OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER
LAST SEASON: 47-19, lost to Miami Heat 4-1 in NBA Finals.
STARTING FIVE: G Russell Westbrook (23.6 ppg, 5.5 apg, 4.6 rpg, 1.7 spg), G Thabo Sefolosha (4.8 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 1.1 apg), F Kevin Durant (28.0 ppg, 8.0 rpg, 3.5 apg), F Serge Ibaka (9.1 ppg, 7.5 rpg, 3.7 bpg), C Kendrick Perkins (5.1 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 1.1 bpg).
KEY ADDITIONS: F Perry Jones III (draft, No. 28), C Hasheem Thabeet (free agent, Grizzlies).
KEY LOSSES: G Derek Fisher (unsigned free agent), C Nazr Mohammed (free agent, Bulls), G Royal Ivey (free agent, 76ers).
COACH: Scott Brooks, fourth season with Thunder, fourth overall; 174-125
EYES ON: G James Harden. The NBA's reigning Sixth Man of the Year is entering the final year of his contract and will remain in the spotlight unless he signs an extension. Oklahoma City signed Ibaka to a new deal this summer, likely meaning the small-market franchise would have to go over the salary cap to re-sign Harden.
OUTLOOK: The Thunder return the core of their team that made it all the way to the finals last season, and there's no reason they can't get back again. All that's missing from last season is the veteran leadership of bench players Fisher, Mohammed and Ivey. They were replaced by less experienced, less expensive players.
LAST SEASON: 38-28, lost to Los Angeles Lakers 4-3 in first round.
STARTING FIVE: G Ty Lawson (16.4 ppg, 6.5 apg, 1.3 spg), G/F Andre Iguodala (12.4 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 5.5 apg), F Danilo Gallinari (14.6 ppg, 4.7 rpg), F Kenneth Faried (10.2 ppg, 7.7 rpg), C Kosta Koufos (5.5 ppg, 5.4 rpg).
KEY ADDITIONS: G/F Iguodala (trade, 76ers), G Evan Fournier (draft, No. 20).
KEY LOSSES: G/F Arron Afflalo (trade, Magic), F Al Harrington (trade, Magic).
COACH: George Karl, ninth season with Nuggets, 25th season overall; 1,074-731.
EYES ON: C JaVale McGee. The Nuggets re-signed the athletic big man to a four-year, $44 million deal in the offseason. McGee went down to Houston to work with Hall of Famer Hakeem Olajuwon on some low-post moves. Known for his ability to block shots, McGee could be a scoring presence in the paint this season.
OUTLOOK: For reasons Karl is still trying to figure out, the Nuggets are a trendy pick to win the Western Conference. Maybe it's the addition of Iguodala or perhaps it's because of their depth — the Nuggets go at least 10 deep — but many are jumping on the Nuggets' bandwagon. Denver's biggest flaw may be its long-range shooting, especially with Harrington now in Orlando. The Nuggets are counting on Gallinari to pick up some of the 3-point shooting slack and help the team not only make it back to the playoffs but maybe even make a deep run.
LAST SEASON: 36-30, lost to San Antonio Spurs 4-0 in first round.
STARTING FIVE: G Mo Williams (13.2 ppg, 1.9 rpg, 3.1 apg, 1 spg), G Gordon Hayward (11.8 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 3.1 apg), F Marvin Williams (10.2 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 1.2 apg), F Paul Millsap (16.6 ppg, 8.8 rpg, 2.3 apg), C Al Jefferson (19.2 ppg, 9.6 rpg, 2.2 apg, 1.7 bpg).
KEY ADDITIONS: G Mo Williams (four-team trade, Clippers), F Marvin Williams (trade, Atlanta), G Randy Foye (free agent, Clippers), GM Dennis Lindsey (San Antonio).
KEY LOSSES: G Devin Harris (trade, Hawks), F C.J. Miles (free agent, Cavs), G Raja Bell (contract dispute).
COACH: Tyrone Corbin, third season with Jazz; 44-50.
