Western Conference


Western Conference

Midwest Division

San Antonio Spurs

Coach: Gregg Popovich (221-139 in five seasons)

2000-01 record: 58-24, first, lost to Lakers in Western Conference finals

Best off-season acquisitions: Steve Smith, Bruce Bowen

Key off-season losses: Derek Anderson, Avery Johnson

What has to go right: David Robinson, 36, still has enough left to help Tim Duncan challenge Shaquille O'Neal more than they did in last season's playoffs while Steve Smith is a better clutch player than he was in Portland.

What can go wrong: All the older Spurs - from Robinson and Smith (32) to Terry Porter (38) and Danny Ferry (35) - collectively go south, leaving Duncan trying to battle the top-heavy Western teams by himself. Also, Antonio Daniels is not as good as the team's starting point guard as he was coming in to spell Johnson.

Likely scenario: Another second-round playoff loss.

Dallas Mavericks

Coach: Don Nelson (fifth season, 960-750 in 23 seasons)

2000-01 record: 53-29, tied for second, lost to San Antonio in Western Conference semifinals

Best off-season acquisition: Tim Hardaway

Key off-season losses: Howard Eisley, Calvin Booth

What has to go right: Owner Mark Cuban takes a lower profile and allows his talented team to not worry about what the NBA's richest groupie is going to say. Hardaway gives point guard Steve Nash a little help running the team, particularly in the playoffs.

What can go wrong: Juwan Howard returns to the malaise that affected him in Washington and 7-foot-6 Shawn Bradley gets knocked around by bigger, stronger centers in the West.

Likely scenario: With All-Stars like Michael Finley and Nash and rising star Dirk Nowitzki, the Mavericks make a bid to knock the Spurs out of the top spot in the Midwest. Doing the same to the Lakers is another story.

Utah Jazz

Coach: Jerry Sloan (14th season, 784-448 in 16 seasons)

2000-01 record: 53-29, tied for second, lost to Dallas in first round)

Best off-season acquisition: John Amaechi

Key off-season losses: Danny Manning, Olden Polynice

What has to go right: Karl Malone and John Stockton don't suddenly disappear, and Bryon Russell continues to be a solid third option, taking the Jazz as far as the Western Conference finals with the right draw.

What can go wrong: Malone and Stockton start playing like people approaching 40 - or in Stockton's case hitting 40 - and players such as Amaechi and Donyell Marshall can't deliver.

Likely scenario: Still among the smartest teams in the league, it's a question of how long before the team's collective age will catch up with Jazz.

Houston Rockets

Coach: Rudy Tomjanovich (432-304 in 10 seasons)

2000-01 record: 45-37, fifth, missed playoffs

Best off-season acquisitions: Kevin Willis, Glen Rice, draft pick Eddie Griffin

Key off-season loss: Hakeem Olajuwon

What has to go right: The backcourt of Steve Francis and Cuttino Mobley, one of the most dynamic in the league, continues to find enough shots for each other, and with Maurice Taylor apparently lost for the season with a torn Achilles' tendon, gets help inside from Kelvin Cato and Kevin Willis, 39, who returned last week in a three-way trade.

What can go wrong: The loss of Taylor is too much for a team on the brink of making the playoffs last season to overcome, and Francis doesn't have as good a third season as he did a second.

Likely scenario: Stevie Franchise lives up to his nickname, but losing Olajuwon and more recently Taylor might make it difficult for Rockets to get into playoffs.

Minnesota Timberwolves

Coach: Flip Saunders (227-213 in six seasons)

2000-01 season: 47-35, fourth, lost to San Antonio in first round

Best off-season acquisition: Joe Smith

Key off-season loss: LaPhonso Ellis

What has to go right: Smith becomes more than the third or fourth option that he was in his first stint in Minnesota, and Terrell Brandon becomes more of a true point guard than he has been.

What can go wrong: The loss of all those draft picks for signing Smith to an illegal contract starts catching up with the T'wolves, who don't have a true star except for Kevin Garnett.

Likely scenario: The T'wolves take a step back in their development because of the Smith deal and miss the playoffs.

Denver Nuggets

Coach: Dan Issel (171-191 in five seasons)

2000-01 season: 40-42, sixth, missed playoffs

Best off-season acquisitions: Isaiah Rider, Avery Johnson, Scott Williams

Key off-season loss: None

What has to go right: The Nuggets overcome the recent loss of All-Star forward Antonio McDyess, who will be out for at least three months after knee surgery for a torn patella tendon. Raef LaFrentz keeps showing an ability to score, and Johnson gives the Nuggets another solid ballhandler.

What can go wrong: McDyess' rehab goes slowly and the Nuggets are forced to play the entire season without him. Also, they have to count on Rider, which means they might finish behind the Grizzlies.

Likely scenario: Certainly not the record of last season.

Memphis Grizzlies

Coach: Sidney Lowe (second season, 56-161 in three seasons)

2000-01 season: 23-59 (in Vancouver), seventh, missed playoffs

Best off-season acquisition: Draft pick Shane Battier

Key off-season losses: Shareef Abdur-Rahim, Mike Bibby

What has to go right: Battier is nearly as effective as an NBA rookie as he was at Duke, even if it means going back to being a player who thinks defense first. Jason Williams, who came in the Bibby trade, somehow gets his game under control.

What can go wrong: Williams hangs out too much at B.B. King's place on Beale Street and second-year player Stromile Swift continues to struggle.

Likely scenario: A change of nickname. How about the Blues?

