The Western Conference has been notoriously tough for over a decade now. Despite many great teams and champions coming out of the East Coast, the West features so much depth that you have to be very good just to sniff the playoffs.
The Kings haven't made the playoffs since the 2006-07 season, and haven't totaled more than 28 wins since 2007-08. The Kings have been in the Western Conference cellar and fans are itching for them to get out of it.
So how do this year's Kings stack up to the rest of the West? I
1. THE DIVINE INTERVENTION GROUP
San Antonio Spurs, Oklahoma City Thunder, Los Angeles Clippers, Memphis Grizzlies, Houston Rockets
These five teams are almost certain locks to be better than Sacramento this year. It would take a miracle or several devastating injuries for one or more of these teams to suffer that big of a drop off. Even if the Kings play to their full potential, I don't see them competing with these guys. The Spurs are just a few months removed from nearly knocking off the Miami Heat and have kept their core intact. Oklahoma City has Durant and Westbrook. The Clippers added a lot of nice depth to their team to go with Chris Paul and Blake Griffin. Memphis is not sexy, but they are very effective on both ends of the court and added a couple of shooting threats while losing no key contributors. Houston was already good and has added a healthy Dwight Howard to the mix. One of these teams is likely to come out on top of the West, and the Kings just don't stand up in comparison.
2. THE MAYBE I COULD SEE IT IF YOU GOT ME DRUNK ENOUGH GROUP
Golden State Warriors, Dallas Mavericks, Minnesota Timberwolves, Portland Trailblazers
The Warriors emerged last season in large part because of two things: a much improved defense, and a healthy Stephen Curry. Now, they lost Michael Malone, who was reportedly in charge of the defense, but they probably more than made up for it by adding one of the best defenders in the league in Andre Iguodala. They should also see continued improvement from young guys like Curry, Thompson, and Barnes. The Warriors are finally good, and they're here to stay until further notice. They do feature a couple of very injury prone players though.
Dallas on the other hand is seemingly on the decline. They missed the playoffs for the first time in over a decade last year, but Dirk was also injured for a large chunk of the year. They had hoped to retool this offseason, and while they added Monta Ellis, Samuel Dalembert, Jose Calderon and Devin Harris, it doesn't seem like enough to propel them back into the upper echelon. However it is probably enough to make them better than the Kings.
The Timberwolves are seemingly the unluckiest team in the league. They have lost their best players to injury for two years in a row now, and that's probably the only thing that has stopped them from breaking their NBA leading playoff drought. I'm willing to bet that their luck takes a turn for the better this year though, although it's kind of scary that their biggest offseason acquisition, Kevin Martin, is also very injury prone. Still, a healthy Wolves team is a scary team. Rubio, Martin, Love and Pekovic are great players, and head coach Rick Adelman is one of the best coaches in the league at getting the most from his teams. If rookies Shabazz Muhammad and Gorgui Dieng can be contributors at all, the Wolves will be pretty good.
Portland isn't exactly a great team. They might not even make the playoffs. But they've still got a lot of talent and have added depth this offseason. LaMarcus Aldridge, Nic Batum and Damian Lillard are a solid core. Robin Lopez gives them a legit center, and Dorell Wright, Mo Williams and rookie C.J. McCollum should provide offense off the bench. They should be in the running for the 8th seed, something I don't foresee being the case for Sacramento.
3. THE I WOULDN'T BE SHOCKED BUT I WOULD BE PLEASANTLY SURPRISED GROUP
Los Angeles Lakers, Denver Nuggets, New Orleans Hornets
The Lakers are an interesting situation. They lost Dwight Howard and coped with it by adding Chris Kaman, Nick Young and Wesley Johnson. That's ... not great. They also lost Metta World Piece, who for all his faults, was still a terrific defender and capable offensive weapon. Kobe Bryant will likely be out of commission until December, if not later. The destiny of the Lakers rests in the hands of Pau Gasol and Steve Nash, two future hall of famers on the downswing of their careers. Gasol will be L.A.'s main offensive weapon with Kobe out and Dwight gone, and he should benefit from the extra touches. Nash had a remarkable streak of good health seemingly come to an end last year and we will see if that's the case again this year. He will turn 40 years old towards the latter half of the season, and while he can still make his teammates better, his teammates aren't exactly up to his standard. The Lakers are in a situation where I wouldn't be surprised if they made the playoffs but I also wouldn't be surprised to see them near the bottom of the West.
Denver lost a lot of personnel this offseason. Much was made about the loss of Andre Iguodala, but I think losing George karl will prove to be the bigger loss. Karl had this team playing exciting, fast-paced basketball. New head coach Brian Shaw hasn't had a chance to make his mark on the league yet so we don't know what kind of changes he will make to the offense. Offensively, this team has a multitude of weapons. It's the other end of the court that seemingly should suffer. Denver can still be really good, but this year could be a bit of an adjustment period for them.
New Orleans had a pretty active offseason. They traded their lottery pick to Philadelphia for Jrue Holiday and then they signed Tyreke Evans away from the Kings. The loss of Vasquez in that deal wasn't much of a loss given the addition of Holiday. The trio of Holiday, Eric Gordon and Tyreke Evans gives the Pelicans one of the best guard rotations in the league, and if Evans can embrace the 6th man role, he could be a phenomenal addition. Anthony Davis should also see some substantial improvement in his sophomore year, and Ryan Anderson will continue to bomb away. The Pelicans are still a little weak up front defensively, so I can't see them making playoff noise, but they should be able to compete on a nightly basis.
4. THE FIRE MIKE MALONE IF WE AREN'T BETTER THAN THESE GUYS GROUP
Utah Jazz, Phoenix Suns
The Jazz had kind of a surprising offseason in that they didn't really try at all to re-sign Al Jefferson or Paul Millsap. Jefferson and Millsap combined for 31.4% of Utah's total points and 36.9% of Utah's total rebounds in the 2012-13 season. The Jazz also took on the expiring contracts of Andris Biedrins, Richard Jefferson and Brandon Rush from Golden State in a massive cap dump. Rush is the only one of those players who will likely make a meaningful contribution, should he come back healthy from his injury. Gordon Hayward will likely be the main guy for Utah on the offensive end, although rookie Trey Burke is expected to carry a large load as well. Burke had a rough summer league, but it's just summer league. Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors also will get the chance to prove themselves capable of large roles with Jefferson and Millsap gone. Still, I don't think Utah's objective is to win very many games.
Phoenix will almost certainly be the worst team in the West. Their best players, Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe, play the same position. Marcin Gortat is the only proven NBA big man on the roster. This is a team that might not his 20 wins this year (but somehow 1 or 2 of them will be against the Kings).
5. THE GUARANTEED TO BE BETTER THAN GROUP
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