The Minnesota Timberwolves improved their roster drastically by adding three-time All-Star center Rudy Gobert, but they weren’t the one team within the West that got higher. With key playoff teams getting healthy, in addition to high draft picks and significant free agent signings, the Wolves actually won’t have a better road to a top-eight finish within the Western Conference.
Third-year leaps from Anthony Edwards and Jaden McDaniels can be crucial to Minnesota’s play in 2022-23, in addition to Head Coach Chris Finch’s ability to place the puzzle pieces together to form a bunch that has the power to compete with the league’s best. Even when every part goes right for the Timberwolves, there surely won’t be a scarcity of tests from their conference foes all year long.
The Best within the West
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Commencing at the highest of the West, the Phoenix Suns matched a max offer sheet for center Deandre Ayton. Fans and experts alike weren’t totally sure whether the Suns would match a max offer for the previous No. 1 overall pick, but as time went on it was assumed they’d keep their championship-ready roster in tact, regardless of the fee. In the event that they let Ayton walk, they’d’ve jeopardized their likelihood at making it back the NBA Finals after their 2021 battle with the Milwaukee Bucks. Phoenix also added shooting guards Damion Lee and former-Timberwolf Josh Okogie, while resigning center Bismack Biyombo and losing JaVale McGee to the Dallas Mavericks.
Overall, the Suns made moves on the margins after locking down their starting center. Okogie and Lee will give them added depth on the shooting guard/small forward spot. Their moves weren’t flashy, but they’ll keep them within the hunt for an NBA Finals appearance.
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The 2021-22 NBA Champion Golden State Warriors had a more complex offseason than the previous two, with the front office having to contemplate upcoming extensions/latest deals for Jordan Poole and Andrew Wiggins (and to a lesser degree Draymond Green and Klay Thompson). This limited their spending this summer, but they still made some rock-solid moves.
The Warriors signed Donte DiVincenzo to a two-year, $9.2 million deal, JaMychal Green to a one-year, $2.6 million deal, in addition to resigned Kevon Looney to a latest three-year, $22.5 million deal. All three can be immediate contributors, which, combined with their stars, will propel them to the highest of the West yet again. Losing Otto Porter Jr. and the spacing he provides hurts, but JaMychal Green may also help stop any hemorrhaging which will come from his loss (although he shot just 26% from 3 last 12 months, down 10% from his profession average).
Will they be back?
Barring unexpected events, it seems as if these three teams can be return to the highest of the West’s standings. With the celebs and crucial role players returning to Golden State and Phoenix, they’ve solidified their spot within the elite tier of the Western Conference.
Middle of the Pack
The Memphis Grizzlies’ offseason is highlighted by the signing of Ja Morant to five-year $193 million (could reach $231 million). Regardless of how you are feeling concerning the contract, it was inevitable. Just like the Suns, Memphis made a couple of deals on the margins to solidify their spot amongst those firmly within the hunt for home court advantage.
The Grizzlies traded De’Anthony Melton to the Philadelphia 76ers for the No. 23 pick that turned out to be Minneapolis-native David Roddy, and signed (one other Minnesota native) Tyus Jones to a two-year $29 million deal. The front office clearly decided the guard spot was a position to handle, as in addition they drafted Kennedy Chandler from Tennessee. Morant’s injury history was likely the major motivation behind that.
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The Dallas Mavericks lost Jalen Brunson this summer, in what must be an impactful one which will signal the return of Luka Dončić’s ultra hero-ball (although, did it ever really leave?). Nevertheless, they added swingman Christian Wood in a trade before the draft, in addition to signing previously-mentioned JaVale McGee. Size was obviously an area of concern, as they now pivot from the small ball Dwight Powell/Maxi Kleber/Dãvis Bertãns front-court rotation. Jason Kidd can surely still go small as they did last 12 months, but adding a flexible big like Wood — and a rim defender like McGee — helps them diversify their front-court.
