Los Angeles Lakers (41-25, lost in the second round to OKC)
Headline: A reloaded Lakers team looks to assume its usual place atop the NBA hierarchy
Summary: It’s truly amazing and at the same time quite frustrating to their opponents, that every time the Lakers seem to be on the cusp of falling off significantly, they find a way to make an unbalanced trade that allows them to get better quickly. Such was the case this offseason as they landed Dwight Howard as a part of a deal that shipped the oft criticized Andrew Bynum to Philadelphia and also landed Steve Nash in a sign and trade with Phoenix. With Kobe saying he has only two seasons left and Nash the only two-time MVP never to play in the NBA finals, the Lakers believe their time is now.
Overall Trend: Up, way up, if the Lakers can find chemistry as a team quickly, there may be no team in the league except possibly Miami, that can hope to stop them.
Salary: $104.34M (over luxury tax threshold)
2013 NBA Draft Picks: Owed Memphis’s 2013 Second Round Pick. The Lakers will send the least favorable of their 1st round pick (top 14 protected), Cleveland’s 2013 1st round pick, Sacramento’s 1st round pick (top 13 protected) and Miami’s 2013 1st round pick to Phoenix.
Biggest Addition: Dwight Howard
Losses: Andrew Bynum
Best Case: NBA Title. The Lakers are a very good team and with the urgency that comes with an aging core, they will know there is no time to waste if they want to hang another banner at the Staples Center.
Worst Case: Second round. The Lakers may be good but they are by no means invincible, even if you preclude the possibility of injuries. It is possible, however unlikely, that they will fall in the second round to a team like OKC or San Antonio.
Most Likely Case: NBA Finals. The Lakers may, on paper, be as good as or better than Miami but they lack the chemistry that Miami now has. They will lose a close NBA finals as LeBron and co celebrate back to back titles.
Los Angeles Clippers (40-26, lost in the second round to San Antonio)
Headline: After nearly snatching the division title last season, lob city hopes its sequel is better than last season’s premier.
Summary: Shortly after coming together, the Clippers acquired the nickname “Lob City”, with Chris Paul dishing a seemingly endless stream of lob passes to Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. However, beyond that glitz and glamor of this squad there was a fair bit of substance as well. When Billups went down early in the year, the Clippers were expected to collapse, and that fact that they did not is a testament to their talent. The question remains, however, with one of the worst coaches in the league, do the Clippers have what it takes to make the next step?
Overall Trend: Up, slightly. The Clippers ran into the buzzsaw that was the Spurs last season but with one year together, you can count on this group being a bit better.
Salary: $70.20M (over salary cap)
2013 NBA Draft Picks: Owe 2013 Second Round Pick to Detroit (top 55 protected).
Biggest Addition: Grant Hill.
Losses: Kenyon Martin, Randy Foye, Reggie Evans.
Best Case: Western Conference Finals. This Clippers team probably needs a bit more experience before they can be a true title contender; however, with two perennial all-stars in Paul and Griffin, they are certainly capable of making a run to the conference finals.
Worst Case: First round of the playoffs. Vinny Del Negro is among the weakest coaches in the league, certainly among the coaches whose teams have playoff hopes. He has not exactly gotten the most out of his teams in the past, and when combined with a bunch of decent Western Conference playoff teams, you have a recipe for an early playoff exit.
Most Likely Case: Second round of the playoffs. The Clippers are certainly a playoff team, but there are probably too many teams ahead of them in the west for now for them to win more than one playoff series this season.
Phoenix Suns (33-33, missed playoffs)
Headline: With Nash gone, a new era begins in Phoenix
Summary: Well it finally happened, Steve Nash bolted town as soon as he could and without him the Suns are a far different, and far worse, team. After narrowly failing to make the playoffs the past few seasons, the Suns may have the worst record in the west before all is said and done this year.
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: $54.06M (under cap)
2013 NBA Draft Picks: Owed Minnesota’s 2013 First Round Pick (top 13 protected) and Denver’s 2013 Second Round Pick (top 40 protected). The Suns will also receive the least favorable of the Lakers’s 1st round pick (top 14 protected), Cleveland’s 2013 1st round pick, Sacramento’s 1st round pick (top 13 protected) and Miami’s 2013 1st round pick.
Biggest Addition: Luis Scola.
Losses: Steve Nash.
Best Case: #1 overall pick. The Suns have some talent but in the incredibly deep west, some gets just a swift kick in the ass and a lot of losses. It is possible that the Suns might end up last in the west and with a little luck land the top pick in the upcoming draft.
Worst Case: Mid-lottery team. The Suns are not a very good team but they are not Bobcats bad either. They could fairly easily land in the middle of the lottery this year.
Most Likely Case: Top 5 pick. The zone of possible finishes for the Suns is fairly narrow and while it’s possible they could get lucky and land a top 3 pick, they are probably just good enough to avoid it.
Golden State Warriors (23-43, missed playoffs)
Headline: An exciting Warriors squad hopes to bring Golden State back to the playoffs
Summary: When Golden State made the right decision to trade Monta Ellis last season, they acknowledged what everyone else around them already knew, they weren’t good enough to make the playoffs as currently constructed. After getting a little lucky and keeping their draft pick last season, the Warriors will look to move forward with a young exciting core that will do more than entertain this year, but actually make the playoffs.
Overall Trend: Up, if Curry stays healthy they have a legitimate shot at that last playoff spot.
Salary: $72.86M (over luxury tax threshold)
2013 NBA Draft Picks: Owe 2013 First Round Pick to Utah (top 6 protected) and 2013 Second Round Pick to Orlando.
Biggest Addition: Harrison Barnes
Losses: Nate Robinson.
Best Case: First Round of the playoffs. The Warriors are certainly capable of improving enough this season to make the playoffs as the #8 seed. Their journey would likely end there, but it would nonetheless be a solid accomplishment for this team.
Worst Case: The injury bug continues to hit them and they remain stuck in neutral. As bad as the Blazers’ injury problems have been the past few years, the Warriors’ have been worse. If they have another year of injury troubles, they may be in the lottery for yet another season.
Most Likely Case: Just miss the playoffs. The Warriors are probably one year away from being a consistent playoff contender. They should just miss the playoffs this year but get back next year.
Sacramento Kings (22-44, missed playoffs)
Headline: With the Kings seemingly on the way out of town, they look to escape last place in the division
Summary: It appeared early in the offseason that Kings future in Sacramento was safe as the city agreed to a new arena deal. However, the Maloofs reneged on the deal and the team is now reported to be on the move once again. On the court, the Kings have more talent but whether that translates into more wins is still to be seen.
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: $59.63M (over cap)
2013 NBA Draft Picks: Owes 2013 First Round Pick to Cleveland (top 13 protected).
Biggest Addition: Thomas Robinson
Losses: No significant losses.
Best Case: Get a top-five pick and secure the team’s future in Sacramento. 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 and secure a deal to keep the team in Sacramento for the long run.
Worst Case: The team moves to Anaheim. The Kings still appear to want to move after the arena deal fell apart this summer. If the worst happens, this year may be the final year for the Sacramento Kings.
Most Likely Case: Land a pick in the 8-10 range. The Kings are building towards the playoffs and have some good pieces to do so. They will fall short this year, but they should be able to land a top-10 pick, allowing them to successfully continue rebuilding this team.