It has been six years since a team other than the Golden State Warriors won the Western Conference, and eight since a team other than the Warriors or the San Antonio Spurs won it, but that appears almost certain to change.
The Los Angeles Clippers added Kawhi Leonard and Paul George to a playoff team, and the Los Angeles Lakers traded for Anthony Davis to complement LeBron James. In a far riskier move, the Houston Rockets reunited James Harden and Russell Westbrook in a backcourt that could be more productive than anything the league has ever seen — or a disaster for both players.
But even after those moves, there is still a sense that the conference, and the N.B.A. in general, is wide open. The stranglehold the Warriors had on the entire league has been released, and in the resulting power vacuum, at least four or five teams have emerged that could easily rise to the top of the West.
Los Angeles Clippers
Key additions: Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, Maurice Harkless
Key subtractions: Danilo Gallinari, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander
Draft: Mfiondu Kabengele (No. 27), Terrance Mann (No. 48)
Everyone knows about Kawhi Leonard (N.B.A. champion, defensive maestro) and Paul George (perennial All-Star, defensive maestro), and there is no question that their joint arrival in Los Angeles this summer instantly vaulted the Clippers into the realm of bona fide contenders.
More often overlooked is that the Clippers did not need to trade away half their roster — cough, Lakers, cough — to attain their two new stars. Consider the players who are returning from the team that went to the playoffs last season, and even pushed the Warriors to six games in a first-round series: Lou Williams, Patrick Beverley, Montrezl Harrell, Landry Shamet.
That is a decent core to build around. George will miss the early part of the schedule as he continues to recover from shoulder surgery, and there are always chemistry questions when new players come to town. But Leonard and George fit the blue-collar, roll-up-your-sleeves attitude that the team came to embrace last season, and it would be a huge surprise if the Clippers do not position themselves as one of the teams to beat in the Western Conference. SCOTT CACCIOLA
Los Angeles Lakers
Key additions: Anthony Davis, Jared Dudley, Danny Green, Dwight Howard, Quinn Cook
Key subtractions: Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart
The Lakers are trying to reboot for the second season of the LeBron James Experience: new coach, new supporting cast and loftier expectations after nearly everything that could have gone wrong last season went wrong.
James, after missing a big chunk of last season with a groin injury, watched the playoffs from home for the first time since the 2004-05 season, when he was a second-year forward with the Cleveland Cavaliers. No one expects the Lakers to finish with another losing record after they (finally) traded for perennial All-Star Anthony Davis over the off-season. They also added some much-needed shooting by signing Danny Green and Jared Dudley.
But the Lakers lack depth — they shipped a fleet of promising young players to the New Orleans Pelicans to acquire Davis — and an injury to one of their front line stars would likely doom their championship aspirations.
Underestimate James at your own peril, though, even at age 34 and even after a preseason full of geopolitical distractions stemming from the team’s recent trip to China. James has a chance to make his mark yet again in a wide-open conference. SCOTT CACCIOLA
Golden State Warriors
Key additions: D’Angelo Russell, Willie Cauley-Stein, Omari Spellman, Glenn Robinson III, Marquese Chriss
Key subtractions: Kevin Durant, Andre Iguodala, Shaun Livingston, DeMarcus Cousins, Quinn Cook, Alfonzo McKinnie, Jordan Bell
Draft: Jordan Poole (No. 28), Alen Smailagic (No. 39), Eric Paschall (No. 41)
After five consecutive trips to the N.B.A. finals and three championships, the Warriors were radically remade through the combination of Kevin Durant leaving for Brooklyn, Andre Iguodala being traded, Shaun Livingston retiring and Klay Thompson being sidelined indefinitely with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his knee.
The Warriors did their best to salvage the off-season, acquiring D’Angelo Russell, a 23-year-old All-Star point guard, in a sign-and-trade for Durant. But even that move could limit them, as it put them under a hard cap for salaries for the season, meaning the team they have on Day 1 is likely to be the team they have all season, beyond the roster fillers at the end of the bench.
Golden State still has one of the game’s most devastating offensive weapons in Stephen Curry, and its most versatile defender in Draymond Green. When Thompson returns they would be the only team in the N.B.A. that could put a lineup on the floor with four players who had made an All-Star team in the last two seasons. But there is no question that the team’s championship-level defense has been gutted.
Key additions: Dewayne Dedmon, Trevor Ariza
Key subtractions: Willie Cauley-Stein
Draft: Justin James (No. 40), Kyle Guy (No. 55), Vanja Marinkovic (No. 60)
If Coach Luke Walton deploys the offense that most people expect from him, then Buddy Hield, De’Aaron Fox and Bogdan Bogdanovic should all be taking even more shots from 3-point range. The team invested a chunk of change in retaining Harrison Barnes, who is familiar with Walton from their time together in Golden State, but a playoff spot in the West typically requires some defense. Beyond