It won’t be lonely at the top for the Golden State Warriors.
After the Warriors breezed through the 2017 Western Conference playoffs with a 15-1 record on the way to collecting their second NBA title in three years, it was easy to wonder if the rest of the teams in the Western Conference would hold off making any significant moves, and instead wait for this Warriors dynasty to show signs of weakness.
Well, think again. If there’s anything we’ve learned in the NBA’s offseason of 2017, it’s that the rest of the West has no intention of waiting for any cracks to appear in Golden State’s facade.
While Utah Jazz forward Gordon Hayward pulled the reverse commute and decamped for the Boston Celtics and the Eastern Conference, for the most part traffic has been heading the other direction. So far, three of last season’s Eastern Conference All-Stars are reportedly moving out West for 2017-18. And when the free-agency dust settles and deals become official, 13 of last season’s top 20 scorers will ply their trade out West.
And so the rich get richer, as a Conference already stacked with strong teams appears to have only gotten stronger.
GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS
All the above isn’t to say the Warriors have relinquished their lead on the field. Golden State not only reportedly re-signed Stephen Curry to the richest contract in NBA history and re-upped with Kevin Durant, they also reached reported extensions with with their two most important reserves, Shaun Livingston and Andre Iguodala.
While several question marks remain around other positions, with guard Nick Young reportedly joining to provide even more shooting off the bench, the core of this Warriors team appears to be committed to staying together for at least the next few seasons.
Behind Kia MVP runner-up James Harden, the Houston Rockets mounted a historic offensive attack in 2016-17, attempting 40.3 3-pointers per game en route to a 55-27 record, although the San Antonio Spurs dismissed them from the playoffs in the Western Conference semifinals.
Not content to simply put the band back together, Houston struck big this offseason, pulling off a huge trade with the LA Clippers for point guard Chris Paul, creating one of the most high-powered backcourts in the NBA. The Rockets also found help on the other side of the ball, reportedly agreeing to a deal with defensive stopper PJ Tucker and reportedly re-signing center Nene. And considering the track record of Rockets GM Daryl Morey, we can only assume the Rockets aren’t finished wheeling and dealing yet.
OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER
The Oklahoma City Thunder rode Russell Westbrook’s Kia MVP season to a 47-35 record, but were eliminated 4-1 in the first round of the postseason by Houston.
Thunder GM Sam Presti responded by making a typically bold move, acquiring four-time All-Star Paul George from Indiana in exchange for Victor Oladipo and Domatas Sabonis. While George has just one year remaining under contract, he is one of the NBA’s best two-way players and should help diversify an offense that last year relied heavily on Westbrook. Presti also filled the minutes left behind by Sabonis by reportedly signing former Toronto Raptors forward Patrick Patterson to a three-year contract while also reportedly re-signing defensive specialist Andre Roberson.
Like George, Jimmy Butler of the Chicago Bulls found his name mentioned in trade rumors for months. But now Butler has also gone West, acquired in a trade by his former coach Tom Thibodeau and the Minnesota Timberwolves.
The Wolves also moved longtime point guard Ricky Rubio to Utah, clearing room to reportedly sign former All-Star Jeff Teague away from Indiana, and reportedly also sign another Thibs favorite free agent, forward Taj Gibson. After a 31-51 finish a season ago, the stakes are suddenly much higher for these Wolves.
The Denver Nuggets reportedly said goodbye to Danilo Gallinari this summer as he left for the Clippers in a sign-and-trade deal involving three teams. They filled that void by reportedly signing Atlanta Hawks All-Star forward Paul Millsap, who has developed into one of the NBA’s most complete post players.
Millsap will join Denver’s star center Nikola Jokic and a collection of other forwards as they look to improve from last season’s 40-42 record, when they missed a postseason berth by one game.
THE REST OF THE WEST …
Other Western Conference teams that have been busy this summer include the Clippers, who are coming off the greatest sustained run of success in franchise history, including three trips to the Western Conference semifinals in the last six seasons. But this summer they decided to shake things up. While they re-signed Blake Griffin to a reported 5-year contract, the trade of Paul will fundamentally change the franchise DNA. The addition of Gallinari should give them their best offensive small forward option in years.
The Sacramento Kings reportedly agreed to deals with free agent vets George Hill and Zach Randolph, to provide leadership to one of the league’s youngest rosters.
The Los Angeles Lakers made a fundamental shift, trading point guard D’Angelo Russell to the Brooklyn Nets for big man Brook Lopez, then taking Lonzo Ball second overall in the 2017 NBA Draft. Other teams, most notably the Spurs, have been conspicuous by their relative lack of movement in the early stages of free agency.
No matter what else happens, it’s clear that the Western Conference is the NBA’s heavyweight division. Now it’s just up to the Warriors to fend off all challengers. Which might be tougher than it sounds.
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