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NBA Western Conference capsules

In predicted order of finish:

1. Lakers

2009-10 finish: 57-25, No. 1 in West.

Coming: Steve Blake, Matt Barnes, Theo Ratliff.

Going: Jordan Farmar, DJ Mbenga, Adam Morrison.

Coming off three Finals appearances and back-to-back title runs, they’ve barely glimpsed their potential in the few games they’ve had Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum. Happily for the Lakers, winning a title persuaded ownership not to dump Lamar Odom, leaving them with two multi-talented bigs even if one of their three is out, as is usually the case. Kobe Bryant will be Kobe Bryant. They’ll be good and if everything ever falls together, they’ll be great.

2. San Antonio

2009-10 finish: 50-32, No. 7.

Coming: Tiago Splitter.

Going: Roger Mason, Keith Bogans.

Having gone through journeyman (Rasho Nesterovic) after journeyman (Fabricio Oberto, Antonio McDyess, Matt Bonner), they finally signed Splitter, their 6-11 2007 No. 1 pick. Splitter then missed the preseason because of a calf injury, dampening expectations the Spurs had already lowered.

3. Oklahoma City

2009-10 finish: 50-32, No. 8.

Coming: Cole Aldrich, Daequan Cook, Morris Peterson.

Going: No one of note.

“We won’t see another team that athletic the rest of the way,” said a relieved Bryant after the Thunder made the Lakers look old in last spring’s first round. Now starting players with ages 24-22-21-21-21, the Thunder was No. 11 in defense and No. 1 in blocks with Durant, who just turned 22, nearing LeBron James’ Year 3 numbers. With more comers (Russell Westbrook, Jeff Green, Serge Ibaka), if they’re not big enough to fell titans, they’re growing.

4. Dallas

2009-10 finish: 55-27, No. 2.

Coming: Tyson Chandler.

Going: No one of note.

After not making it out of the first round in three of the last four seasons, owner Mark Cuban couldn’t even get on LeBron James’ list. Cuban settled for making his big, deep team even bigger and deeper ... which is good becase it’s also older with Jason Kidd, 37, Dirk Nowitzki, 32, Jason Terry, 33, and Shawn Marion, 32. They’ll still be tough, but at the end, it will still be Nowitzki vs. Bryant, Duncan and now, Durant.

5. Utah

2009-10 finish: 53-29, No. 5.

Coming: Al Jefferson, Raja Bell, Earl Watson.

Going: Carlos Boozer, Kyle Korver, Wes Matthews.

The Jazz is eternal, winning 50 with Karl Malone and John Stockton, Deron Williams and Boozer, or Williams and Jefferson. It’s Jerry Sloan’s 23rd season. GM Kevin O’Connor, in his 13th season, snared Jefferson, a 20-10 machine, to replace Boozer, a 20-10 machine. Unfortunately, the downside is also continuous. They’re always running into the Lakers, and the missing piece is the one they’ve missed since Mark Eaton.

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6. Portland

2009-10 finish: 50-32, No. 6 in West.

Coming: GM Rich Cho, Wes Matthews.

Going: GM Kevin Pritchard, Martell Webster.

So much for the young monster everyone feared. Unmoved by their heartwarming finish with Coach Nate McMillan holding them together after losing Greg Oden, owner Paul Allen’s Vulcan Corp. people canned the brash Pritchard. Pritchard’s real sin may have been selecting Oden over Durant, the overwhelming consensus move then, but tell that to the Vulcans.

7. Houston

2009-10 finish: 42-40, No. 9.

Coming: Brad Miller, Courtney Lee.

Going: Trevor Ariza.

Sentenced to a season without Yao Ming, Coach Rick Adelman’s gritty crew gave everyone fits, stayed in the playoff hunt most of the way and, as a bonus, picked up Kevin Martin, the shooter it needed. With Yao, Martin, Aaron Brooks, Luis Scola, et al., getting back into the playoffs won’t be a problem. Lasting two rounds would be, unless Yao’s 24-minutes-a-game restriction is lifted by then.

8. Denver

2009-10 finish: 53-29, No. 4.

Coming: Al Harrington.

Going: No one of note ... yet.

