After two consecutive seasons where they missed the playoffs, Warriors are expected to be contenders once again in the 2021-22 season.
With Klay Thompson's impending return and the free-agent additions of Otto Porter Jr., Nemanja Bjelica and Andre Iguodala -- along with lottery picks Jonathan Kuminga and Moses Moody -- Golden State should be a clear-cut playoff team with a puncher's chance of NBA Finals contention.
But where exactly do they stand in relation to the other teams in the West? Our Warriors experts Monte Poole, Kendra Andrews and Grant Liffmann give their take.
Wild Card: Blazers
I’m going with the Suns to earn the No. 1 seed Western Conference. Why? They have a solid blend of youth and experience, added another shooter (Landry Shamet) and are coming off the valuable lessons that can be learned only in The Finals. They’ll be hungry.
I get why the Lakers are the popular pick to finish at the top. The big names: LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Russell Westbrook. A lot of big names. Age and load management will limit them to the mid-50s.
The Jazz will be fine in the regular season and suspect in the postseason. There’s always a limitation in Utah.
The Warriors have so many ifs – none bigger than Klay Thompson – but should be good enough to finish appreciably higher than the No. 8 spot they earned last season.
The Clippers, without Kawhi Leonard, are the best of the rest – because they’re the one remaining team with a semi-trustworthy defense. Serge Ibaka’s return will help.
As mentioned earlier, the next tier of the west is a gaggle of good offenses accompanied by flawed defenses. The Nuggets, Mavericks, Trail Blazers, Grizzlies and Pelicans all struggle to get stops. I’m going with the Blazers, largely because of a hungry backcourt and a solid two-way addition in Larry Nance Jr.
Wild Card: Clippers
Looking at the Lakers' roster, it's hard not to rank them as No. 1. Sure, age might not be fully on their side, but even so, this is one of the most stacked rosters in NBA history. If they can remain healthy, not even their age should prevent them from winning.
When it comes to the second and third best rosters, it's tricky. I'm putting the Suns in at No. 2 and the Warriors in at No. 3, but the margin is small. The Suns are bringing back most of the group that got them all the way to the NBA Finals last season. Devin Booker and DeAndre Ayton will just keep getting better and I don't believe Chris Paul's age is going to be an issue next season.
The Warriors are in third because when Klay Thompson returns, they not only will get their Big Three back, but also will also be rocking a very deep bench. As long as Golden State can stay healthy -- and this is outside of Thompson's status -- and the younger players such as James Wiseman, Jordan Poole and Juan Toscano-Anderson continue to grow and improve, the Warriors should have all the pieces to be extremely competitive.
Coming in fourth are the Jazz. Over the last few years, the Jazz have proven to be one of the best teams in the NBA during the regular season. But year after year, they crumble in the playoffs. Based on the moves they've made this offseason, there is no reason to believe they'd do anything different this upcoming season. While I expect the Jazz to be good, they haven't addressed whatever has been keeping them from making a big post-season push.
The same can be said for the Nuggets, who I have with the fifth-best roster. Jamal Murray is supposed to come back around the new year, and teaming him up with Nikola Jokic and Michael Porter Jr. will see the Nuggets finish somewhere near the top of the Western Conference. But like the Jazz, they have struggled to have a major breakthrough in the playoffs.
My wild card could go to two teams: the Mavericks or the Clippers. But I'm handing it to the Clippers. If Kawhi Leonard was expected to play even half of the season, LA would be a top 3 team. But without him , their trajectory drops incredibly. That being said, Paul George is still an excellent player and the Clippers have other good pieces. They might be able to surprise a few people next season.
Wild Card: Clippers
When I look around the Western Conference, two teams stand out above the rest when it comes to possible title contention. Assuming good health, the Lakers and the Warriors are a tier above the rest.
Both have proven track records of regular-season and postseason success, and both have obvious MVP candidates. I’ll give the Lakers the edge because their roster is deeper and more experienced than the Warriors, who have some key players who are young and unproven on the big stage.
The Suns were in contention for the second spot, but a fully healthy Warriors lineup can create mismatches that a younger Suns team might not be able to counteract. The Jazz's roster is stacked, but their consistent failures in the postseason, even when fully healthy, make it hard to push them higher than fourth.
The Nuggets, with Jamal Murray healthy at some point during the season, should be a team to watch out for, especially if Michael Porter Jr. continues his ascension to stardom. But until that happens, they sit at fifth. The Clippers are easily the big wild card here, as there is so much uncertainty regarding Kawhi Leonard’s health. If he actually were able to return before the end of the season, then they automatically vault to a top-three roster. But until then, they sit at sixth, alongside the Mavericks, who have an MVP candidate in Luka Doncic, but lack a consistent second option.