N.B.A. Western Conference Preview: The Warriors and 14 Other Guys

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from Kevin Durant. But the excuses for Westbrook came to a halt after General Manager Sam Presti landed two superstars this off-season in Anthony and George, along with a tremendous role player in Patterson. That the Thunder gave up so little to get those players is either a testament to Presti’s savvy or an indictment of how some trades are concluded in the modern N.B.A.

George is a star on both ends of the court, and Anthony is a truly gifted scorer, so if Coach Billy Donovan can come up with a rotation that maximizes those two players while getting Westbrook some rest, the Thunder could be at the top of the West alongside Houston and below Golden State.

Status: No more excuses


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Jimmy Butler (23) will be asked to thrive on the court for the Minnesota Timberwolves, while also helping to get his teammates to buy in to Coach Tom Thibodeau’s system.CreditZhong Zhi/Getty Images

Minnesota Timberwolves

31-51 last season

Key newcomers: Jimmy Butler, Jeff Teague, Taj Gibson, Jamal Crawford

Key departures: Ricky Rubio, Kris Dunn, Zach LaVine, Nikola Pekovic

Outlook: Coach Tom Thibodeau is known as a great teacher, but he struggled to turn his lessons into results last season despite having one of the game’s best young players in Karl-Anthony Towns and a potential star in Andrew Wiggins. Now Thibodeau has added two of his favorites — Butler and Gibson, who can simultaneously produce at a high level and help their coach break in the younger players. Teague and Crawford can chip in consistent veteran production, and Minnesota did not have to give up much to put this new team together.

Chemistry is always a question with a club that had a great deal of turnover, and no one really knows what to make of Wiggins, but the combination of Towns and Butler should be enough to make Minnesota a team that no one will want to play.

Status: On the way up


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The Portland Trail Blazers appeared to improve when Jusuf Nurkic, center, came over in a trade with the Denver Nuggets. Whether or not that improvement is sustainable is an open question.CreditSteve Dipaola/Associated Press

Portland Trail Blazers

41-41 last season

Key newcomers: Zach Collins (draft)

Key departures: Allen Crabbe, Festus Ezeli

Outlook: Portland is desperately hoping that its strong play after Jusuf Nurkic was acquired last season was not a mirage. Impassioned debates have arisen over whether Nurkic’s production really was behind the team’s 14-6 regular-season record when he was on the court, and he has become a totem of sorts for those who argue that the Blazers are to be reckoned with this season.

The reality is probably that the Blazers have a terrific backcourt in Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum but not enough other talent to be considered one of the topteams in the West. With Lillard squarely in his prime, Portland needs some more help soon or it will have wasted the talent of a special player.

Status: Outgunned


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Nikola Jokic, left, and Paul Millsap, right, are remarkably different players, but the Denver Nuggets are hoping they can complement each other and turn the team into a contender.CreditDavid Zalubowski/Associated Press

Denver Nuggets

40-42 last season

Key newcomers: Paul Millsap, Josh Childress

Key departures: Danilo Gallinari

Outlook: Nikola Jokic is probably the best player that you have never seen play. A 6-foot 10-inch passing wonder from Serbia, Jokic, 22, is an absolute machine on offense. He can create plays out of thin air and knock down jump shots if teams try to cheat against him. Because he does not have elite athleticism, there has been a consistent belief that he is a poor defender, but he has worked hard on that element of his game. If he can keep improving in that area, he will be one of the best players in the N.B.A.

It says a lot about Jokic that a free agent like Millsap would choose to join Denver, and they seemingly form a great offense-defense combination that could pay huge dividends for the team, especially if Jamal Murray and Gary Harris can coexist in the backcourt.

Status: A sneaky-fun League Pass team


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Rudy Gobert is a fantastic player, but with the Utah Jazz losing their top two scorers from a year ago, the team is likely to regress.CreditRick Bowmer/Associated Press

Utah Jazz

51-31 last season

Key newcomers: Ricky Rubio, Donovan Mitchell (draft), Tyler Lydon (draft), Josh Hart (draft)

Key departures: Gordon Hayward, George Hill, Boris Diaw

Outlook: There is no getting around the fact that Utah was wounded deeply by the defection of Hayward to Boston. The Jazz had developed him into a star, and many expected him to stay. Utah also lost its second-leading scorer in Hill. So who’s left? Well, Rudy Gobert, who is one of the N.B.A.’s best defenders; Joe Ingles, an entertaining role player; and Mitchell, who could be a breakout rookie.

