2009 NBA Preview: Northwest Division

This year, we’re doing a division-by-division preview with quick-hitting analysis for every team in the league. If a franchise is a legitimate championship contender, I’ll focus on what stars have to line up for a title run. If a team is a playoff “also-ran,” I’ll identify the weaknesses that have to be shored up via trade, free agency or draft over the next couple of seasons to make it a contender. If a team is likely to miss the playoffs, I’ll take a look at the salary cap, and provide a blueprint for how the team should proceed in the near future to get back in the postseason. At the end of each divisional preview, I’ll provide some (random) thoughts for the fantasy hoopsters out there.

For each division, I’ll pick the order of finish. You’ll also see the team’s league-wide preseason rank in parenthesis. Be sure to check back over the course of the next couple of weeks for previews of each division.

Denver Nuggets (6)
The Nuggets are coming off a 54-28 record and a Northwest Division title. Of their top rotation players, they return all but Linas Kleiza (Olympiakos) and Dahntay Jones (Indiana). HC George Karl hopes that J.R. Smith can be a consistent starting shooting guard, but he won’t be afraid to use Arron Afflalo if Smith doesn’t play solid defense (or with his head on straight). Much of the credit to Denver’s fine season is given to Chauncey Billups, who provided steady play and leadership at point guard, but the health of Nene and Kenyon Martin should not be overlooked. The Nuggets re-signed Chris “The Birdman” Andersen to provide energy, rebounding and shot blocking off the bench. If the front line can stay healthy, Billups can stay productive at 33, and Smith can fulfill his considerable potential, then the Nuggets have enough talent to reach the Western Conference Finals for a second straight season. Even so, it’s hard to see Denver upending a healthy Lakers or Spurs squad in a seven-game series.

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2008 NBA Team-by-Team Preview

Ron Artest is a Rocket, Jermaine O’Neal is a Raptor and Mo Williams is a Cavalier. Richard Jefferson is a Buck and Corey Maggette is a Warrior. Baron Davis signed up to play with Elton Brand in L.A., but Brand bolted for Philly to play with AI2 instead. And Andrew Bynum is back from injury, trying to figure out how to co-exist with Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom. There, you’re all caught up on most of the big summer news from the NBA.

Want more? We’ve got you covered. Our team-by-team preview breaks down each franchise’s offseason movement and outlook, along with a player (or situation) to keep your eye on. We also ask “The Big Question” that is haunting each team as it enters the season.

For the last two weeks, We’ve been previewing each team from #30 to #1, posting three team previews per business day, starting with the league’s bottom feeders – we’re looking at you, Thunder – and finishing up with the cream of the crop. So who will be #1? The Lakers? The Celtics? Or will there be a surprise at the top of our preseason power rankings?

Click here to see the entire preview.

2008 NBA Preview: #30 Oklahoma City Thunder

Offseason Movement: The team acquired forwards Desmond Mason and Joe Smith as part of the three-way trade that sent Luke Ridnour to the Bucks. Basically, it was a salary dump, as Mason and Smith are both in the final years of their contracts. They’ll back up Jeff Green and Chris Wilcox, respectively.
Keep Your Eye On: Russell Westbrook, G
Westbrook is a terrific athlete who saw his stock rise before the draft. He’s lightning quick and is a decent scorer, but he didn’t play much point in college, so the idea is for him to play behind Earl Watson for a while until he gets the hang of it.
The Big Question: How long will this rebuilding job take?
It will probably take a while. Kevin Durant is the franchise centerpiece, and while he won Rookie of the Year last season, he still has a ways to go before he’s ready to carry the team. The franchise has done a nice job of acquiring draft picks and cutting salary, and they project to have a ton of cap space next summer with just six players currently under contract for the 2009-10 season. It’s going to be interesting to see if the team will be able to land a dominant big man in the next two years. If so, that will certainly accelerate the turnaround.
Outlook: For this season? Dire. For the future? Reasonably bright. Durant looks like a future franchise player, and while Jeff Green struggled in his rookie season, the team has all the ingredients for a turnaround in the next 2-3 years. They have a young core, a ton of draft picks, and oodles of cap space to work with. The upside is that they’ll be playing in front of the patient Oklahoma City fans who will be grateful to have a NBA team in town, even if the horribly-named Thunder don’t win very many games.

Check out our NBA Preview page for a look at every team. We’ll be posting three previews per business day, which will take us up to the start of the season on Tuesday, October 28th.

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