Coach George Karl makes his heartwarming return to the wild bunch, which had the Lakers on the ropes in the 2009 Western finals ... and now faces extinction. Carmelo Anthony, who just became a franchise player, wants a bigger franchise, leaving them a last shot to show he’s best off there. The Lakers once pulled it off, turning Bryant around with Bynum emerging and Pau Gasol coming in a fire sale. So, it’s not impossible!

9. Clippers

2009-10 finish: 29-53, No. 12.

Coming: Coach Vinny Del Negro, Ryan Gomes, Randy Foye.

Going: Coach Mike Dunleavy, Steve Blake, Travis Outlaw, Ricky Davis.

That’s me, the Clippers fan. Hoping to change the culture, or create one, GM Neil Olshey, a Dunleavy protege, brought in young players and drew a line in the sand for Baron Davis. Happily for the new culture, Blake Griffin wowed everyone anew, giving them a huge front line with Chris Kaman in the role he prefers. Young, talented ... what could go wrong now?

10. Memphis

2009-10 finish: 40-42, No. 10.

Coming: Tony Allen, Acie Law, Damien Wilkins.

Going: Ronnie Brewer.

After years when the only news was Michael Heisley’s attempts to sell them, GM Chris Wallace turned them around. Zach Randolph, taken off the Clippers’ hands, became an All-Star alongside Marc Gasol, acquired in the no-longer-totally-one-sided 2008 Lakers trade for brother Pau. With Rudy Gay and O.J. Mayo, the high-scoring Grizzlies jumped 16 games in the standings.

11. New Orleans

2009-10 finish: 37-45, No. 11.

Coming: GM Dell Demps, Coach Monty Williams, Ariza, Marco Belinelli.

Going: GM/Coach Jeff Bower, Darren Collison, Morris Peterson, James Posey.

Where did I put that carpet bag? Owner George Shinn, still hard-pressed years after fleeing Charlotte, had a deal to bring in well-heeled local businessman Gary Chouest, but it fell through. So, Chris Paul, anyone? Paul isn’t free until 2012 but served notice he won’t stay if things don’t go back the way they were.

12. Phoenix

2009-10 finish: 54-28, No. 3.

Coming: Hedo Turkoglu, Josh Childress, Hakim Warrick.

Going: Amare Stoudemire.

Having transitioned from Joe Johnson and Shawn Marion to Shaquille O’Neal, owner Bob Sarver began shopping then-25-year-old Amare Stoudemire two years ago, then tried to keep him after their improbable run to the Western finals last season but — surprise! — lost him to New York.

13. Sacramento

2009-10 finish: 25-57, No. 14.

Coming: First-round pick DeMarcus Cousins, Samuel Dalembert.

Going: Spencer Hawes, Andres Nocioni, Jon Brockman.

If rebuilding is hard and rebuilding in Sacramento is harder, GM Geoff Petrie, who built an unlikely contender around Chris Webber and Vlade Divac, had already found Tyreke Evans, Jason Thompson and Omri Casspi before bagging Cousins. Cousins dropped to No. 5 because of his temper, which showed in summer league. He also looked like a Moses Malone clone at 6-91/2, 292, with soft hands and quick feet, suggesting he’s worth some trouble.

14. Minnesota

2009-10 finish: 15-67, No. 15.

Coming: First-round pick Wes Johnson, Luke Ridnour, Michael Beasley, Webster.

Going: Al Jefferson, Ramon Sessions, Ryan Hollins, Damien Wilkins.

If no one knew what GM David Kahn was doing, drafting point guards Ricky Rubio and Jonny Flynn, giving Jefferson away didn’t clear it up. Nevertheless, with their well-regarded prospects and their discarded ones there’s a lot of talent on the lot. If nobody knew what Coach Kurt Rambis would do with it, they were impressive in the preseason. Anything is possible, up to No. 12 or 13, anyway.

15. Golden State

2009-10 finish: 26-56, No. 13.

Coming: Coach Keith Smart, David Lee, Charlie Bell.

Going: Coach Don Nelson, Anthony Randolph, Anthony Morrow, Kelenna Azubuike, C.J. Watson, Ronny Turiaf.

In the big change, short-pockets owner Chris Cohan agreed to sell the team, ending their circus era with more clowns in management than on the roster, they hope. If it was time for Nelson to go, no one but Nellie can coach his little teams and he often can’t, either.


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