That’s not enough to prevent a dramatic downturn, but Utah has shown in recent seasons that it knows how to build a team. So the exile to Lotteryville might not last long.

Status: Plummeting, for now


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Chris Paul, far left, and James Harden, center, are an odd pairing for the Houston Rockets, but Coach Mike D’Antoni is known for his creativity.CreditSue Ogrocki/Associated Press

Southwest Division

Houston Rockets

55-27 last season

Key newcomers: Chris Paul, P.J. Tucker

Key departures: Patrick Beverley, Sam Dekker, Montrezl Harrell, Lou Williams

Outlook: The N.B.A. is littered with people who have underestimated Mike D’Antoni and lived to regret it, but this year presents a special challenge for a coach famous for his offensive vision. He now has a team with Paul and James Harden, two ball-dominant point guards who are used to having absolutely everything run through them. On top of that, Paul, at 32, is not exactly suited to the lightning-fast offenses that D’Antoni and Harden prefer.

Still, this is a gamble the Rockets had to take. They now have two of the game’s best players and a chance to create something special. But it is going to involve some serious creativity from D’Antoni and a total buy-in from Paul and Harden to make it work.

Status: Learning to share


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Rudy Gay, who has played 11 seasons in the N.B.A., is the latest veteran to search for late-career enlightenment as a member of the San Antonio Spurs.CreditEric Gay/Associated Press

San Antonio Spurs

61-21 last season

Key newcomers: Rudy Gay, Derrick White (draft)

Key departures: Jonathon Simmons

Outlook: The Spurs are the Spurs. They lose players every year and end up fine. They bring in players who do not seem like much and those players suddenly have their best season in years. Gay can probably already be counted on for a surprising resurgence under Coach Gregg Popovich’s tutelage.

The one exception to the Spurs’ magic seems to be forward LaMarcus Aldridge. He came over from Portland a few years ago with great fanfare, but he has not lived up to the difficult task of replacing Tim Duncan. But even without Aldridge having a major impact, a team led by Kawhi Leonard is going to be just fine, at least until the playoffs start.

Status: Quietly thriving


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DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis are a matchup nightmare for almost any team, and the New Orleans Pelicans hope an off-season working together will pay dividends.CreditDavid Zalubowski/Associated Press

New Orleans Pelicans

34-48 last season

Key newcomers: Rajon Rondo, Tony Allen, Ian Clark, Frank Jackson (draft)

Key departures: None

Outlook: Pairing Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins is unapologetically weird in the modern N.B.A., so adding Rondo in the mix makes perfect sense. His potentially divisive personality comes with a huge amount of on-court creativity, and the Pelicans will hope that he is the player who can figure out how to make their big men thrive. He was expected to start alongside Jrue Holiday, but that will have to wait; Rondo is out for four to six weeks after having surgery for a sports hernia.

Allen is past his prime but can still contribute on defense, and Clark is capable of knocking down the open jumpers that the clogged frontcourt should create, so a serious improvement is reasonable once Rondo is back.

Status: Too weird to fail?


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Dirk Nowitzki, left, signed a two-year deal with the Dallas Mavericks this off-season, and he should enjoy them after the team drafted Dennis Smith Jr., right, to run the team’s offense.CreditLM Otero/Associated Press

Dallas Mavericks

33-49 last season

Key newcomers: Josh McRoberts, Dennis Smith (draft)

Key departures: A.J. Hammons

Outlook: The Mavericks will be a delight for as long as Dirk Nowitzki sticks around, though their roster does not seem deep enough to compete in a crowded West. A lot of players would seem frustrated by this situation, but Nowitzki has always seemed to have a good attitude about it, even posting a tweet thanking a fan whosent him $20 to offset some of the money Nowitzki has left on the table over the years to help Dallas try to build a winner.

A version of this article appears in print on , on Page B11 of the New York edition with the headline: Warriors Remain the Team to Catch. Order Reprints | Today’s Paper | Subscribe

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