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The West is Getting Stronger

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The Western Conference was top heavy in 2016, lacking the strong team depth of the past half-decade. Unfortunately for the Clippers, that is likely to change in 2017, as several teams have made significant strides in the draft and free agency.

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Utah

In: George Hill, Joe Johnson

Out: Trevor Booker

The Jazz were pretty damn good last year, a better team than the Houston Rockets, who were the eventual 8th seed in the Western Conference. They won 40 games despite injuries to young prospect Dante Exum and stud center Rudy Gobert, but most importantly, had a positive point differential on the year. Basically, they lost a few more games than they should have.

Now they are adding two players who fit absolutely crucial needs for them, and on good contracts too. The Jazz's weak spot last year was at point guard, where they ran out a motley crew of Trey Burke, Raul Neto, and mid-season acquisition Shelvin Mack. None of those guys is much better than a solid backup, and in today's point guard dominated NBA, this meant the Jazz were at a significant disadvantage every night. George Hill isn't a typical point guard who creates a lot of great shots for teammates, but he is a terrific defender, a solid shooter, and is good enough at running plays to keep the offense going. Basically, he is a real starting point guard, a huge upgrade at that position over last year.

Joe Johnson is a seven time All Star with more playoff and big game experience than anyone on the Jazz roster. He isn't what he used to be, but is still a shot creator who can score 12+ points a game without breaking a sweat. His scoring expertise, shooting, and creating will bring a new dimension to a Jazz offense that frequently struggled last season.

The Jazz did lose Trevor Booker, a fine reserve big man, but the two new players will far outweigh them. The Jazz aren't going to be a championship contender next season, but they seem likely to win 50+ games, and will be a very tough out in the playoffs.

New Orleans

In: E'Twuan Moore, Solomon Hill

Out: Ryan Anderson, Eric Gordon

New Orleans had an awful 2016, missing the playoffs and regressing heavily on defense in the first year under new coach Alvin Gentry. To redress these issues, the Pelicans have let one of their worst defenders (Ryan Anderson) get paid elsewhere, and have moved on from oft-injured guard Eric Gordon as well.

In their place are two defense-first players who don't have the scoring punch of Anderson or Gordon, but will help create a much more tough-minded group on the other end. Solomon Hill had a solid sophomore season before struggling through much of last year, only coming on late before exploding in the playoffs. He can defend positions 2-4, which is a huge boon in the modern NBA. The question mark for him is on offense, but he has flashed enough shooting and playmaking to earn his enormous 4/48 contract down the road. Hill will fit in snugly at the starting small forward position, but could also start at the 4 against certain teams or lineups.

Moore is a 3 and D shooting guard who has also demonstrated enough ball-handling chops to play some point guard. He is a dependable defender who match up on either guard position, and is a career 37% three point shooter. Moore will help the Pelicans' bench on both ends, do a little bit of everything, and is a reliable short term starter in case of injury.

While the Pelicans' offense will probably worsen a bit, their defense should be much better, and they are also crucially getting much healthier. Gordon and Anderson have been plagued by injuries for years, whereas Moore and Hill have been mostly healthy. The last thing the Pelicans' want is a repeat of last year's incredible injury pile up, and these two signings will prevent that from happening again.

Memphis

In: Chandler Parsons, Mike Conley (re-signed)

Out: Nobody Yet

In addition to a fantastic draft, Memphis has succeeded in building their roster back up after a down year in 2016. Mike Conley, one of the better point guards in the league, now has a fresh max contract, the richest in NBA history, and is ready to lead the Grizzlies back to the playoffs yet another season. He is 29, still in his prime, and will now be signed to his mid-30s. He might not be good enough to be the best player on a championship team, but he is still a star player on both ends, and should be well worth his contract.

Chandler Parsons is a bit more of a gamble. The talented small forward continues to float around the Southwest Division, going from team to team, and infuriating each fanbase in turn. Parsons had his most efficient performance last season, nearing 50% from the field and cracking 40% from three. His defense has nosedived since early in his career, but he isn't awful on that end, and could improve on the Grizzlies defense minded roster. This is especially true since he will have the tutelage of the Grindfather, Tony Allen. Parsons will finally provide some shooting to a spacing starved roster still built around two big men, and his playmaking will help Memphis immensely.

The issue with Parsons is that he has had two knee surgeries in the past year and missed 37 games in the last two seasons combined. The Grizzlies had an endless litany of injuries last season, and adding Parsons isn't liable to make them healthier. If he is healthy, however, he should improve their on-court product by a significant amount. Parsons isn't an All Star level player, but he is a big upgrade over Matt Barnes and Vince Carter.

The Grizzlies should once again be a mid-tier playoff team in the Western Conference, and will be a tough opponent for anyone in the playoffs.

Sacramento

In: Arron Afflalo, Anthony Tolliver

Out: Caron Butler

The Kings probably won't be hugely improved next season, at least not from these free agents. Afflalo is nowhere near the player he was a few years ago, having fallen off significantly on defense, but is still an upgrade of sorts at shooting guard over Ben McLemore and James Anderson. Tolliver is a nice reserve stretch four. The real upgrade might be at coach, as Dave Joerger is one of the better floor commanders in the NBA, while ex-coach George Karl had largely checked out.

Sacramento has been a barren wasteland of bad teams, awful signings, and weird machinations for almost a decade. But their record has slowly improved over the last couple years, and they might have enough now to at least compete for a .500 record and a playoff spot.

The rest: Portland got Evan Turner, the Lakers picked up Mozgov and Deng, and the Timberwolves and Nuggets should improve through youth. The only West team getting drastically worse is Dallas, which is aging, lost Parsons, and still has many un-signed free agents. Expect another extremely tough season in the Western Conference next year after a down 2016.

The Clippers should be better than any of these teams barring injury or something unexpected. But the bottom of the West is getting better, and that makes the path to the Western Conference Finals even tougher than it already was.