
Mike Malone, Denver Nuggets -- Quite honestly, nobody in the division is feeling heat. Yet Malone needs to get measurable improvement from several young players.
Kris Dunn, Minnesota Timberwolves -- The Wolves have had the last two Rookies of the Year. Dunn could make a strong bid for three straight if he beats out Ricky Rubio on the Wolves' depth chart.
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