Los Angeles Clippers (56-26, lost in the first round to Memphis):
Headline: The Clippers Look to Be More About Winning than Lob City as they Push for a Title
Summary: Well the Clippers finally did what they needed to do and got rid of perhaps the worst head coach among last year’s playoff teams (if not the worst period) in Vinny Del Negro, exchanging VDN for Doc Rivers in a rare trade involving a coach. Besides that, perhaps the most important thing the Clippers did was lock star PG Chris Paul down to a long-term deal. They filled out their bench as well, turning what was already a strength of theirs into even more of one. They are certainly title contenders this season.
Overall Trend: Up, the Clippers are a more talented and certainly better coached team then they were last season.
Salary: $72.76M (over luxury tax threshold)
2014 NBA Draft Picks: Owe 2014 Second Round Pick to San Antonio (Protected for Picks 31-55).
Biggest Addition: Head Coach Doc Rivers.
Losses: Eric Bledsoe, Chauncey Billups, Lamar Odom.
Best Case: NBA Champions. Here’s the thing, there isn’t a whole lot of difference between the top few teams out west and although they certainly wouldn’t be favored to win it all, its certainly possible the Clippers could do it and finally have a banner of their own worth hanging in the Staples Center
Worst Case: First round. The west is very tough once again and if the Clippers draw a bad matchup in the first round, it could be one and down once more for Lob City.
Most Likely Case: Western conference finals. This is really a coin flip but I’d rank the Clippers marginally ahead of OKC as the second best team out west and so I’ll say they make it two rounds farther than last year.
Golden State Warriors (47-35, lost in the second round to San Antonio):
Headline: After an Electrifying Playoff Run Last Season, Golden State Looks to Push Towards the Top
Summary: Can Golden State make the playoffs every year? There is something amazing about the combination of that team and their amazing fans that makes their (hopefully much more frequent) playoff appearances magical. The Warriors finally put it together last season, making it all the way to the second round before falling in a tough series to the Spurs. Golden State managed to actually get better this offseason, landing Andre Iguodala among others. Injuries may be the biggest concern for this squad, as last year’s rookie sensation Harrison Barnes already has a foot injury, albeit a minor one, and star PG Steph Curry is still looking for the first injury-free season of his career. If healthy, they can certainly push for the top of the west.
Overall Trend: Up, Iggy will help them more than make up for the loss of Jack
Salary: $67.25M (over cap)
2014 NBA Draft Picks: Owe 2014 First Round Pick to Utah and 2014 Second Round Pick to Minnesota.
Biggest Addition: Andre Iguodala
Losses: Jarrett Jack, Carl Landry, Richard Jefferson
Best Case: NBA Finals. If the Warriors are able to make their 3s, there aren’t that many teams that can beat them. If they get hot at the right time, Golden State could find themselves making a run just one step short of every team’s ultimate goal.
Worst Case: Miss playoffs. This will only happen if the injury bug strikes the Warriors badly again. The west is deep enough that their margin for error isn’t very big and a few major injuries could put them on the outside looking in.
Most Likely Case: Second round. The Warriors may have gotten better but so did everyone else. It’ll be the same result as last season for them.
Los Angeles Lakers (45-37, lost in the first round to San Antonio):
Headline: An Aging Lakers Squad Looks to Somehow Summon the Magic One More Time
Summary: What a difference a year makes. The Lakers were among the favorites last season after landing Dwight Howard for not a whole lot. However, it never quite worked out for them as the Lakers struggled nearly all season with injuries and with meshing together as a team. Then, when it seemed like things couldn’t get worse, Kobe Bryant went down with a major injury. The bottom line is what had been a title contender last year will now fight, at best, for the last few playoff spots.
Overall Trend: Down, look Dwight Howard didn’t work out but replacing him with Kaman is a serious downgrade. Add to that the injury questions and the aging roster and you’ve got a team in serious decline.
Salary: $93.71M (over luxury tax threshold)
2014 NBA Draft Picks: Owe 2014 Second Round Pick to Milwaukee.
Biggest Addition: Chris Kaman
Losses: Dwight Howard, Metta World Peace, Antawn Jamison
Best Case: Second round. I think the Lakers will miss the playoffs but if they do make it and Kobe is healthy, they have enough firepower to win a series.
Worst Case: Just miss the playoffs and get the #14 pick. The Lakers are going to be an okay team and okay might be good enough to get them to close to the playoffs but not in.
Most Likely Case: Miss the playoffs, pick in the 10-12 range. Kobe is going to try and come back too early because he’s Kobe and it won’t work for them. The Lakers have too many holes and will fall short, by a decent margin, of the playoffs.
Sacramento Kings (28-54, missed playoffs):
Headline: With the Kings Future in Sacramento Secure, Sacramento Looks to Claw its Way out of the Cellar
Summary: Really, not that many Kings fans probably care nearly as much about the team’s on-court performance this season as they do that they are staying in Sacramento. With new local ownership, the Kings future and fortunes appear on the up-swing. On the court, the team could be a bit better this season, but with the west as tough as it is, significant improvement record-wise will be difficult.
Overall Trend: Up. The Kings are a better team than they were a year ago but they are probably not good enough to make any playoff noise.
Salary: $59.19M (over cap)
2014 NBA Draft Picks: Owe 2014 First Round Pick to Cleveland (Protected for Picks 1-12) and 2014 Second Round Pick to Toronto (if picks 31-55) or New York (if picks 56-60).
Biggest Addition: Carl Landry
Losses: Tyreke Evans, Toney Douglas, the Maloof Family.
Best Case: Get a top three pick. The Kings are not going to make the playoffs this year, and probably not next year either. The best they can hope for, therefore, is to land another top pick.
Worst Case: Miss the playoffs and get a pick in the 8-10 range. The Kings are better than not a whole lot of teams but could pile up a bunch of wins that will hurt their lottery chances enough to give them a lower selection in next year’s draft.
Most Likely Case: Land a pick in the 5-7 range. The Kings are not going to win that many more games than they won last year, in fact they may actually win less due to how tough the west is. They should finish in the middle of the lottery pack.
Phoenix Suns (25-57, missed playoffs):
Headline: The Suns Blow it Up and Look to Build Anew
Summary: The Suns are going to be awful this season. They may have the worst constructed roster in the league, with a bunch of point guards and Gortat, and are almost certainly the worst team out west. The best you can say for them is that they don’t have too much on the books salary-wise after last season so they may be able to turn around fairly quickly.
Overall Trend: Down, and down quickly. The Suns appear headed for several years of lottery picks, at least until the team is sold and someone who is less of a cheapskate than Sarver buys the team.
Salary: $52.1M (under cap by $6.5M)
2014 NBA Draft Picks: Owed Minnesota’s 2014 First Round Pick (Protected for Picks 1-12) and Indiana’s 2014 First Round Pick (Protected for Picks 1-14)
Biggest Addition: Eric Bledsoe
Losses: Wesley Johnson, Jared Dudley, Luis Scola, Michael Beasley
Best Case: #1 overall pick. The Suns are terrible and will be among the favorites to land the top pick next spring.
Worst Case: Top five pick and they don’t get Minnesota’s pick. It would be very nice for the Suns to have three first-rounders next summer. They will certainly get Indiana’s but Minnesota’s is far more questionable.
Most Likely Case: Top 3 pick. The zone of possible finishes for the Suns is fairly narrow and they should win one of the top three picks.