EYES ON: Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter. Can these youngsters unseat Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson, respectively, in the starting lineup? Kanter has slimmed down but is still a force inside and power forward Favors plays with a non-stop motor.
OUTLOOK: The Jazz may have the best group of bigs in the league, and they made an effort to bring in better perimeter shooters and a point guard who will push the tempo and run the offense. But the team needs to develop chemistry and consistency to compete in the Western Conference, where it seems every team got better.
LAST SEASON: 26-40, missed playoffs.
STARTING FIVE: G Luke Ridnour (12.1 ppg, 4.8 apg, 89.1 FT), G Brandon Roy (12.2 ppg, 2.7 apg, 2.6 rpg for Portland in 2010-11), F Andrei Kirilenko (11.7 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 3.0 apg for Utah in 2010-11), F Kevin Love (24.0 ppg, 12.3 rpg, 37.2 3s), C Nikola Pekovic (13.9 ppg, 7.4 rpg, 56.4 FGs).
KEY ADDITIONS: F Kirilenko (free agent, CSKA Moscow), G Roy (free agent, unretired), C Greg Stiemsma (free agent, Celtics), G Alexey Shved (free agent, CSKA Moscow), F Lou Amundson (free agent, Pacers), F Dante Cunningham (trade, Grizzlies).
KEY LOSSES: F Michael Beasley (free agent, Suns), G/F Wes Johnson (trade, Suns), G Wayne Ellington (trade, Grizzlies).
COACH: Rick Adelman, second season with Timberwolves, 22nd season overall; 971-656.
EYES ON: Injured starters. Point guard Ricky Rubio (10.6 ppg, 8.2 apg, 2.2 spg) and All-Star Love will both miss the first month of the season or more with injuries. And Roy is returning from missing all of last season with chronic knee issues. But Minnesota's playoff hopes primarily rest on two sets of knees. Rubio is recovering from a torn ACL and isn't expected to be ready until mid-December. Roy is coming out of an early retirement after treatments similar to what Kobe Bryant has done in the offseason improved his knees. If both can be close to what they once were, the Wolves won't be the doormat they have been. Love's broken hand will keep him out for the first month but his return to full health is a virtual certainty.
OUTLOOK: Considered one of the up-and-coming teams in the powerful Western Conference, the Wolves think the addition of veterans Roy and Kirilenko have them primed for their first postseason since 2004. They were eighth in the West last year before faltering after Rubio went down in March. But they'll have to survive without their two best players for the first four weeks of the season and that could be difficult. If they can weather their absences, the Wolves figure to be right in the playoff mix.
PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS
LAST SEASON: 28-38, missed the playoffs.
STARTING FIVE: G Damian Lillard (rookie, 6th overall pick in the 2012 NBA draft), G Wesley Matthews (13.7 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 1.7 apg), F Nicolas Batum (13.9 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 1.4 apg), F LaMarcus Aldridge (21.7 ppg, 8.0 rpg, 2.4 apg) C J.J. Hickson (8.4 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 0,8 apg).
KEY ADDITIONS: G Damian Lillard (6th pick in the 2012 draft, Weber State), C Meyers Leonard (11th pick in the 2012 draft, Illinois).
KEY LOSSES: G Jamal Crawford (free agent, Clippers), G Raymond Felton (trade, New York Knicks).
COACH: Terry Stotts, first season with the Blazers, 5th season overall, 115-168.
EYES ON: Lillard. New general manager Neil Olshey calls Lillard Portland's "franchise point guard." He averaged 24.5 points, five rebounds and four assists as a junior last season at Weber State, then averaged 26.5 points, 5.3 assists and four rebounds in four games during the NBA's summer league.
OUTLOOK: The Blazers are young — even Aldridge is still just 27 — and will have trouble keeping up in the tough Western Conference this season. The youth movement may mean that Portland will be solid further down the road, but the team still seems to be lacking all the necessary pieces to be a playoff contender this season.
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