The Western Conference is the Best-ern Conference, as they say. Last year, the 9th seeded Phoenix Suns finished with 48 wins, good for 3rd place in the Eastern Conference, but not good enough to even make the playoffs out West.
This summer saw a lot of change around the NBA, but the West still seems to be better than ever despite the transfer of one star (Kevin Love) to the East. Where do the Kings stack up?
Last year's Western playoff teams continue to look like contenders for this year. Few of those teams suffered any significant losses to personnel, and some, like Dallas, actually added depth. The bigger changes came from the fringe teams. New Orleans added Omer Asik while also hopefully getting back Ryan Anderson and Jrue Holiday, both of whom were injured for much of last year. Denver is likewise getting back Danilo Gallinari, who missed the entirety of the 2013-14 season due to back injury. Phoenix, last year's surprise team, is bringing back everybody and then some, having added Isaiah Thomas to what was already one of the better backcourts in the league. Yesterday's re-signing of Eric Bledsoe just solidifies it.
There were only two teams last year that were worse than the Kings in the West, the Lakers and the Jazz. Utah didn't particularly add anybody significant but they did retain Gordon Hayward and will see improvement from young guys like Trey Burke and Rudy Gobert. The Lakers will be getting Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash back, and also added Carlos Boozer, Ed Davis, Jeremy Lin and Julius Randle for some much needed depth. It's very possible that they could rebound a bit from an uncharismatic off-year.
The only team that's seemingly taken a significant step backwards this summer is the Minnesota Timberwolves, but they managed to come out of the Kevin Love trade smelling like roses given the fact that they were able to acquire Andrew Wiggins, Anthony Bennett and Thaddeus Young out of the deal. They've also still got Ricky Rubio, Kevin Martin, Gorgui Dieng and Nikola Pekovic to fall back on.
The Kings are still on the bottom looking up, and it will take either significant progress from the existing personnel, injuries to other teams, or a big infusion of talent/production (like the Rudy Gay trade) for the Kings to start clawing their way up the Western Conference. The biggest thing the Kings have going for them is DeMarcus Cousins, and the fact that one great player can make such a huge difference in the NBA. Cousins made big strides to become such a player last year, and a lot is riding on him to become even better in years to come. It's not all on him of course, as teammates have to step up their games and the front office has to bring in better teammates if they don't. Otherwise the Kings are destined to remain in the Western Conference cellar, waiting for a ladder to finally get out.