The Western Conference looks like a beast entering the 2015-16 NBA season because it's so deep. The sixth-best team in the West might be the second-best in the East. Let's project the Top 4 finishers.
West Playoffs Will Be Bloodbath Again
How good was the Western Conference last season? Of course the NBA champion Golden State Warriors came from the West and they had one of the best regular seasons in NBA history, winning a franchise-best 67 games and going 39-2 at home. The Warriors finished with an obscene plus-10.1 point differential. By comparison, the second-best belonged to the Los Angeles Clippers at plus-6.6 and they finished 11 games behind the Warriors in the Pacific Division.
Despite only having superstar and 2013-14 NBA MVP Kevin Durant for 27 games last year and with Russell Westbrook missing a handful as well, the Oklahoma City Thunder still finished 45-37. Yet they missed the playoffs, losing a tiebreaker for the No. 8 seed with New Orleans. Had the Thunder been in the East, they would have finished with the No. 6 seed.
I would argue that the Thunder, Phoenix Suns and Utah Jazz, who all missed the postseason, were all better by the end of last season than the Milwaukee Bucks, Boston Celtics and Brooklyn Nets in the East. Those latter three teams took the final three playoff spots in that conference.
Breaking Down The West
To no surprise, BetOnline NBA odds have the defending champions with the highest wins total in the NBA at 59.5, with both options at -115. Every key player is back on the Warriors as the team was able to re-sign free agent Draymond Green this offseason to a pretty team-friendly deal. He was second to Chicago's Jimmy Butler as the NBA's Most Improved Player last season and many thought Green should have won Defensive Player of the Year honors over San Antonio's Kawhi Leonard. Now we see if Green was a one-year wonder. Golden State avoided a potentially big injury this week as starting small forward Harrison Barnes went down in Tuesday's preseason game with a knee injury. But the Warriors got good news Wednesday in that it was just a bone bruise. He will be fine for opening night.
San Antonio, not Golden State, is the Western Conference favorite on NBA picks at +225 with the Warriors at +300. The Spurs "won" free agency by re-signing Leonard and Danny Green and luring the top available free agent on the market in Portland's LaMarcus Aldridge. He will carry the torch along with Leonard into the post-Tim Duncan Era, which likely will begin in the 2016-17 season. The Spurs have a wins total of 57.5, with the 'under' a -120 favorite.
I really like what the Clippers did this offseason in adding the likes of Paul Pierce, Lance Stephenson and Josh Smith to go with All-Stars in Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan -- who nearly bolted for Dallas in free agency. Coach Doc Rivers had one of the NBA's worst benches last season but now has what should be a very good group. The Clippers have a wins total of 57; they would probably win any division in the Eastern Conference.
Another big offseason winner was Houston, which finished with the No. 2 seed in the West last year and lost to Golden State in the Western Conference Finals. The Rockets were able to acquire a very good point guard in Ty Lawson from Denver for next to nothing because Lawson has had a few DUI arrests and the Nuggets just wanted rid of him. Point guard play was a huge weakness for Houston in last year's playoffs with Patrick Beverley injured. Now he can anchor the second unit. Houston has a wins total of 55.5.
Finally, the Thunder were very quiet this offseason other than firing Coach Scott Brooks and most likely upgrading with Florida's Billy Donovan. The Warriors proved you could win with a first-year coach last season in Steve Kerr. But Kerr had an NBA background. Some high-profile college coaches have failed miserably before in the NBA (John Calipari, Rick Pitino), but this is a different era. The Thunder's title chances all rest on Durant's surgically-repaired broken foot. The championship window could close after this year with Durant set to become an unrestricted free agent. If the Thunder reach the NBA Finals, it's hard to see Durant choosing to leave. OKC has a wins total of 57.
NBA Free Picks: Remember that conference seedings now go by overall record and regardless of division winner. So my top four are Warriors, Thunder, Clippers and Spurs. Houston just outside and then a bit of a drop-off.