The Warriors earned dynasty status when they won their third NBA title in four seasons last June, and the addition of power center DeMarcus Cousins, who is recovering from an Achilles tendon injury and should be ready to go in January, makes them an utterly dominant power.
Some feel the Warriors ducked a knockout punch last spring when Houston point guard Chris Paul suffered a season-ending hamstring injury after the Rockets took a 3-2 lead in the Western Conference Finals. But the Warriors won Game 6 in Houston and went on to sweep Cleveland in the Finals.
When Cousins is healthy, the Warriors will start five All-Stars with Cousins at center, Draymond Green and two-time Finals MVP Kevin Durant at forward plus Steph Curry and Klay Thompson in the backcourt. Veteran Andre Iguodala remains as a super-smart sixth man.
It will take a monumental effort to beat the Warriors, and the addition of volume shooter Carmelo Anthony might do more to screw up the Rockets’ chemistry than to add to their scoring prowess. Entering their second season together, Russell Westbrook and Paul George might lift the Thunder to the verge of contention for the Western Conference crown, but the key will be to find a prominent role for trade acquisition Dennis Schroder. Can he share the ball with Westbrook? We’ll see.
Ultimately, the big question in the Western Conference is how LeBron James will affect the Lakers, who have missed the playoffs for the past five straight seasons, the longest stretch in franchise history. Between James, point guard Rajon Rondo and forward Kyle Kuzma, there is no way the Lakers will miss the playoffs again. But they aren’t a title contender.
In the end, that’s the misconception about the Western Conference, which supposedly now includes the majority of top players since James moved from Cleveland to L.A. In truth, only the Warriors and Rockets have a chance to win the NBA title. The rest of the Western Conference contenders really are pretenders, with Oklahoma City as the only possible exception.
Say what you will about Durant and Cousins choosing to join a dominant Warriors team, but both understood that was a clear path to an NBA title. Just as Durant elevated the Warriors to a dominant position, expect Cousins to do much the same. If Durant leaves in free agency after winning a third title, more power to him.
But that would leave money on the table for Cousins, who will be as loyal as the day is long for an extension.