We now move west with the next installment of our NBA preview series, focusing on the Pacific division. Following the trade of Chris Paul to the Clippers, it appears as if better things are in store for a division that sent only the Lakers to the playoffs last year. The big question this year is — will the Lakers will let their grasp on the division slip?
Los Angeles Lakers
(57-25, lost in the second round to Dallas)
Headline: Mike Brown Looks to Lead the Lakers to One Last Title in the Kobe Era.
Summary: For the first time in a long time, the Lakers had an offseason that left them clearly worse off than they had been. After their attempt to get CP3 was voided by the NBA (acting as owner of the Hornets), they were forced to trade last year’s Sixth Man of the Year, Lamar Odom, to Dallas for basically nothing. Unless they somehow land Dwight Howard, it appears that this season may be the last the Lakers have at a legitimate title shot for a while.
Overall Trend: Down. The Lakers are older, thinner on the bench and without their future HOF Head Coach, they are simply not the dominant force they once were.
Biggest Addition: Josh McRoberts.
Losses: Lamar Odom and Head Coach Phil Jackson.
Best Case: NBA Title. The Lakers still have Kobe and Pau Gasol, one of the best 1-2 punches in the league. They may not be as good as they have been, but they are certainly capable of making one last run at a title.
Worst Case: First round of the playoffs. The Lakers could easily stumble along this season and end up with a seed in the 3-6 range. Combine that with a bad first round matchup and it could be an early exit for the Lake Show.
Most Likely Case: Second round of the playoffs. The Lakers should be good enough to get past one playoff opponent, but the top of the west is probably better than they are at this point so that’s all they’ll do.
(40-42, missed playoffs)
Headline: The Aging Suns Look for One Last Season of Brilliance from Steve Nash Before the Rebuild Begins.
Summary: After losing Amar’e Stoudemire before last season, the Suns proceeded to decline at a fairly rapid rate. Even though they made a good midseason trade that landed them Marcin Gortat, the big question for Phoenix is probably whether Steve Nash is traded mid-season or walks as a free agent next summer. It is too bad that Nash, one of the best point guards in NBA history, will likely never win a title, at least not while he’s in Phoenix.
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.
Biggest Addition: Shannon Brown.
Losses: Vince Carter, Aaron Brooks (to China)..
Best Case: First Round of the playoffs. Steve Nash is a good enough player that he could potentially will this team to the #8 seed. Advancing out of the first round, however, appears too tall an order.
Worst Case: Just miss the playoffs and get a low lottery pick. If you’re going to rebuild, you best try to get as high a pick as you can. As a result, the worst case for Phoenix is probably barely missing the playoffs and ending up with a pick that won’t help them that much.
Most Likely Case: Miss the playoffs and end up with a pick in the 10-12 range. The Suns are too good to finish in the bottom tier of the NBA this season. More than likely they will be close, but not that close, to the playoffs and end up with a pick slightly better than the #13 selection they had this year.
Golden State Warriors
(36-46, missed playoffs)
Headline: Mama There Goes that Coach Hoping to Bring Golden State Back to the Playoffs.
Summary: Golden State may not have made the playoffs last year, but they are certainly better than they were a year ago. Following a solid offseason and the hiring of first-time head coach, and former TV commentator, Mark Jackson, the Warriors look to push for the playoffs this year. To do so, they will likely have to play a little bit more defense. While they are fun to watch, their free flowing offensive style doesn’t get them enough wins to play in the postseason.
Overall Trend: Up. Golden State has a decent young core, and if they can either find a way for Curry and Ellis to coexist or flip Ellis for a missing piece, they should be in good shape for years to come.
Biggest Addition: Klay Thompson (11th overall pick).
Losses: Vladimir Radmanovich and Reggie Williams.
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 Monta/Curry don’t mesh. 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 and Ellis/Curry can’t work together, they may be in the lottery for more than just this 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.
Los Angeles Clippers
(32-50, missed playoffs)
Headline: With Chris Paul in Tow, the Clippers Look to Defy their History and Make a Playoff Run.
Summary: For years the Clippers have been the best example anywhere in the sports world of a broken franchise. Seemingly horrible year after year, the Clippers were exciting to watch last year with the rookie season of 2010 #1 pick Blake Griffin, but they still weren’t very good. After an offseason that landed them three solid players, however, the Clippers appear destined to not only make the playoffs, but make a run once they get there.
Overall Trend: Up, and up quickly. The Clippers may not be true title contenders, but they made a huge leap from permanent lottery team to playoff lock very quickly and appear set for this year.
Biggest Addition: Chris Paul.
Losses: Chris Kaman, Eric Gordon and Al-Farouq Aminu.
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. One negative factor overlooked in the acquisition of CP3 is their head coach, Vinny Del Negro. 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.
(24-58, missed playoffs)
Headline: After Keeping the team from Moving to Anaheim, can Sacramento Keep Building This Season?
Summary: Following the last regular season game in the 2010-11 season, the Sacramento Kings appeared a certain bet to leave town. By some miracle, they did not, and now it appears likely they aren’t going anywhere, as a new arena is in the works. They had a solid offseason, albeit one that looks a lot less rosy after their top FA acquisition, Chuck Hayes, failed his physical and they mysteriously bid $3M/year for Travis Outlaw after he was amnestied by the Nets.
Overall Trend: Up, but not as quickly as they had hoped. The Kings have a good young core, which combined with Hayes might have made them a better team pretty quickly. However, following the voiding of his contract due to heart problems, the Kings look to take at least a little bit longer to rebuild.
Biggest Addition: Jimmer Fredette (10th overall pick).
Losses: Omri Casspi and Beno Udrih.
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 they narrowly failed to last offseason. If the arena deal falls through, this year will certainly 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.