Mavericks, Thunder moves make NBA’s Western Conference more compelling as Clippers fade with loss of Paul George

The West got wilder during the NBA offseason.

The defending conference champion Dallas Mavericks added a future Hall of Famer in Klay Thompson. The top-seeded Oklahoma City Thunder retooled with multiple savvy additions. And the Los Angeles Clippers suffered a sizable loss with the departure of Paul George.

Those developments — coupled with the moves and non-moves by the Minnesota Timberwolves, Denver Nuggets and others — add intrigue to an already wide-open Western Conference.

Here’s where the conference’s top contenders stand now.

The Mavericks continued their transformation with their sign-and-trade addition of Thompson, hoping the 11-year veteran and four-time NBA champion can provide the 3-point shooting they so badly lacked during their Finals loss to the Boston Celtics.

Thompson, a career 41.3% 3-point shooter, is no longer the tenacious two-way standout who earned five consecutive All-Star selections from 2015-19 before ACL and Achilles tears interrupted his career, but he still made 38.7% of his 3-point attempts last season with the Golden State Warriors.

At this stage of his career, Thompson, 34, was miscast as a second option with the Warriors, but playing a supporting role next to Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving should serve him well. Dallas relied heavily on Doncic and Irving during its loss in five games to Boston, and Thompson’s shot-making could help ease that burden.

“You still can’t leave me open,” Thompson said Tuesday during an introductory press conference. “I can guard. … I know I can help this team, whether it’s the knowledge I’ve gained or big scoring nights. I just still know I can be a very, very good player in this league.”

Thompson effectively replaces Tim Hardaway Jr., whose defensive issues and poor shooting caused him to fall out of the Mavericks’ playoff rotation. The Mavs have since traded Hardaway to Detroit in a deal that brought back Quentin Grimes, the former Knicks guard who brings more 3-point shooting and defense to Dallas.

Dallas hopes adding Thompson, Grimes and lanky free-agent forward Naji Marshall to Doncic, Irving, P.J. Washington and centers Dereck Lively and Daniel Gafford will make them deeper on defense, better at shooting and more versatile on offense — shortcomings that were exposed against the Celtics.

Still, returning to the Finals remains a tall task in a conference in which ascending Oklahoma City also got better on paper.

The Thunder dominated at small ball last season with the 7-1, 208-pound Chet Holmgrem at center, but those lineups lacked physicality. Enter Isaiah Hartenstein, who parlayed his productivity in an increased role with the Knicks last season and postseason into a three-year, $87 million deal with OKC.

The 7-1 Hartenstein excelled as a rebounder and was solid around the basket but believes he can provide more on offense than what he was asked to do with the Knicks, with whom he attempted only three 3-pointers last season.

“The [Thunder’s] style of play really fits me,” Hartenstein said last week during his introductory media availability. “I’m a high-IQ player. They have a lot of guys who cut. I think, to me, I’m one of the best passers in the NBA. … I feel like I can really expand my game here.”

Hartenstein’s signing followed the Thunder’s trade for Alex Caruso, a two-time All-Defensive selection who made 40.8% of his 3-pointers last season. Caruso gives them a true shooting guard next to star point guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.

To acquire Caruso from Chicago, the Thunder sent former lottery pick Josh Giddey, who is still only 21 but struggled with 3-point shooting and fit awkwardly as a guard-forward in OKC.

Oklahoma City now has the pieces to hold up against bigger opponents and still thrive in small ball. FanDuel gives the Thunder the second-best odds to win the Finals next year — and the best in the West.

Still squarely in the mix are the Nuggets, who lost 3-and-D staple Kentavious Caldwell-Pope in free agency to Orlando but still boast much of the core — including Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray, Michael Porter Jr. and Aaron Gordon — that won the NBA Finals in 2023.

The Timberwolves also bring back a fast-rising cast headlined by Anthony Edwards, Karl-Anthony Towns and veterans Rudy Gobert and Mike Conley that just advanced to the Western Conference Finals. They traded two future first-round picks for the No. 8 selection in last month’s draft, using it to take Kentucky guard Rob Dillingham.

An excellent scorer, Dillingham joins a Minnesota backcourt that was in need of short-term and long-term reinforcements with Conley entering his age-37 season.

And then there are the Clippers, whose experiment to pair aging, big-name stars George, Kawhi Leonard, James Harden and Russell Westbrook ended with a first-round loss to Dallas.

George’s four-year, $212 million max contract with the Philadelphia 76ers leaves fourth-seeded Los Angeles looking to fill the 22.6 points, 5.2 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game that the forward provided last season. George, 34, made 41.3% of his 3-pointers and started a team-leading 74 games.

On a recent episode of his “Podcast P with Paul George,” George said the Clippers offered him a two-year, $60 million contract last October. As negotiations progressed, Los Angeles was not willing to give him a four-year deal or add a no-trade clause to a three-year, $150 million offer, George said.

“I never wanted to leave L.A.,” George said. “As it played out, though, the first initial deal was, I thought, kind of disrespectful.”

The Clippers signed Derrick Jones Jr., also a forward, away from the Mavericks after he averaged a career-high 8.6 points and a career-best 34.3% 3-point percentage as a defensive-minded role player.

FanDuel gives the Clippers worse title odds than the Los Angeles Lakers, whose otherwise quiet offseason was headlined by their drafting of LeBron James’ son Bronny James, and the Phoenix Suns, who appear poised to run it back with Kevin Durant, Devin Booker and Bradley Beal after a disappointing 2023-24 campaign.

The New Orleans Pelicans, meanwhile, hope to take another step after last season’s jump to 49-33 by adding two-way point guard Dejounte Murray to a talented lineup featuring C.J. McCollum, Brandon Ingram and Zion Williamson.

The Sacramento Kings sign-and-trade for DeMar DeRozan; Ja Morant’s return to the Memphis Grizzlies; and the San Antonio Spurs’ second year of Victor Wembanyama offer additional intrigue.

The Mavericks, Thunder and Timberwolves proved last year’s preseason prognosticators wrong with their strong seasons and playoff runs. Surely, there are more surprises to come in the wild, wild West.