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Western Conference Landscape

As I look around at the moves that teams have made this summer, I come to one conclusion. The East got better, and the West got worse. With that said, the Jazz are not among those teams in the Western Conference that took a step back. On the contrary, the Jazz are one of three teams in the West to make trades and signings that will translate into wins. The other two teams that I feel will be better than last season are the Rockets, who welcome back Yao Ming, and the defending champion Lakers.

It surprises me that most of the other teams in the West stood pat or made moves that could be classified as subtraction by addition, especially when the Lakers got through the playoffs with relative ease. Not that I am complaining. This turn of events is ultimately good for Utah. Other than L.A., I do not see any true front runner in the West as we sit here a few months from the start of the season. The elderly San Antonio Spurs made no real moves aside from bringing in Tiago Splitter from Brazil, the Suns lost their second best player to the Knicks, Dallas got older, and Portland's entire roster is apparently made of glass. Show me anybody who can really contend- please!

Enter the Jazz and the upstart kids of the OKC Thunder. The Lakers' main competition will come from these two teams in 2010-11. Many see the Jazz as a 6 or 7 seed, but I think they have a chance to be a top three team, given what I said above about the rest of the West, and also because I think they have a better team than last year. The Thunder will be a powerhouse if they continue to build on last season's success, but the Jazz's moves ensure that they will not be far behind their division rival.

I have tried hard to make a case for why the West is not as weak as it seems, and to not get my hopes up too high for the Jazz this year, but the truth is hard to ignore. Dallas, San Antonio, Phoenix and Portland didn't do anything this offseason. Let's also not forget Denver might lose their best player to an Eastern Conference team before the season starts. Nobody would be happier than I to see Carmelo go play for the Knicks, especially since it would deplete another of the Jazz's main rivals. For the first time in a long time, the West looks like a barren wasteland with three or four bright spots, and the East is a verdant Utopia. I'm fine with it, and I think the Jazz should be too.

-Conor Bentley


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