Although the Western Conference has for years been perceived as the far superior conference to its Eastern brethren, the ultimate goal for all teams - to win a championship - tells a far different story of their supremacy.
Their dominance is similar to a David Blaine magic act: what you see and what’s real, are not the same.
Look at the last 10 years of NBA champions.
When I talk about the two conferences being balanced, I really mean that.
Championships in the last 10 years for the East?
That would be five.
Championships for the West in the same period?
Yup, that’s five as well.
While the two are very much on par when it comes to end-of-the-day success, I have to give a clear edge to the West when it comes to intriguing storylines.
Here we take a look at the Plots to Watch out West this season. And if you missed my East Edition on Friday, here it is.
1. Los Angeles Lakers
PLOT TO WATCH: Focusing on the Los Angeles Lakers being one of the most “seasoned” teams in NBA history, is like the players - old. It’ll be far more interesting to see how a team shares the ball with a roster loaded with Hall of Fame-caliber ballers who star in this league in large part for their ability to get their own shots and thus not share the ball.
2. Phoenix Suns
PLOT TO WATCH: From ashy to classy, we all marveled at the Suns rising to the near-pinnacle of NBA greatness with a trip to the NBA Finals after not even making the playoffs the year before. Was it a fluke, or the first of many deep playoff runs for the Suns?
3. Utah Jazz
PLOTS TO WATCH: I love Donovan Mitchell. I love watching the Jazz play. But there is a different level of play that they have not been able to meet, frankly. Can they figure out a way to “flip a switch” to go from a really good regular season club, to an amazingly awesome squad in the postseason? “The second round, that’s been fun but I want to get to the conference finals and The (NBA) Finals,” Mitchell said in an interview with me earlier this summer. “That’s the end goal for myself and for us as a team.”
4. Golden State Warriors
PLOT TO WATCH: With a healthy Big Three for the first time since 2019, the Warriors are the NBA’s wildest, wild card. How well will the now-healthy OGs (Klay Thompson, Steph Curry, Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala) mesh with the new(er) schoolers (James Wiseman, Andrew Wiggins, Otto Porter Jr., and Jordan Poole)?
5. Denver Nuggets
PLOT TO WATCH: Michael Porter Jr. had one of the best, low-key breakout seasons a year ago, going from 9.0 points per game as a rookie, to 19.3 points last season while shooting better than 50 percent from the field and 44 percent from 3-point range. How he builds off that success, will go far in determining the Nuggets’ trajectory this season.
6. Los Angeles Clippers
PLOT TO WATCH: The Clippers’ title hopes took a major blow when Kawhi Leonard went down with a torn ACL injury in the second round of the playoffs last season. One of the team’s breakout players in Leonard’s absence was Terance Mann. Is Mann ready to step in for the Man in Clipperville? Or will everyone fall in line behind Paul George?
7. Memphis Grizzlies
PLOT TO WATCH: Ja Morant has established himself as the Grizzlies leader, but all great leaders need a go-to sidekick. Who is that going to be? Jared Jackson Jr.? Dillon Brooks? Kyle Anderson? Brandon Clarke? Whoever it is, needs to emerge for this team to be more than just a bottom-rung, playoff contender.
8. New Orleans Pelicans
PLOT TO WATCH: New Orleans added some experienced size in Jonas Valančiūnas and backcourt scoring in Devonte' Graham. But it all comes back to Zion Williamson and winning. Because if the latter doesn’t happen on a higher scale, don’t be surprised if Williamson’s next power move will be to play elsewhere in the near future akin to what we saw Anthony Davis do a few years ago.
9. Portland Trail Blazers
PLOT TO WATCH: The Blazers are in a similar predicament to the Pelicans as far as having to show growth in order to keep their best player (Damian Lillard) happy. He just got married this summer at a lovely wedding. But if the Blazers have another early playoff exit or don’t make the playoffs at all, Lillard and Portland could be heading towards Splitsville at some point this season.
10. Dallas Mavericks
PLOT TO WATCH: Kristaps Porzingis is coming off a great regular season statistically, averaging 20.1 points and 8.9 rebounds while shooting 47.6 percent from the field and 37.6 percent from 3-point range. But his impact when the games mattered most, the playoffs, was underwhelming (13.1 points, 5.4 rebounds). Is he a legit number two option to Luka Doncic? And if he isn’t, who is?
11. Sacramento Kings
PLOT TO WATCH: Tyrese Haliburton has size, basketball smarts and an overall feel for the game that stands out when he plays. And yet it seemed far too often, the Kings weren’t sure exactly on how to use him. Figuring out the best way to utilize his skills will go far in helping this franchise get back to the playoffs for the first time since 2006.
12. San Antonio Spurs
PLOT TO WATCH: We have seen Gregg Popovich take little-known talent (Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, Kawhi Leonard to name a few) and develop them into stars. Can he do it again, and do so void of having a steady-as-they-come, go-to leader like Tim Duncan? Dejounte Murray and Lonnie Walker IV are two to keep tabs on.
13. Minnesota Timberwolves
PLOT TO WATCH: Patrick Beverley is one of the NBA’s better defenders because he’s incredibly pesky, sometimes petty but always impactful. He speaks confidently of the Timberwolves making the playoffs this season. Of course, Karl-Anthony Towns and Anthony Edwards and D’Angelo Russell’s play will be major factors. But what about Beverley’s leadership? That may tip the scale towards Minnesota playing beyond the regular season for the first time since 2018.
14. Houston Rockets
PLOT TO WATCH: The collection of cast-offs in Houston is an interesting group. Winning at this stage of the game for the Rockets isn’t as important as developing an identity and culture. Will their young talent play hard? Will the veterans check out mentally because of the mounting losses? Can rookie Jalen Green and second-year guard Kevin Porter Jr. play with each other and both be effective?
15. Oklahoma City Thunder
PLOT TO WATCH: Other than acquiring as many draft picks as possible, there’s no clear-cut plan for success with this team. Will this be another season of open tryouts, or will the Thunder come up with a clear plan of progress towards actually winning games or at least fielding a team that has that goal.