Los Angeles Clippers (57-25, lost in the second round to OKC):
Headline: Without Sterling, the Clippers Look to Forge a New Path and Win a NBA Title
Summary: The Clippers finally are rid of the worst owner of pro sports as the now infamous tapes finally forced out Donald Sterling and brought in new leadership. The team was already solid before then but without the distraction of their horrible owner, the future appears to be bright for the new kings of LA.
Overall Trend: Up, even if only for dumping Sterling alone
Salary: $82.9M (over luxury tax threshold)
2015 NBA Draft Picks: Owe 2015 First Round Pick to Boston, and 2015 Second Round Pick to Toronto (Protected for Selections 31-50 and 56-60) or Denver (Protected for Selections 31-50)
Biggest Addition: New Ownership
Losses: Jared Dudley, Danny Granger, Darren Collison
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: Second Round. I’d put the Clippers just a step behind OKC and San Antonio and so likely to lose in the second round again.
Golden State Warriors (51-31, lost in the first round to the LA Clippers):
Headline: After an Early Playoff Exit in 2014, the Warriors Look to Build Towards a First NBA Title
Summary: The Warriors are here to stay as a west playoff team for years to come. They are young, fun, talented and now finally have an experienced coach in Steve Kerr leading them. Their biggest concerns are twofold, health of their aging big men and defense. Injuries can derail any team but this group has had more than its share of bad injury lucky. Their defense, although good last year, faces a challenge as Steve Kerr has never lead a top defensive team as head coach. At least we know the Warriors will be fun to watch.
Overall Trend: Stable, they made only incremental changes this offseason so its hard to see much move either way.
Salary: $71.1M (over cap)
2015 NBA Draft Picks: Owe their 2015 Second Round Pick to Philadelphia
Biggest Addition: Shaun Livingston
Losses: Steve Blake
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: First round. Just not seeing this team rate as highly as many others are, they are good but so is the west. It will be another early playoff exit for them.
Phoenix Suns (48-34, missed playoffs):
Headline: After a Surprising Season, the Suns Look to Push Towards a Playoff Spot
Summary: I, and everyone else, completely missed on the Suns last year. They were supposed to be really bad, but they were not. In fact they were barely out of the playoffs and were in the race almost the entire way. Whether that is a fluke or something real will be determined this year but one thing’s for sure, the Suns are not a team anyone really wants to play because they are likely tough to beat.
Overall Trend: Stable. They overachieved a fair bit last year and its hard to see them winning 48 games again. They should be in a battle for the last few playoff spots, but I’m not sure they’ll make it.
Salary: $53.5M (under cap by $10M)
2015 NBA Draft Picks: Owed Minnesota’s 2015 First Round Pick (Protected for Picks 1-12) and the LA Lakers’s 2015 First Round Pick (Protected for Selections 1-5)
Biggest Addition: Isaiah Thomas
Losses: Channing Frye
Best Case: First Round. This is not a team that is likely to make much noise in the playoffs but they could certainly get there.
Worst Case: Miss the playoffs and don’t get either Minnesota nor the Lakers’s picks. This is certainly possible and although not the worst thing ever, would be less than ideal.
Most Likely Case: Late lottery pick. The Suns are likely to be in the fight for the last few playoff spots but they look to rate just below Houston, which is probably the eighth best team out west this year.
Sacramento Kings (28-54, missed playoffs):
Headline: The Kings Look to Find Some Direction and Escape the Lottery Wilderness
Summary: The Kings are a strange team. They have a few talented players, Cousins foremost among them, but years of mismanagement and poor team building have left them with an unbalanced roster with no clear plan for success. The Kings will be fun at times but they will also be utterly painful to watch at others this year. Let’s just hope Cousins gets his temper in check and avoids another of his more notable outbursts.
Overall Trend: Up. If only by pure inertia and the fact that losing Thomas is probably addition by subtraction.
Salary: $68.56M (over cap)
2015 NBA Draft Picks: Owe 2015 First Round Pick to Chicago (Protected for Picks 1-10) and 2015 Second Round Pick to Cleveland (Protected for Selections 31-55), Houston (Protected for Selections 50-60) or Miami (Protected for Selections 31-49)
Biggest Addition: Nik Stauskas
Losses: Isaiah Thomas, Jason Terry, Travis Outlaw
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.
Los Angeles Lakers (27-55, missed playoffs):
Headline: The Lakers Look to Rebuild as Kobe Plays Out His Contract
Summary: Their jerseys might say “Lakers” on the front but this is not your typical Lakers team. They are bad, and could be among the worst teams in the league this year. Even if Kobe were the best he’s ever been, and he’s not, he can’t win many games by himself with a supporting cast largely made up of players that would be on the bench on good teams if they made them at all. It’s going to be a long few years for the Lakers.
Overall Trend: Down, the Lakers are a bad team and even winning as many games as they did last year seems unlikely.
Salary: $74.46M (over cap)
2015 NBA Draft Picks: Owe 2015 First Round Pick to Phoenix (Protected for Selections 1-5) and 2015 Second Round Pick to Orlando (Protected for Selections 31-40). Owed Houston’s 2015 First Round Pick (Protected for Selections 1-14) and the LA Clippers’s 2015 Second Round Pick (Protected for Selections 31-50 and 56-60.
Biggest Addition: Julius Randle
Losses: Chris Kaman, Pau Gasol, Jodie Meeks
Best Case: Top 3 Pick. The Lakers could get a little lucky and land a top 3 pick, and that would be as good as it gets for them.
Worst Case: Lose their pick and don’t get Houston’s pick. If the Lakers are good enough to be outside the top five and Houston misses the playoffs, LA will be left without any picks this year, not good for a rebuilding team.
Most Likely Case: Mid lottery pick. The Lakers will likely lose their pick not because they are good but because the east is so bad and they will end up with a better record than five other teams.