All eyes are on Spencer Dinwiddie this 12 months, as he’ll must take over Brunson’s role for this team going forward. One other 12 months faraway from his ACL tear, he showed flashes of getting back to where he was before his injury.
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Following the Mavericks in last season’s standings is the Utah Jazz, who — as of straight away — are pulling a “Portland Trail Blazers,” by which they claim to be retooling around their star, when in point of fact it’s not possible to inform in the event that they’re actually retooling or in the event that they’ll trade their star tomorrow. Either way, it’s unlikely they’re back in the highest five — or within the playoffs in any respect — next season.
The Wolves benefited from Utah deciding they’d reached their peak with the entire “Mitchell and Gobert” thing, but with latest additions Patrick Beverley, Malik Beasley, Jarred Vanderbilt and Walker Kessler, the Jazz got a couple of pieces that may contribute immediately. Nevertheless, trading Royce O’Neale to the Brooklyn Nets for a first-round pick tells us what this team is planning on doing (oh, and the pick haul from Minnesota does that too).
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With a healthy Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr., the Denver Nuggets are a chief candidate to outperform last season’s record.
Aside from getting two of their best players back, in addition they had quite the offseason. Denver signed do-it-all guard Bruce Brown to a two-year contract that’ll pay him roughly $6.5 million per season. The University of Miami product is an quick impact defender, can play any position 2-5, and in addition shot 40% from 3-point range last season (on 1.3 attempts per game). In an effort to handle their perimeter defense, the Nuggets also acquired guards Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Ish Smith from the Washington Wizards. The returns of Murray and Porter Jr. — plus the addition of Caldwell-Pope and Brown — has Denver able to compete with the very best out west.
Will they make a jump? Will the regress?
I expect a little bit of regression from Memphis (Jaren Jackson Jr. being out until likely after Christmas, Kyle Anderson and Melton leaving, etc.), however it shouldn’t be a drastic fall off given their experience playing without stars. With the Nuggets primed for a jump and the Jazz prone to fall within the standings, the Mavericks are rather more difficult to project headed into next season. Briefly: Brunson out, Wood and McGee in. Does that make them higher? I’m unsure it does. But, as mentioned, it really hinges on Dinwiddie. If he produces like 2019-20 Dinwiddie, and emerges as a stud second option, they’ll be a greater team than last 12 months’s squad. Getting a healthy Tim Hardaway Jr. may also give them one other scoring option.
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Fighting for a playoff spot
To reiterate, I’m going (mostly) so as of last season’s final standings. This order isn’t a final standings projection for next season.
The Timberwolves — just like the Nuggets and Los Angeles Clippers — are a candidate for ascending the standings within the West next season. The addition of Gobert is at the guts of that ascension, with Anderson absorbing a task within the rotation right off the bat.
Edwards and the leap he takes next season is essential to any improvements the Wolves make, and the identical could possibly be said for his fellow third-year teammate, McDaniels. They each have areas of their game to develop — partially taking on as point-of-attack defender for Beverley and the high-motor Vanderbilt being two areas — and can be relied on to adequately make that leap.
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A team that’s rightfully getting a ton of buzz heading into next season is the Latest Orleans Pelicans. Without their foundational star, Zion Williamson, NOLA made the play-in tournament and secured the eighth and final playoff spot. They ended up losing to the Suns in six games, but showed significant promise within the series.
Adding Williamson to a core of CJ McCollum, Brandon Ingram, Herb Jones and Jonas Valanciunas has loads of upside, and Willie Green proved to be an excellent hire after 12 months one.
Outside of drafting Dyson Daniels and EJ Liddell (who tore his ACL in Summer League), the Pelicans had a comparatively quiet offseason. With a necessity for more ball handling, Daniels should slide in and supply that in a pinch, provided that he’s just 19 years old.
Actually among the best teams on paper, the Clippers will look to leapfrog possibly everyone ahead of them within the West’s standings next season. With Kawhi Leonard getting back from injury, Paul George, Norman Powell, Robert Covington, John Wall, Marcus Morris and more, they’re (seemingly) a lock for home-court in the primary round of the playoffs, health permitting.
