Western Conference turnaround by 2021/22
The Western Conference has dominated basketball since Michael Jordan and Phil Jackson left the Chicago Bulls in 1998, teams from the west winning 14 of the 21 championships since then. During that time the conference has been largely dominated by the LA Lakers, San Antonio Spurs & Golden State Warriors(13 of the 14 titles). However the stalwarts of the west's runs are coming to an end and a change of the guard is coming and it is going to be great to watch.
The Western Conference outsiders have had to sit back and watch as the same six or seven teams made the playoffs year after year but the tide is slowly turning and the outsiders have had the chance to rebuild from the draft & smart trades. By the start of the 2021/22 season we will be talking about a new set of challengers for the West.
Minnesota Timberwolves: 1 playoff appearance in 15 seasons
The Timberwolves have really fallen away since the end of the Kevin Garnett era but they have had the chance to select high in the draft over the last five years and their young core are beginning to come of age. Minnesota have started the new season 3-0 and their stars have shone, Karl Anthony Towns is no doubt the main man for the Timberwolves and he is showing it, averaging 32 PPG with his partner in crime Andrew Wiggins also coming of age with nearly 21 PPG. Both are former no.1 draft picks and still in their early 20's but this appears to be the season where they really begin to show their value. Towns no doubt capable of being league MVP or scoring champion and Wiggins capable of grabbing important boards and dropping 20 points a night. The Wolves are rising and with a quality core of scorers and defenders around their two stars, this is going to be the first of many winning seasons for the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Dallas Mavericks: 1 playoff appearance in 4 seasons
Dallas have been rebuilding for the last couple of seasons following the great success they had being led by Dirk Nowitzki even winning a championship in 2011. They have prepared well and now appear to have found a dynamite duo to push them back into playoff contention season after season. Dallas signed rookie guard Luka Doncic in last seasons draft and he was a revelation in his first season, running away with the ROTY award and creating a new highlight reel in nearly every game and he has kicked on again to start this season. The Slovenian has averaged a near triple double to begin the 19/20 campaign (25p,9r,7a), and while Luka was destined for stardom the Mavs knew he needed a no.2 and they chose Kristaps Porzingis for that role. The former Knick had been out of action for 18 months before debuting for Dallas during the pre-season but at 24 and being one of the most unique talents in NBA history he will prove to be the right choice. While we may not see the best of the duo for some time they have shown glimpses, with KP averaging 22 PPG. They are a duo that could create a dynasty in Dallas and one that instantly slingshot them back into playoff contention.
Phoenix Suns: 1 playoff appearance in 10 seasons
The Suns have failed to make the playoffs for the last nine seasons and have finished bottom of the west for the past three seasons, it has been a tough road but this has given them the chance to build from the draft and it now seems they have a dynamic duo that can lead them back to playoff contention. Devin Booker is entering his fifth season in the NBA and in that time he has become one of the best scorers in the league, competent from three and adept at attacking the rim, he can do it all on offence and at 23 will only get better. In the 2018 draft, the Suns won the number one pick and chose center Deandre Ayton, and after a solid rookie season, the big man put in the work during the summer to allow him to kick on this season. We got a glimpse in the opening game of the year as he put up 18 points & 11 rebounds but he has since been banned for 25 games so Booker has had to take the rains. While this will hurt the Suns early season form, this year was always about showing what they could do in the future and with these two leading the team and solid team players like Baynes, Rubio & Oubre around them, the sky is the limit. The Steve Nash days will soon return to Phoenix.
Denver Nuggets: 1 playoff appearance in 6 seasons
The Nuggets were the surprise package in the NBA last season as they finished second in the western conference. Led by Nikola Jokic & Jamal Murray they finished the season with a 54-28 record before losing in the conference semi-finals to the Trail Blazers. The Nuggets announced themselves to the NBA last year and while they are yet ready for a title push they will only get better with star big man, Nikola Jokic leading the team. The Joker averaged 20 points, 11 rebounds & 7 assists on his way to his first all-star appearance and being named on the All NBA First Team. At just 24 he still has his best years ahead of him and with Jamal Murray by his side, successful seasons for the Nuggets also lie ahead. Murray was a lottery pick for the Nuggets back in 2016 and he has improved every season he has been in the league, averaging 18 PPG last season he was an equally big part of the teams success and he is only going to get better. With quality players around this two and rookie Michael Porter still to come into the team, great things lie ahead for Denver.
Utah Jazz: 3 playoff appearances in 7 seasons
Utah have made the post-season for the last three years but have failed to get past the conference semi-final stage having said they are the team in the best position to challenge before 2021/22. Their team has been led for the last three years by defensive superstar Rudy Gobert & star scorer, Donovan Mitchell and this summer the Jazz added Bojan Bogdonovic and Mike Conley and this will certainly elevate the team and give them a chance to go one better in the playoffs even though the rest of the western conference has also improved. While Conley and Bogdonovic are the wrong side of 30, when they begin to slow down Mitchell and Gobert will be in their primes and ready to drive their team to glory. While the Jazz have made the post season quite regularly they haven't done it with any real hopes of success since the 90's, with the roster they have now developed post season hope will be there for seasons to come.
New Orleans Pelicans: 2 playoff appearances in 6 seasons
Despite trading away their best player in the off-season the Pelicans still have a bright future ahead. The Pelicans struck it big winning the draft lottery, giving them the most coveted no.1 pick since 2003 as they selected Duke superstar, Zion Williamson and in trading away Davies they got two of the top young players in the NBA in Brandon Ingram and Lonzo Ball. Now they have a lot of potential but potential never won a team anything and they will have to make big improvements to make the leap to championship contenders. We have yet to see Zion this season but he is the most hyped draft pick since LeBron James so yeah I think he'll be 'okay'. It will take time with such a young team but after a couple of seasons playing together I believe they will be a top 5 team in the western conference and if Zion reaches even half of his potential , championship contenders.
The Lakers, Clippers and Rockets have made big moves this off-season and will still be top dogs for at least the next couple of seasons but by 2021 they will be past it or beginning a rebuild and that is when we will see a Western Conference turnaround. It will be a big change but it will be a lot of fun to watch a new set of teams challenge for the top prize in world basketball!