Now that Dwight Howard has signed with the Houston Rockets, it’s pretty clear that the top 6 spots in the West belong to, in no particular order, the Rockets, Thunder, Grizzlies, Clippers, Spurs and Warriors. Thus, only the 7th and 8th seeds will really be up for grabs during the regular season

The Portland Trailblazers are probably going to be one of teams fighting for the last two spots.  Signing former 76er Dorell Wright to a two-year deal Saturday, drafting CJ McCollum, trading for Thomas Robinson and Robin Lopez will likely help Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge contend.

The Timberwolves added Kevin Martin and will probably make some additional moves to bolster their roster around Ricky Rubio and Kevin Love.  The Mavericks, after signing Jose Calderon, could be one more move away (Rumors are linking the Mavs to Andrew Bynum) from getting back to the playoffs behind Dirk Nowitzki as well.  And, maybe the Kings, with the return of Carl Landry and the addition of Greivis Vazques could also be in the mix.

Why does any if this Western Conference forecasting matter to Philadunkia nation?

The New Orleans Pelicans, who are in the thick of the last two playoff spot race as well, owe the Sixers their first round pick in 2014.

After dealing for Jrue Holiday on Draft night and adding Tyreke Evans through a sign and trade, the Pelicans looked like a prime candidate to sneak into the back end of the West playoffs.  But, with several other teams making key moves during the start of free agency, it’s going to be more difficult for the Pelicans to make the postseason.

Of course this is all hypothetical, but the Pelicans could realistically finish anywhere from 7th to 11th in the West, paving the way for the Sixers to potentially have two really solid lottery picks next June.  And yes, even though the Pelicans boast a very strong probable crunch time lineup of Jrue-Gordon-Evans-Ryan Anderson-Anthony Davis, New Orleans could still realistically be looking up at 10 teams in the West come April.  That’s a real possibility when you consider Gordon’s injury history, the new faces adapting to Monty Williams’ system and potential chemistry issues with three high-profile guards.

So, Sixers fans, embrace the tank because we could really be in for a climactic 2014 off-season.  Just keep tabs on the Pelicans out West—their success (or failure) is vital to the Sam Hinkie’s rebuilding process.

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