Pacific Division

Los Angeles Lakers

Coach: Phil Jackson (third season, 612-208 in 11 seasons overall)

2000-01 season: 56-26, first, won NBA championship over Philadelphia

Best off-season acquisitions: Mitch Richmond, Lindsey Hunter, Samaki Walker

Key off-season loss: Tyronn Lue, Isaiah Rider

What has to go right: Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant keep their personal differences out of the locker room, and their supporting cast proves just as strong as in the past two years. Hunter proves to be a better playoff player than he was in Milwaukee.

What can go wrong: O'Neal has more problems with the toe injury that kept him out of part of the preseason as well as renewed trouble with Bryant's need for an expanded scoring role, which occurred early last season before the two began to click. Hunter has a hard time playing point in the triangle offense in absence of Derek Fisher, out until mid-November after a second foot surgery.

Likely scenario: Jackson will become the first coach in NBA history to guide two different teams to threepeats.

Sacramento Kings

Coach: Rick Adelman (fourth season, 483-340 in 11 seasons)

2000-01 season: 55-27, second, lost to Los Angeles in Western Conference semifinals

Best off-season acquisitions: Mike Bibby, Gerald Wallace

Key off-season losses: Jason Williams, Jon Barry

What has to go right: After missing the first month or so with a badly sprained ankle, Chris Webber plays up to the form that made him a Most Valuable Player candidate last season, and Bibby proves a more reliable leader than Williams. That should be easy.

What can go wrong: In Webber's absence, Pedrag Stojakovic regresses and starts taking too many ill-advised shots, as Williams used to. Webber's ankle injury bothers him longer than expected, and the Kings don't get off to a good start.

Likely scenario: The Kings will be helped by Bibby, but not enough to dethrone Lakers in the West.

Portland Trail Blazers

Coach: Maurice Cheeks (first season)

2000-01 season: 50-32, fourth, lost to Los Angeles in first round

Best off-season acquisitions: Derek Anderson, Ruben Patterson, draft pick Zach Randolph

Key off-season losses: Steve Smith, Arvydas Sabonis

What has to go right: Cheeks has to gain control of a team that lost direction under former coach Mike Dunleavy. Rasheed Wallace, now the team's captain, grows up as Allen Iverson did for the 76ers last season.

What can go wrong: Wallace sets record for technicals, Scottie Pippen sets record for pouting and Bonzi Wells doesn't fully recover from last season's knee surgery.

Likely scenario: Wallace buys into the fact that he needs to be on the floor rather than on the bench or in the locker room. Still, the Blazers face an uphill climb to get back even with the Lakers.

Phoenix Suns

Coach: Scott Skiles (91-53 in two seasons)

2000-01 season: 51-31, third, lost to Sacramento in first round

Best off-season acquisitions: Stephon Marbury, Jud Buechler, John Wallace

Key off-season losses: Jason Kidd, Clifford Robinson

What has to go right: Penny Hardaway forms the West's best backcourt with Marbury, who continues his growth as one of the league's most explosive guards. Shawn Marion has a monster season.

What can go wrong: Marbury doesn't provide the kind of all-around leadership that Kidd did, and the lack of a true big man hurts the Suns come playoff time.

Likely scenario: As athletic as this team might be, with players such as Marbury, Hardaway and the fast-rising Marion, it's doubtful the Suns will get past the second round in the West.

Los Angeles Clippers

Coach: Alvin Gentry (second season, 119-144 in five seasons)

2000-01 season: 31-51, sixth, missed playoffs

Best off-season acquisition: Elton Brand

Key off-season loss: None

What has to go right: The arrival of Brand takes some pressure off Michael Olowokandi inside, and it provides another strong young player to add to a talented team that already includes Lamar Odom and Darius Miles.

What can go wrong: The curse of the Clippers continues to hamper this woebegone franchise, and the lack of an experienced point guard contributes to close losses (10 in overtime) as it did last season.

Likely scenario: The Clippers make the biggest turnaround in the NBA, and make a run at their first playoff spot since 1997.

Seattle SuperSonics

Coach: Nate McMillan (second season, 38-29 last season)

2000-01 season: 44-38, fifth, missed playoffs

Best off-season acquisitions: Calvin Booth, draft choice Vladimir Radmanovic

Key off-season loss: Ruben Patterson

What has to go right: Gary Payton, the veteran point guard who showed up in a jovial mood for training camp, is the glue that keeps this fragile team together. Former All-Star Vin Baker returns to form.

What can go wrong: Booth is not the kind of player the Sonics envisioned when they signed him for six years at nearly $6 million a season, and Payton reverts to his pouting self.

Likely scenario: After making some progress when McMillan took over, the Sonics keep going in the wrong direction and finish behind the Clippers in the Pacific.

Golden State Warriors

Coach: Dave Cowens (second season, 153-176 in five seasons)

2000-01 season: 17-65, seventh, missed playoffs

Best off-season acquisitions: Cedric Henderson, draft choices Jason Richardson and Troy Murphy

Key off-season losses: Vonteego Cummings, Corey Blount, Chris Porter

What has to go right: Antawn Jamison becomes the best frontcourt player this franchise has had since Chris Webber, and recently signed Marc Jackson is just as good as he was for long stretches as a rookie last season. Danny Fortson is healthy at power forward.

What can go wrong: Larry Hughes is more interested in scoring than setting people up at the point, and Murphy has a tough time adjusting to the speed of the NBA game.

Likely scenario: The Warriors improve tremendously over last season if they stay healthy, but not nearly enough to make playoffs in the West.

Copyright © 2020, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad