The Utah Jazz won the Northwest title last year. How will the departure of Gordon Hayward and arrival of Jimmy Butler and Paul George affect the division this season?
1. Minnesota Timberwolves
Major Additions: Jimmy Butler, Taj Gibson, Jeff Teague, Justin Patton, Jamal Crawford
Major Losses: Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn, possibly Shabazz Muhammed
The Timberwolves made a blockbuster move earlier in the summer with the acquisition of Jimmy Butler from the Chicago Bulls in exchange for young guards Zach LaVine and Kris Dunn. The move easily puts the Wolves in contention for a home court playoff spot in the Western Conference next year. The team was also able to sign point guard, Jeff Teague, to a 3yr, $57 million dollar contract later in the summer. The new Minnesota backcourt is a significant upgrade from last years guard tandem of Ricky Rubio and Zach LaVine. The Timberwolves now have one of the most star-studded starting units in the league and a bench including Jamal Crawford and either Taj Gibson or Gorgui Dieng to keep up in the West. Young PG Tyus Jones, who’s shown potential in his first few years with the T-Wolves, may get more playing time this year as a result of the departure of Rubio and Dunn. With increased shooting and star power this season, expect Minnesota to be a top team in the West and make the playoffs for the first time since the KG era.
17-18 Record Prediction: 59-23
2. Oklahoma City Thunder
16-17 Record: 47-35
Major Additions: Paul George, Patrick Patterson, Raymond Felton
Major Losses: Victor Oladipo, Domantas Sabonis, Taj Gibson, Anthony Morrow, Norris Cole
The Thunder completed the other huge Northwest Division trade earlier in the summer with the acquisition of F Paul George from the Indiana Pacers. In the deal, they gave up slasher, Victor Oladipo, and young stretch big man, Domantas Sabonis. The move should improve the team’s win total from last season and get them in the running for a home court playoff seed in the playoffs. They also replace Taj Gibson with fellow PF Patrick Patterson. The signing gives the Thunder much needed shooting at a bargain. They also bring in veteran PG Raymond Felton to play behind Russell Westbrook and provide extra backcourt depth. Despite the loss of a few young playmakers, Oklahoma City looks ready to make noise in the stacked West this season with their new superstar duo.
17-18 Record Prediction: 55-27
3. Denver Nuggets
16-17 Record: 40-42
Major Additions: Paul Millsap, Trey Lyles, Tyler Lydon, Monte Morris
Major Losses: Danilo Gallinari, Roy Hibbert, Mike Miller, Alonzo Gee
Along with my top two teams in this division, the Nuggets also made an impactful acquisition earlier this summer in their sign-and-trade for PF Paul Millsap. Millsap returns to the Northwest Division after 4 years in Atlanta with the Hawks. The frontcourt of him and Nikola Jokic will be a nightmare for teams due to both player’s innate playmaking ability. The team traded for PFs Trey Lyles and Tyler Lydon on draft night in exchange for 13th pick, Donovan Mitchell. The move gives Denver a stretch 4 in Lyles to play behind Millsap and help fill out the depth chart at the power forward position. A backcourt consisting of young talents Emmanuel Mudiay, Jamal Murray, and Gary Harris will improve next year. I think Murray has the potential to put up 15+ppg this season and become the team’s full-time starter at the 2. The team did lose wing scorer, Danilo Gallinari, to the Los Angeles Clippers, but do have experienced F Wilson Chandler to come in and start full time this year. With the Millsap addition and help from young players, I think Denver will get over the hump and make the playoffs this year.
17-18 Record Prediction: 49-33
4. Portland Trail Blazers
16-17 Record: 41-41
Major Additions: Andrew Nicholson, Zach Collins, Caleb Swanigan
Major Losses: Allen Crabbe, Festus Ezeli, Tim Quarterman
The Blazers are coming off a year where they squeaked out a playoff spot over the Denver Nuggets. While Denver brought Paul Millsap to the Mile High City, Portland wasn’t able to make any significant moves this summer, which could devastate their playoff chances. The Western Conference is as loaded as it possibly ever has been and despite having one of the best backcourts in the NBA, they’ll most likely be on the outside looking in come playoff time. Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum were the highest scoring backcourt in the entire NBA last season, though still were only able to grab their team the 8 seed in the West. The team is yet to find a solid starter at the 3 after the Evan Turner failure of a signing last season. The team was able to massively decrease their luxury tax by sending Allen Crabbe to Brooklyn; however, the move does them no good in the win column. Portland added several young frontcourt prospects to their team in this year’s draft and it will be interesting to see how that works out for them. As for this season, Dame and C.J. give them a slim chance, but the West is too ridiculous to start thinking playoffs again.
17-18 Record Prediction: 35-47
5. Utah Jazz
16-17 Record: 51-31
Major Additions: Donavan Mitchell, Joe Ingles, Jonas Jerebko, Thabo Sefolosha, Tony Bradley, Ricky Rubio, Nigel Williams-Goss, Ekpe Udoh
Major Losses: Gordon Hayward, Trey Lyles, George Hill, Shelvin Mack, Boris Diaw
It’s rare to see a defending division champ end up dead last in the same division the very next year, but I’m afraid that’s what we’ll get in the Utah Jazz in the 17-18 season. From where it now positions the West, I think the Gordon Hayward departure will have a similar effect on the Jazz as the LeBron decision in 2009 had on the Cavs, despite the margin between the two’s talent. This move could quite possibly push Utah all the way back to last in the West after making their first post Williams-Boozer playoff appearance last season. The team will also lose veteran PG, George Hill, to Sacramento, and two members of their frontcourt from last year in Trey Lyles and Boris Diaw. The Jazz still have C Rudy Gobert and talented rookie G Donavan Mitchell to build around for the future, but this offseason will sting fans in Salt Lake City for a while.
17-18 Record Prediction: 28-54