3 Western Conference teams improving impact the OKC Thunder

Kevin Durant #35 of the Phoenix Suns (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Kevin Durant #35 of the Phoenix Suns (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) /

The OKC Thunder are fresh off a surprise 40-win season, and as the dust settles on the Summer and we approach the lone dead period in the NBA calendar, we have a somewhat clearer picture of the league’s landscape.

The NBA offseason can change the direction of a team’s future, and with the moves made in the past few weeks, some teams stand out as offseason winners. Let’s break down the three Western Conference Teams who have seen dramatic improvement and how that impacts the OKC Thunder.

3 Western Conference teams that improved this offseason and how it impacts the OKC Thunder.

Phoenix Suns

The Suns made the league’s biggest splash during the 2022-23 season by acquiring Kevin Durant from the Brooklyn Nets. Phoenix’s ambitious new owner Mat Ishbia followed that by trading Chris Paul and draft compensation to Washington for three-time All-Star Bradley Beal.

Phoenix entered free agency with four main pieces: Devin Booker, Durant, Beal, and Deandre Ayton. The Suns’ depth was nonexistent, but they signed a number of solid role players to minimum contracts to bolster their roster.

Drew Eubanks and Eric Gordon headlined Phoenix’s free agency as they gained a replacement for Jock Landale and much-needed backcourt depth. The Suns also brought back likely starter Josh Okogie and 2022 champion Damion Lee.

After disappointing second-round exits in back-to-back seasons, the Suns upgraded their starting backcourt and switched up their bench in pursuit of a championship. If the Suns can stay healthy, they should be near the top of the west and challenge the Nuggets’ crown next season.

Utah Jazz

After trading Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell for a large haul of draft picks and Lauri Markkanen in the 2022 offseason, the Jazz looked ready to enter a lengthy rebuild. Instead, Utah spent much of last season competing for a spot in the play-in tournament.

At the trade deadline last season, Utah traded away key pieces such as Mike Conley and Jarred Vanderbilt to ultimately end its postseason chase. The Jazz used the highest of their three first-round picks to take Taylor Hendricks ninth overall.

Hendricks is set to provide the Jazz some versatility, especially on defense, at the forward spot. They used their other two first-round picks on guards Keyonte George and Brice Sensabaugh.

Following the draft, the Jazz acquired forward John Collins from the Hawks. Last season, Collins had a down year and averaged 13 points and six rebounds.

Utah is hoping for a bounce-back season from Collins as a starting forward next to Markkanen, who was crowned most improved player last season. If things go according to plan for Utah, they could easily make a run into the play-in tournament next season.

Houston Rockets

Since being eliminated in the second round of the playoffs in 2020 and trading James Harden and Russell Westbrook, the Rockets have been stuck at the bottom of the league, with a 59-177 record over the past three seasons, Houston has tried solely to build through the draft until this offseason.

With an abundance of salary cap room, the Rockets gave out some big contracts to Fred VanVleet and Dillon Brooks to accelerate their rebuild. The Rockets hope VanVleet, an all-star in 2022, and Brooks, a defensive menace, can help the organization transition to the next phase.

Houston already has a collection of young talent, headlined by Jalen Green, that should benefit from the addition of veterans who have played on winning teams. If any of Green, Jabari Smith Jr., or Alperen Sengun can take a leap next season, Houston could be a respectable team.

After winning 22 games last season, the Rockets picked Amen Thompson with the fourth overall pick in the draft. Along with having the potential steal of the draft with Cam Whitmore at 20, the Rockets’ offseason shaped up perfectly.

While Houston will probably not be a postseason team next season, it could still have the most significant increase in wins from last season.

How it affects the Thunder

The OKC Thunder could easily be a fourth team on this list, given their off-season. With draft picks Chet Holmgren and Cason Wallace set to debut, along with Vasilije Micic coming to the league, Oklahoma City is in great shape.

As for the three teams above, they could each play significant roles in the OKC Thunder season. The Jazz are the most likely to have an impact on the season, as both teams will be looking to make a postseason appearance. On paper, the OKC Thunder look to be a tier above the Jazz, but there’s a reason they play the games.

If the OKC Thunder can return to the playoffs for the first time since 2020, a matchup with Phoenix is possible. The Suns are poised to be near the top of the west, so this could be a fun first-round matchup if the Thunder can sneak in the playoffs.

Finally, Houston’s potential improvement would impact next offseason. The Rockets owe the OKC Thunder their first-round pick next season if it falls outside the top four. So, at least in the near future, the Rockets’ upgrades could benefit the Thunder most.

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