There has been a lot of movement between the two teams from Los Angeles this offseason. With that in mind, let’s preview the Pacific Division.
1. Los Angeles Lakers
2. Los Angeles Clippers
3. Golden State Warriors
4. Phoenix Suns
5. Sacramento Kings
Los Angeles Lakers – I don’t say this about most historic franchises, but the Lakers are a mess right now. They thought they had Chris Paul, before David Stern vetoed the trade. Then, they shipped Lamar Odom away to Dallas for two second-round picks. Now they are left with two big holes in their starting lineup at the point guard and small forward spot. Kobe Bryant is not happy. Phil Jackson retired back in May, and new coach Mike Brown is going to have to do miracle work to get this team back together. One thing is for certain: the lockout helped the Lakers. It allowed Bryant extra time to rest those aging knees and Pau Gasol to get his mind right again. Andrew Bynum is healthy and the Lakers expect him to have a big year. The addition of Josh McRoberts should not go unnoticed, either. McRoberts is a scrappy guy playing for an elegant franchise. He will help them if he makes the rotation.
Player(s) to Watch – Andrew Bynum – Can this man please stay healthy, just for one season? In six seasons, Bynum has played all 82 games, one time. When healthy, he can be effective. He blocks shots and can score in the low post with the best of NBA centers. With the loss of Odom, Bynum will have to step up his production if the Lakers want to make it back to the finals.
Why they will finish 1st in the Pacific Division – They have the experience over all the other teams in the division. The experienced teams always trump the inexperienced teams in the NBA. Kobe is not happy about getting jipped out of the Chris Paul-trade, so when Kobe plays angry, he gets the job done.
Los Angeles Clippers – Finally! The Clippers have a chance to win the Pacific Division for the first time in years. With the additions of Chris Paul, Caron Butler and Chauncey Billups add a veteran presence on a team that was so youthful just one season ago. Of course, trading Eric Gordon (pure scorer) will hurt because Billups won’t give them the type of production that Gordon did and would have. And they way over-paid DeAndre Jordan to keep him around for four more seasons. He might live up to half of that money total. But when you look at the Clippers starting lineup of Paul, Billups, Butler, Blake Griffin, and Jordan, it is better than that of their enemy (the Lakers) and is one of the more complete lineups in the NBA. Besides Mo Williams, Randy Foye and Ryan Gomes, their bench is not that strong. They don’t have very many big bodies and that could end up hurting them when they get to the playoffs. That’s right. I said “playoffs”.
Player(s) to Watch – Caron Butler – I am interested to see how Butler comes off a year in which he tore his ACL and his team still ended up winning the NBA championship. Butler was averaging 15 ppg and shooting 43% from the three-point before he was injured, 29 games into the season, and missed the rest of the season. He should be able to help the Clippers on both offense and defense.
Why they will finish 2nd in the Pacific Division – They have two stars (Paul and Griffin), two dead-eye, three-point shooters (Billups and Butler), but their coach, Vinny Del Negro, will be their downfall. With a roster like this, it’s going to be hard to screw this up, but he will find a way. And the experience factor comes into play here. The Lakers are more experienced and Kobe can still win games on his own.
Golden State Warriors – Changing are coming to the Bay Area. I have a feeling that the Warriors are going to play some defense this season. New head coach Mark Jackson has been preaching defense says day one of training camp. He will also help with the improvement of both Monta Ellis and Stephen Curry. Ellis and Curry are building blocks for this team. Rookie Klay Thompson is a sharp-shooter that will help stabilize the Warriors’ bench after the loss of Reggie Williams, Al Thornton, Vladimir Radmanovic, and Jeremy Lin among others. The signing of Kwame Brown was a surprise to me. I didn’t know he was still in the league, but he will add depth to the weak front-line of the Warriors. Small forward Dorell Wright had a breakout year, averaging 16 ppg, but shot only 43% from the field. The Western Conference is very deep and talented, so it’s going to be tough for the Warriors to make it to the playoffs. The improvement of the Los Angeles Clippers doesn’t help their cause either. For now, they are on the outside looking in.
