The Oklahoma City Thunder pulled off a shocking trade three days before the 2012-13 season opener. It was a blockbuster trade that will affect the Thunder adversely in the short term, but it was a great move long term. Also, the trade shouldn’t prevent Oklahoma City from winning the Northwest Division.
1-OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER — Kevin Martin isn’t the passer nor the defender Harden is, but he can score and score a lot – if healthy. However, he can’t create his own shot and that’s where a healthy Eric Maynor comes into play since Russell Westbrook is more of a scoring point guard. A healthy Maynor gives the Thunder a better backup point guard and more flexibility on offense, as head coach Scott Brooks can move Westbrook at shooting guard and Martin at small forward to give Kevin Durant some rest. Durant (28 points per game) and Westbrook (23.6 points and 5.5 assists) are still the big guns in OKC, and the season hinges on their success. The other big piece in the Harden trade is rookie Jeremy Lamb, who may be eased into the lineup. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Thunder fall in the second round of the playoffs because they will miss Harden. He was a great facilitator and a scorer when KD and RW weren’t on their A game.
2-DENVER NUGGETS — Signing Ty Lawson to a four-year extension is huge because Andre Miller can’t play 35 minutes per game anymore. This is a talented team that added Andre Iguodala, who should be a great improvement at shooting guard. His defense will help the Nuggets and their depth is pretty impressive when they can bring Wilson Chandler off the bench at small forward to replace Danilo Gallinari. This is a solid team that can go 10 deep. Having said that, this is a team that will probably be a sixth seed and a first-round exit in the postseason is a likely scenario.
3-UTAH JAZZ — This team will benefit from Ricky Rubio and Kevin Love starting the season on the bench with injuries. The Jazz didn’t exactly move the needle with their offseason moves. Marvin Williams and Mo Williams don’t really strike me as big improvements over Gordon Hayward and Devin Harris, especially Mo. He’s a combo guard who is probably best suited to being a sixth man on a good team. But, acquiring Williams makes them a little more athletic and a deeper with Hayward coming off the bench. I don’t see this team being better than a .500 team.
4-MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES — When Love and Rubio are healthy, this team will to be fighting for the eighth seed like they were last year before injuries hit them hard. This season, they will be without Love for about eight weeks and that hampers their chances to make the playoffs. Derrick Williams will be expected to start and contribute more than he has so far in his career. Brandon Roy was signed to provide some offense, but they may need him to do more than originally anticipated. Andrei Kirilenko should be a nice fit as the new small forward as a defender and passer. He will also be expected to pick up some of the scoring slack they lose with Love sidelined. J.J. Barea and Luke Ridnour should be fine in replacing Rubio until he returns. Nikola Pekovic is a nice young center who averaged 13 points and 7.4 rebounds last season. The Wolves may be looking at a 35-win season.
5-PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS — The Trail Blazers continue to be a jinxed franchise. And they are starting over again. LaMarcus Aldridge is their franchise player and he’s the player they are pinning their hopes on to carry the bulk of the scoring after his 2011 season in which he averaged 21.7 points. Damon Lilliard may be a good PG one day, but he is coming from Weber State where great basketball doesn’t come to mind. Wesley Matthews is a solid defender and 13-14-point scorer. Nicolas Batum is a solid role player at small forward, but he may be asked to score more, which isn’t his forte. J.J. Hickson will be playing as an undersized center, but he showed some potential to revive his career when he averaged 15 points (54% from the field) and eight rebounds in 19 games with Portland. The starting five isn’t bad, but the bench is probably going to be one of the weakest in the league with Jared Jeffries, Sasha Pavlovic, Ronnie Price, Nolan Smith, and Joel Freeland.
Darren Jacks is a regular contributor to OneManFastBreak.net. Send him an email at: firstname.lastname@example.org