As last year’s playoff run began, the NBA Western Conference looked as open as it ever was before. While teams like the two Los Angeles powerhouses (Lakers and Clippers) did make it, they were not healthy, which ultimately caused them to fall.
Thus, the Phoenix Suns rose up and ended up winning the conference. Going into the 2021-2022 season, I suspect a lot of change via trade, free agency, and the draft.
Below are my top three teams who I think have the best chance of coming out of the West:
1. Los Angeles Lakers
The Lakers heading into last year were the defending champs. They lost some guys via free agency, but most argue that their roster was even more talented, especially after adding guys like Dennis Shroder and Monterzl Herrell.
Unfortunately for the Lakers, however, injuries were the main storyline for the team. Anthony Davis suffered a lingering calf strain during the regular season that he essentially reaggravated in the playoffs.
LeBron, on the other hand, suffered a high ankle sprain and never looked 100% since returning.
With the breaking news of former MVP and triple-double machine Russell Westbrook reportedly heading back home to LA, the Lakers are instantly favored to not only win the West but potentially defeat the Brooklyn Nets if those teams do indeed meet up in the NBA Finals.
The interesting thing to watch out for will be the fit. Westbrook has never been a third option on a team before and must defer a little more to LeBron James and Anthony Davis if the Lakers want to be at their best.
I suspect they will figure it out, however, especially with an experienced group led by coach Frank Vogel.
2. Phoenix Suns
The Phoenix Suns were a fascinating team to watch last year. After failing to make the playoffs since 2010, the Suns made it to the NBA Finals. The addition of Chris Paul seemed to elevate the entire team despite only having one player with any Finals experience.
Former #1 overall pick, DeAndre Ayton, improved significantly, and Devin Booker took the next step as he looked like an absolute superstar in the playoffs.
If CP3 elects to come back, I do not see Phoenix going anywhere. Obviously, the competition in the conference will be stiffer with guys getting healthy, but I still give them a chance with two emerging stars and a cerebral point guard like Chris Paul.
Not to mention, Phoenix has one of the best group or role players as well in Mikal Bridges, Cameron Johnson, Cameron Payne, etc.
I believe the valuable experience all these guys gained will help tremendously last year. Blowing a 2-0 series lead to the Milwaukee Bucks will only motivate them to come back stronger. Expect The Suns to have another strong season.
3. Los Angeles Clippers
Some argue that if it had not been for Kawhi Leonard‘s season-ending knee injury in the second round against the Utah Jazz, the Clippers would have been the Western Conference champions instead of the Suns.
Nonetheless, they made it to their first-ever conference finals, and Paul George played some magnificent basketball. Guys like Terrance Mann, Nicolas Batum, Patrick Beverley, etc., also played well.
If Leonard comes back fully healthy, I give them a puncher’s chance to make it to the NBA Finals, especially with a great coach like Tyronn Lue.
Similar to the Suns, I see last year’s run as a confidence booster for their entire roster. Instead of being passive when Kawhi’s back, the other guys must stay aggressive in order for The Clippers to have a chance.