Kobe Bryant returns for the Lakers, and Kevin Durant will miss the beginning of the season for the Thunder. How will that affect the power rankings in the NBA's Western Conference as the 2014-15 NBA season tips off? Newsday's Roderick Boone answers that question with his rankings, presented in true countdown order.
15. Los Angeles Lakers
15. Lakers: Nick Young is out with a thumb injury. Steve Nash is done for the season. The roster is barren. Kobe Bryant is working his way back after playing in only six games because of a broken bone in his left knee suffered in December. It equals a long year in L.A.
14. Minnesota Timberwolves
14. Timberwolves: For the first time in years, rumors about Kevin Love potentially being traded won’t be floating around Minnesota. He already was sent to Cleveland in a deal that included No. 1 overall pick Andrew Wiggins. Also, whatever happened to Ricky Rubio’s game?
13. Utah Jazz
13. Jazz: Rookie guard Dante Exum could be a solid, athletic piece to build around. Utah kept Gordon Hayward after matching a four-year, $63-million offer sheet he received in the offseason.
12. Denver Nuggets
12. Nuggets: Although he’ll have some of their injured players back from a season ago, such as former Knick Danilo Gallinari, it might be another tough campaign for coach Brian Shaw.
11. Sacramento Kings
11. Kings: Is this the year DeMarcus Cousins keeps his cool? He led the NBA in technical fouls each of the past two seasons and has set five as his goal for the maximum number he accumulates this season.
10. Phoenix Suns
10. Suns: They signed Isaiah Thomas in the offseason, giving them another point guard to go with Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic. They might use all three on the court at the same time.
9. New Orleans Pelicans
9. Pelicans: Anthony Davis quickly has grown into one of the best players in the league and seemingly hasn’t come close to tapping his full potential. He’ll have New Orleans knocking on the doorstep.
8. Dallas Mavericks
8. Mavericks: Plucking away Chandler Parsons from division rival Houston was a nice pickup and sparked a few headlines in the offseason. Plus, having Dirk Nowitzki always puts you in the playoff mix.
7. Memphis Grizzlies
7. Grizzlies: With Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph as their main cogs, coach Dave Joerger intends to make sure they keep the pace slow and play to their strengths inside.
6. Houston Rockets
6. Rockets: James Harden can score with anyone and they have one of the game’s best big men in Dwight Howard. But can they dig in defensively when it counts and make crucial stops?
5. Golden State Warriors
5. The Warriors have a new coach in Steve Kerr, who knows a thing or two about shooting. He can tailor his offense around what some feel is the league’s best shooting backcourt in Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson.
4. Oklahoma City Thunder
4. Thunder: The foot injury that has shelved Kevin Durant for the early part of the season knocks Oklahoma City down a notch. It will be fascinating to see how Russell Westbrook runs things without the ever-dependable Durant.
3. Portland Trail Blazers
3. Trail Blazers: Damian Lillard is making a run at the Clippers’ Chris Paul for the right to be called the NBA’s top point guard. LaMarcus Aldridge, who is coming off a career season and is in the final year of his contract, can score with anyone.
2. Los Angeles Clippers
2. Clippers: With the burden of the Donald Sterling saga behind them and boasting one of the deepest rosters in the league, Doc Rivers’ high-scoring team should be right there at the end if it can dig in defensively.
1. San Antonio Spurs
1. Spurs: Gregg Popovich’s crew is back and intact, so even though they are all a year older, how can you bet against the champs? They should be poised for at least one more strong run come spring.