Spurs still atop shifting Western Conference, barely


The free agency period is now eight days old and there's been quite a bit of proposed movement so far (remember, nothing is official until July 10).  While the San Antonio Spurs mostly have stayed the same, several other teams have seen some major changes.  With the addition of Dwight Howard, the Houston Rockets have put themselves in contender status, though their team still has some question marks.  Meanwhile, the Golden State Warriors added a great piece in Andre Iguodala that should have them pushing the Los Angeles Clippers for first place in the Pacific Division.  Despite those improvements, the San Antonio Spurs should still be considered slight favorites in the West, if only because there's less uncertainty in their roster heading in to next season.

Say what you want about Howard, but when he's healthy and happy, he makes just about any roster a playoff team.  Pairing him with James Harden should make them a lethal team inside and out.  Still, there are questions about how the two will fit and what hasn't been mentioned much is whether Houston will be good enough with Howard and bunch of average to below average to win multiple seven game series come playoff time.  What they get back for Omer Asik, who has formally requested a trade, will further determine the amount of their success.

While the Golden State Warriors added perhaps the best perimeter defender in the league in Iguodala, they have lost their back up point guard and power forward in Jarrett Jack and Carl Landry.  I think Steph Curry's improved playmaking and Iguodala's all-around brilliance will more than make up for Jack's absence, this team will still take some time to gel.  What's more concerning from a Spurs perspective is the Warriors small ball line up, which already gave San Antonio problems last May, could become deadly.  The Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Iguodala, Harrison Barnes and Andrew Bogut line up has the possibility of being a nightmare for the Spurs and any other team for that matter.

The Spurs have seemingly decided they're good with trotting out mostly the same team that was seconds away from winning an NBA title.  Marco Belinelli should be an upgrade over Gary Neal.  He's a better ball handler and overall a smarter basketball player.  However, they still lack a back up small forward and more generally speaking, athleticism.  Despite that, thanks to their overall depth and familiarity with each other, the Spurs should still be considered Western Conference favorites.  They did less to improve their team, but at this point they're the bar other teams in the conference are striving for.

And don't sleep on the Oklahoma City Thunder.  Despite their quiet offseason, they still have two of the 15 best players on the planet.  Both will be healthy to start the season and probably pretty pissed they didn't get past the second round last season.  Out in Los Angeles, Doc Rivers and Chris Paul can't be overlooked and we'll all be able to laugh at the Lakers for another season.  The landscape in the Western Conference has changed, but the top probably won't look too different from last year.  The Spurs are again a favorite, but the margin of error is again small.