Apr 9, 2013; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder small forward Kevin Durant (35) attempts to dribble around Utah Jazz shooting guard Gordon Hayward (20) during the first quarter at EnergySolutions Arena. Mandatory Credit: Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

An In Depth Look at the Northwest Division

April 11, 2013; Oakland, CA, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook (0) looks on during the third quarter against the Golden State Warriors at Oracle Arena. The City Thunder defeated the Warriors 116-97. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Gaining inspiration from my editor Josh Haslam’s article State of the Northwest, I’ve decided to take it one step further and talk a little more in depth on what each team in the Northwest Division has done this offseason. Teams will be listed in order of how I think they’ll finish this season. Let’s face it Jazz fans, our team wasn’t the only team having a busy offseason and it’s good to be aware of what the competition is up to. Chad Ford of ESPN did a tremendous job of listing all the transactions in the Western Conference which can be found here Offseason Report Cards: West.

May 15, 2013; Oklahoma City, OK, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder power forward Serge Ibaka (9) makes a jump shot during game five against the Memphis Grizzlies in the second round of the 2013 NBA Playoffs at Chesapeake Energy Arena. The Grizzlies defeated the Thunder 88-84. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

1. Oklahoma City Thunder – The Thunder added C Steven Adams, SG Andre Roberson, and PF Grant Jerrett in the draft and re-signed PG Derek Fisher. The Thunder had a very quiet offseason. Of course I think you can afford to do that when Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant are on your team. Throw in Serge Ibaka, Thabo Sefalosha, and a bunch of returning contributors and the Thunder should be the hands down favorite to not only win this division but be one of the top contenders in the West. The only concern I have about the Thunder is they continue to stay the same while other contenders in the West get better. I wonder what their window truly is with this group. They have a lot of salary tied up over the next few years and the 2014 FA crop and draft are going to help other teams become even better. If I’m an OKC fan I’m hoping for another trip to the finals this year. Chad Ford Grade: C-. For more insight on the Thunder please check out Andrew Kennedy and the gang at Thunderous Intentions.

Apr 14, 2013; Denver, CO, USA; Portland Trailblazers guard Damian Lillard (0) during the first half against the Denver Nuggets at the Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

2. Portland Trailblazers – The Blazers added PG/SG CJ McCollum and SG Allen Crabbe in the draft, received PF Thomas Robinson, C Robin Lopez and SG Terrel Harris via trades, and signed SF Dorell Wright and PG Earl Watson via Free Agency. That’s quite the offseason moves for the Blazers. They had already assembled a good young core with ROY Damian Lillard, Wesley Matthews, Nicolas Batum, LaMarcus Aldridge and Meyers Leonard. Then you take in to account the players they added and I expect the Blazers to have a strangle hold on the 2nd spot and give the Thunder all they can handle all year long. This is an exciting young team that should be fun to watch and should light up the scoreboard. The only question I have is, who is going to play defense? Chad Ford grade: A. For more on the Blazers check out Rip City Project.

May 2, 2013; Oakland, CA, USA; Denver Nuggets point guard Ty Lawson (3) dribbles against the Golden State Warriors during the fourth quarter of game six of the first round of the 2013 NBA Playoffs at Oracle Arena. The Warriors defeated the Nuggets 92-88. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

3a. Denver Nuggets – The Nuggets resigned C Timofey Mozgov, signed PF JJ Hickson and PG Nate Robinson via free agency, acquired SG Randy Foye and PF Darrell Arthur via trade, and got a new GM and a new head coach in Brian Shaw. The Nuggets are the hardest team to gauge in the division in my opinion. Their moves don’t really move the meter as much as their losses. They lost Andre Iguodala and Kosta Koufos in free agency and lost their very good GM to the Raptors and got rid of George Karl. They have a lot of returning players including a healthy Danilo Galinari. Yes they won 57 games last year but they were the biggest disappointment of the playoffs and basically gave the team that beat them their best player and replaced him with the one dimensional Randy Foye. Will Brian Shaw be able to right the ship? Lots of questions with this team. Should be interesting to watch. For more insight check out Nugg Love. Chad Ford grade: D+.

Dec 29, 2012; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Timberwolves forward Kevin Love (42) against the Phoenix Suns at the Target Center. The Timberwolves defeated the Suns 111-107. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

3b. Minnestoa Timberwolves – The Timberwolves added G/F Shabazz Muhammad, C Gorgui Dieng and PG Lorenzo Brown in the draft, resigned SF Chase Budinger, signed SF Corey Brewer, C Ronny Turiaf and SG Kevin Martin via free agency and brought back Flip Saunders to be their GM. The biggest factor towards the success of the Timberwolves season is health. Can Ricky Rubio and Kevin Love stay healthy for a full season? If they can this is going to be a dangerous young team that nobody wants to play. Yes they spent a lot of money on role players, but those players each bring an elite skill that fits in well around their core of Rubio, Love and Pekovic (I fully expect him to resign with Minnesota). Martin’s outside shooting should help take some pressure off of Love down low. If this team is making a playoff push, I also wouldn’t rule out a trade for another veteran at the deadline to help them finish strong. Flip Saunders will give this front office the leadership and vision they sorely needed. I expect these “Pesky Timberwolves” to be a young, exciting team to watch this year. For more info on the Wolves, check out Dunking with Wolves. Chad Ford grade: C-.

Apr 1, 2013; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; Utah Jazz power forward Derrick Favors (15) shoots a free throw during the second half against the Portland Trail Blazers at EnergySolutions Arena. The Jazz won 112-102. Mandatory Credit: Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

3c. Utah Jazz – The Jazz added PG Trey Burke, C Rudy Gobert and PG Raul Neto in the draft, acquired SG Brandon Rush, SF Richard Jefferson and C Andris Biedrins via trade, and signed PG John Lucas III and PG/SG Ian Clark via free agency. The Jazz are finally going young and what a year to do it. If they finish with a bad record they get a high draft pick in one of the best drafts in recent memory. If they surprise, they could battle for the 8th seed in the West. The odds are not in the Jazz favor however. The division is stacked with talent and other young up and coming teams whose players have played together in starting roles longer and already have that important chemistry. They’ll be off and running while the Jazz play a little game of getting to know you. I do think the Jazz have the talent and desire to surprise a lot of people this year, but I don’t think a trip to the playoffs will be in the cards and that’s ok. The new style of play will be exciting to watch this year and it will be nice to be able to invest my interest in the players on the team. 2014 should be even better with a high lottery pick and knowing who of the Core 5 the Jazz will be extending. Chad Ford grade: B.

I think the Northwest Division is going to be one of if not the most exciting division in the NBA this year. Each team is loaded with young talent that wants to prove themselves and put themselves in playoff contention. While that goal might be more attainable to some than others, the in-division battles should be a real treat. The question marks and unkowns that exist with the Nuggets, Timberwolves and Jazz is why I ranked them as 3a, 3b, and 3c. I just don’t know how those teams are going to finish. If Kevin Love does stay in Minnesota past 2015, this division will be one of the best for many years to come.



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Tags: Denver Nuggets Minnesota Timberwolves Northwest Division Oklahoma City Thunder Portland Trail Blazers Utah Jazz

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