Player(s) to Watch – Klay Thompson – A lot of eyes are going to be on Ellis and Curry because they are the best players on this team. But I am interested in their rookie lottery pick, Thompson. He will get minutes because he can shoot it and play a little defense. He has nice size for a two-guard but he might see some time at the small forward position. A sure dark horse when it comes to being Rookie of the Year.
Why they will finish 3rd in the Pacific Division – I want to see the impact that [Mark] Jackson has on this young team. I think that it will be a big impact because Jackson knows what it takes to be successful in the NBA. He can teach this group of players, who have never won anything, a thing or two about team basketball.
Phoenix Suns – The Suns missed Amar’e Stoudemire’s presence last season. They went 40-42 and missed the playoffs without him. The Suns might have another tough season, not because they got worse, but because their division got better, with the exception of Sacramento. Steve Nash is still the best player on this team, but the roster is a lot more stable this season. They re-signed Grant Hill, signed Shannon Brown, and drafted Markieff Morris. Backup point guard Aaron Brooks is a solid starter on any other team in the league that doesn’t have a point guard as good as Brooks. Marcin Gortat will benefit more from playing with Nash this season than he did even last season (his scoring went from 4 ppg to 13 ppg after he was traded to Phoenix via Orlando). Jared Dudley, Channing Frye, and Robin Lopez round out the supporting cast around Nash.
Player(s) to Watch – Marcin Gortat and Shannon Brown – Gortat came to life after he was traded from Orlando to Phoenix. His scoring went from 4 to 13 ppg, his rebounding went up almost 5 per game, and I feel that if he is given the chance to start and play 30-plus minutes a game, Gortat can become one of the most efficient centers in the league. After two-plus seasons in L.A., Brown decided to leave the Lakers and head to Phoenix. While he won two championships with the Lakers, Brown wanted more playing time and he knew Kobe Bryant wasn’t going to retire any time soon, so he chose to jump ship. Brown averaged 8.7 ppg last season and shot 35% from the three-point line. Brown could jump into the starting lineup in Phoenix and he will benefit from playing with an experienced, future hall-of-fame point guard in Nash.
Why they will finish 4th in the Pacific Division – Yes, they have Nash, but the rest of their pieces are either inexperienced or unproven. And with Nash aging, it’s going to get more difficult to win games without a consistent second scoring-option. They may end up surprising some folks, though.
Sacramento Kings – Sacramento residents now have a reason to go to Kings’ games: Jimmer Fredette. He stole the show on the NCAA stage last season with his barrage of long-range three-pointers, slick ball-handling, and high-scoring games. Don’t forget the Kings have a young center, DeMarcus Cousins, who could become really good if he gets his head right and Tyreke Evans, who can be a perennial all-star if he stays healthy. J.J. Hickson and Jason Thompson are solid power forwards. Marcus Thornton is a candidate for Sixth Man of the Year, unless he starts this season instead of Fredette at the two guard. This is a team that won 24 games last season after being over-hyped before the season with the addition of Cousins. It will be another rough season in Sac Town, they did little to improve their defense that ranked 25th in ppg (104.7).
Player(s) to Watch – Jimmer Fredette – Who else would you want to watch? Fredette has been doubted by many NBA scouts that he is too small and doesn’t have the quickness or athletic ability to go against other guards in the NBA. All of that goes out the door when you can shoot from 30-ft and put the ball on the deck to make plays for himself and teammates. Whether he starts or comes off the bench once the season starts, Fredette will be a “player” in this league.
Why they will finish 5th in the Pacific Division – They have too many question marks on the defensive end of the floor and did nothing to improve it in this shortened-offseason. Two things will determine how good or bad this team will be: Cousins’ attitude and Evans’ health. If both are good, then this team could finish as high as third in this division. If one or both are bad, then it’s back to the lottery for the Kings.