Retaining Ivica Zubac, Reggie Jackson and Nicolas Batum was the goal this summer, they usually completed it, on the expense of an enormous luxury bill. That’s no problem, though, because the Clippers have the richest owner in American skilled sports, Steve Ballmer (net value of $91.4 billion, per Forbes). With their returning solid, they’re set to place league on notice.
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A team that’s moving in the wrong way — but could possibly be equally helpful long-term — is the San Antonio Spurs. Sending Dejounte Murray to Atlanta signaled the start of what appears like the first-ever rebuild for the Spurs, as they received three first-round picks and a pick swap for his or her All-Star guard.
That they had a really nice draft, choosing high-upside rookies Jeremy Sochan, Malaki Branham and Blake Wesley. Now, they’ll let their superstar player development staff take the reins. We’ll revisit in 2-3 years.
Will they make it out of the play-in in 2022-23?
It seems a protected bet that the Timberwolves and Clippers find themselves sitting comfortably come playoff time, meaning they’ll likely finish in the highest six within the West after 82 games. As for the Pelicans, it’s actually a possibility they avoid the play-in, but I’m not as confident in them as I’m with the Wolves and Clippers. The Spurs, alternatively, might just do their best to win the Victor Wembanyama sweepstakes, even though it is the Spurs. I wouldn’t think Gregg Popovich would come back to tank, but we’ll see.
The Los Angeles Lakers are running it back with their core from last 12 months, which is each surprising and never surprising considering how hard it’s to maneuver Russell Westbrook.
The additions of Lonnie Walker IV and Thomas Bryant give some much-needed youth to the rotation, despite their individual limitations.
Personally, I believe the additions Los Angeles made seem minuscule when considering the problems that arose with their big three last season. A healthy Anthony Davis will make an enormous difference, but newly-hired Darvin Ham could have his work cut out for him with this trio.
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The Sacramento Kings drafted do-it-all forward Keegan Murray (that’s all of the praise he’ll get from this Gopher), signed Malik Monk, and purchased Kevin Huerter.
Giving Domantas Sabonis a full summer to get acclimated is possibly the most important win, as gelling with De’Aaron Fox before the season starts could possibly be probably the most helpful of all offseason moves. As a long-time Wolves fan that empathizes with long-term mediocrity (which is generous), I’m rooting for the Kings this season.
In case you thought we’d get even one crumb of insight into what the Trail Blazers were considering long-term, the Shaedon Sharpe pick didn’t help much. The 19-year-old has show-stopping potential, but can’t be expected to be a right away star after not playing in his lone season at Kentucky. The acquisition of Jerami Grant and signing of Gary Payton II before drafting Sharpe seems counterintuitive, but I suppose I understand the choice.
Each the Oklahoma City Thunder and Houston Rockets did what they needed to do that offseason, which is actually just nail the draft. Chet Holmgren and Jabari Smith Jr. look like good selections, as do picks Tari Eason, TyTy Washington Jr., Jaylin Williams and Jalen Williams (love that).
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Will they make a run on the play-in?
While the Thunder and Rockets may improve, they’ll proceed their rebuild this 12 months. Meanwhile, the Lakers and Kings will certainly be in the combination for a spot within the play-in tournament. Things can’t go much worse for Los Angeles this season, so predicting improvement is straightforward. The Blazers are the wild card, as they actually got higher this summer, and on top of that can be getting Damian Lillard back this season.
With the Jazz and Spurs as exceptions, principally your complete Western Conference got higher or retained their status as elite this summer. The Timberwolves were a giant a part of that — which is exciting — however it surely doesn’t mean they’ll have a straightforward road to avoid the play-in tournament. Teams just like the Nuggets, Clippers and Pelicans will all be battling for a spot, and Minnesota could have to prove that they will hang tough to complete ahead of them.