Threats in the West

The San Antonio Spurs will face a revamped roster of Western Conference foes in this lockout-20112012previewshortened season.  Blockbuster trades in an abbreviated offseason have drastically altered the competitive landscape of not only perennial leaders but of up and coming challengers to the Western Conference elite.  Let’s take a look at the top four threats the Spurs will have to face on their march to a fifth title.

Oklahoma City Thunder

The Thunder are coming off of an appearance in the Western Conference finals, a first for the reconstituted franchise.  A team that has flown under the radar in a news-making offseason, the Thunder lost to the eventual NBA champion Mavericks in a series where four out of five games were decided by six points or less.  

With the late season signing of Kendrick Perkins, the Thunder have the kind of size that gives the Spurs fits.  The entire NBA struggles to stop the duo of Westbrook and Durant but, without a signature perimeter defender like Bruce Bowen, this offensive juggernaut presents particular problems for the Spurs.  Popovich will likely be forced to rely on the unpredictable play of his younger players to attempt to slow down an offense that averaged 104 points per game for fifth-best in the NBA.

Memphis Grizzlies

The Spurs have done little in the offseason to fix the problems that led to their untimely demise at the hands of the Grizz in the first round of last year’s playoffs.  Out-sized and outmatched in the front court, the Spurs were unable to handle a younger and bigger Memphis team.  After intense contract negotiations with Marc Gasol that led many to believe he would be a part of one of the blockbuster trades that stole headlines in recent days, the Grizzlies front office managed to re-sign him, making their roster virtually unchanged from the roster that vanquished the number one-seeded Spurs last season.

After waiving Antonio McDyess and Steve Novak, San Antonio will have to rely on the addition of rookie Kawhi Leonard and a more experienced Tiago Splitter to reinforce their front court against the Grizzlies.  Without additional moves by the Spurs, the Grizzlies loom not only in the Western Conference but in the Southwest Division as a potential problem for the team.

Los Angeles Lakers

Though the Lakers inability to land Chris Paul and their trade with the Mavericks that sent Lamar Odom to Dallas probably made their offseason a net negative for the franchise, this team still maintains size and talent.  With an aging Kobe Bryant, the Lakers are undoubtedly not what they used to be (and may not even turn out to be the best team in Los Angeles) however, until they are knocked off, they are still a veritable threat for Western Conference supremacy.  

Los Angeles Clippers 

If this post had been written two weeks ago, it would have been laughable to even consider the inclusion of the woeful Clippers.  What a change a week can make.  With the addition of Chris Paul and Caron Butler, as well as the signing of Chauncey Billups off of waivers to complement Blake Griffin who has quickly become one of the most exciting players in the game, the Clippers have catapulted themselves into contender status.

The athleticism of this team will be a challenge for an aging Spurs team.  Already being dubbed “Lob City,”  expect to see some impressive passing and explosive dunking coming from the “other” team that plays at Staples Center this season.  While this team still has a lot to prove on the court, they promise to be exciting and competitive – a challenge that the Spurs will have to overcome in a championship run.

Honorable Mention – Dallas Mavericks

While it may seem strange to not include the defending world champions on this list (isn’t that painful to say?), the Mavericks are not the same team that they were a year ago.  They have sent Caron Butler to the Clippers in exchange for a future draft pick and replaced him with a washed up Vince Carter.  Tyson Chandler, who led Dallas in rebounding last season, is in a Knicks uniform this year.  Although Dirk will remain Dirk, the Mavericks will be starting a 38 year old at point guard in Jason Kidd who will have to compete against the likes of Parker, Westbrook, and CP3 – one has to wonder how much longer he can stay competitive.  

If Marion and Odom can stay healthy, and Kidd can play at the level he did in last year’s playoffs, the Mavericks will certainly be a favorite to take the Southwest Division.  With many questions and more offseason losses than acquisitions, the Mavericks haven’t done quite enough to keep up with their Western Conference brethren.  That being said, do not underestimate this team – though they may not be the best in the west, they are still a heated rival with enough fire power to present problems for San Antonio throughout the regular season and into the playoffs.

What do you have to say Spurs fans? Is there another West team the Spurs should look out for?