NBA preview: Northwest Division capsules
LAST SEASON: 16-66, did not make playoffs.
STARTING FIVE: G Ricky Rubio (10.3 ppg, 8.8 apg, 1.7 spg), G Zach LaVine (10.1 ppg, 3.6 apg, 2.4 rpg), F Andrew Wiggins (16.9 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 1.0 spg), F Kevin Garnett (7.6 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 19.6 mpg), C Karl-Anthony Towns (10.3 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 2.3 bpg at Kentucky).
KEY ADDITIONS: F/C Towns (draft), PG Tyus Jones (draft), F Nemanja Bjelica (owned draft rights, signed from Turkey), PG Andre Miller (free agent, Kings).
KEY LOSSES: G Gary Neal (free agent, Wizards), F Chase Budinger (trade, Pacers).
COACH: Sam Mitchell (interim), first season.
EYES ON: Flip Saunders. The team president, minority owner and coach is on a leave of absence while being treated for cancer. Saunders has made several moves to restore some hope to one of the NBA’s woebegone franchises, and now it is up to Mitchell and GM Milt Newton to carry that vision forward while Saunders tends to his health.
OUTLOOK: If they can stay healthy they should take a massive step forward with Wiggins in his second year, the No. 1 overall pick in Towns, Rubio returning and Garnett watching over the whole crew. Probably still a year away from contending for a playoff berth in the rugged West.
OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER
LAST SEASON: 45-37, did not make playoffs.
STARTING FIVE: G Russell Westbrook (28.1 ppg, 8.6 apg, 7.3 rpg, 2.1 spg), G Andre Roberson (3.4 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 0.8 spg), F Kevin Durant (25.4 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 4.1 apg), F Serge Ibaka (14.3 ppg, 7.8 rpg, 2.4 bpg), C Steven Adams (7.7 ppg, 7.5 rpg, 1.2 bpg).
KEY ADDITIONS: G Cameron Payne (draft), Billy Donovan (coach).
KEY LOSSES: Scott Brooks, coach.
COACH: Billy Donovan, first season.
EYES ON: Durant and Ibaka. Durant, the 2013-14 MVP and scoring champion, played just 27 games last season because of a broken right foot. He is back and has looked like his normal self during the preseason. Ibaka, the team’s defensive centerpiece, missed the final month of last season after having knee surgery. He is ready to go as well.
OUTLOOK: The Thunder ensured quality depth by signing center Enes Kanter to a 4-year, $70 million deal during the offseason. Kanter averaged 18.7 points and 11 rebounds for the Thunder last season after being moved from Utah at the trade deadline. Westbrook won the scoring title and made a run at the MVP award in Durant’s absence. With Durant and Ibaka back, if Oklahoma City stays healthy and the players click with Donovan, a title is within reach.
LAST SEASON: 38-44, did not make playoffs.
STARTING FIVE: G Trey Burke (12.8 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 4.3 apg), G Alec Burks (13.9 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 3.0 apg), F Gordon Hayward (19.3 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 4.1 apg), F Derrick Favors (16.0 ppg, 8.2 rpg, 1.7 bpg), C Rudy Gobert (8.4 ppg, 9.5 rpg, 2.3 bpg).
KEY ADDITIONS: F Trey Lyles (2015 draft), G Raul Neto (owned draft rights, signed from Universidad Catolica De Murcia), C Tibor Pleiss (owned draft rights, signed from FC Barcelona), C Jeff Withey (free agent, Hornets)
KEY LOSSES: None.
COACH: Quin Snyder, second season.
EYES ON: The big three. The Jazz have put their faith in Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert playing at an All-Star level. Hayward and Favors have entered their primes in their sixth years in the league and Gobert has star potential. They are the foundation the organization believes is strong enough to build a contending team around.
OUTLOOK: A playoff run is the next step for a rebuilding organization that posted the sixth-best win percentage (.655) in the NBA after the All-Star break last season. But the growth must come from within after the Jazz declined to add any significant veteran to the roster during the offseason and lost guard Dante Exum to a left knee injury.
PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS
LAST SEASON: 51-31, lost to Memphis Grizzlies (4-1) in the first round.
STARTING FIVE: G Damian Lillard (21.0 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 6.2 apg), G Gerald Henderson (12.1 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 2.6 apg), F Al-Farouq Aminu (5.6 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 0.8 apg), F Ed Davis (8.3 ppg, 7.6 rpg, 1.2 apg), C Mason Plumlee (8.7 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 0.77 bpg).
KEY ADDITIONS: G Henderson (trade, Hornets), C Plumlee (trade, Knicks), F Aminu (free agent, Mavericks), F Davis (free agent, Lakers), F Maurice Harkless (trade, Magic), F Noah Vonleh (trade, Hornets).
KEY LOSSES: F LaMarcus Aldridge (free agent, Spurs), G Wesley Matthews (free agent, Mavericks), F Nicolas Batum (trade, Hornets), C Robin Lopez (free agent, Knicks).
COACH: Terry Stotts, fourth season.
EYES ON: Lillard. The All-Star guard, entering his fourth season, is the last starter remaining from last season’s team. He will be counted on to lead a squad which, in the preseason, ranked the third-youngest in the NBA, in the midst of a major rebuilding project. The Blazers have faith in him as the face of the franchise: He signed a five-year, $120 million contract in the offseason.
OUTLOOK: The Blazers are not expected to make the playoffs this season, and they’ll likely win fewer than 30 games, but they could be fun to watch with several young up-and-comers. Two players to watch are CJ McCollum, who is expected to back up Lillard at point guard, and Meyers Leonard, a 7-foot-1 center who showed his athleticism and an accurate 3-point shot late last season.
LAST SEASON: 30-52, did not make playoffs.
STARTING FIVE: PG Emmanuel Mudiay (18 ppg, 5.9 apg in 12 games for professional team in China), G Gary Harris (3.3 ppg, 1.2 rpg), F Danilo Gallinari (12.4 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 1.4 apg), F Kenneth Faried (12.6 ppg, 8.9 rpb, 1.2 apg), C Joffrey Lauvergne (3.9 ppg, 3.2 rpb).
KEY ADDITIONS: Michael Malone (coach), Mudiay (No. 7 pick in draft), C Nikola Jokic (41st pick in 2014 draft), F Mike Miller (free agent, Cavaliers).
KEY LOSSES: G Ty Lawson (trade, Rockets).
COACH: Malone, first season.
EYES ON: Mudiay. He will run the offense in place of Lawson, who was traded after several alcohol-related run-ins with authorities. Gallinari said that Mudiay could be a strong rookie of the year candidate. Mudiay, who played pro ball in China last season, is working on developing a more consistent jumper.
OUTLOOK: The Nuggets finished 19-22 at Pepsi Center last season, their first losing mark at home since 2002-03. Malone vows to run more to take advantage of the elevation advantage in Denver. To draw the team closer, backup guard Jameer Nelson held a get-together in Philadelphia before training camp, with the team bonding over paint ball, hoops and video games.