Monday, November 3, 2014
2014-15 Pacific Division Preview
I conclude my season previews with a look at the Pacific Division, home to the Golden State Warriors, Los Angeles Clippers, Los Angeles Lakers, Phoenix Suns, and Sacramento Kings. As has been the standard protocol, I will address each team in order of where I think they will finish in the division with their projected win total in parentheses.
Los Angeles Clippers (56)
Now that the Clippers along with the rest of the NBA has kicked Donald Sterling to the curb, a new era of Clippers basketball commences this season under the ownership of Steve Ballmer. It is an exiting time to be a Clippers fan. The team is good, the new ownership is energized, etc. This franchise has remarkably transformed itself from a laughing stock to a contender in a very short period of time.
The biggest acquisition they made was adding center Spencer Hawes who played last season for the dismal 76ers. He averaged 13.2 points and 8.3 rebounds per game last season and is certain to be a main contributor on this Clippers team. Especially since he is a big man who can shoot and make foul shots.
As for the rest of the team, it's more or less the same crew from last season. Chris Paul and Blake Griffin are still being asked to carry the bulk of the load, so not much has changed on that front. What could of course change is how much better they are. Blake Griffin continues to get better, which means that the Clippers by default should be better.
How much better he will be of course remains to be seen, but the Clippers need Griffin to transform himself from a guy who can throw down dunks to a guy who can hit silky fade away jump shots like Karl Malone. If Griffin is able to hit a mid-range jump shot with more regularity this season, the Clippers will be much better.
As for Chris Paul, I expect him to continue to be as good as ever, which makes him the best point guard in the NBA. The biggest concern for Chris Paul will be his health. He hasn't always been able to stay healthy and that has hurt this Clippers team. If he can stay healthy, that along with Blake Griffin's improvements, will make the Clippers a much better team this season.
While it is true that Blake Griffin and Chris Paul are the best two players on this team, they have a good supporting cast around them with J.J. Redick, Spencer Hawes, DeAndre Jordan, and Jamal Crawford. Barring injury, this team is prime to once again win the Pacific under the guidance of Doc Rivers, who is one of the league's best coaches.
Golden State Warriors (54)
Like the Clippers, the Warriors are entering a new era of their own. Only instead of changing owners, they are changing coaches. Mark Jackson is gone and Steve Kerr is in. Kerr has never been a head coach before, so once again the Warriors are rolling the dice on a rookie head coach. While the Warriors had good reason to fire Jackson, there will be a lot of second guessing across the Bay Area if the team regresses under Kerr. This naturally puts a ton of pressure on the Warriors' front office.
The other big news surrounding this team was the decision to not trade Klay Thompson for Kevin Love but instead sign him to a 4 year, $70M extension, which happened on Friday. Klay Thompson along with Stephen Curry are the best shooting backcourt in the NBA. Both guys are absolutely explosive from beyond the arc and are capable of putting up points in bunches. The Warriors are showing Thompson and Curry the money because they believe that their offensive potency can lead them to a championship. This of course means that Thompson and Curry better deliver the goods.
As for the rest of the team, they have a solid front line with David Lee and Andrew Bogut and some good options at small forward in Harrison Barnes and Andre Iguodala, who is a stalwart defender. Just about all of those guys have had injury issues over the last couple of seasons, which means that health will be key to the Warriors' success. If they can keep their core players healthy, they should be able to make a serious push for the Pacific Division crown. If they are unable to stay healthy, they will fall short.
This team doesn't have a ton of depth outside of the six players I just mentioned. Leandro Barbosa might be able to give them something, but he cannot be expected to be a consistent off the bench threat now that he is at a later stage of life. The only other guy who could really be of use off the bench is Draymond Green. If he has a big year, that would be huge for this team.
The Warriors really need their top six players (Curry, Thompson, Lee, Bogut, Barnes, and Iguodala) to step up and produce. That is why health is so key. If any of those guys goes down for an extended period of time, it's a serious blow.
Overall, the Warriors should be very competitive this season. Assuming the team stays healthy or at least healthy relative to other teams, they should be fine in terms of making the playoffs and possibly winning the Pacific Division. However, they aren't ready to make a serious push to reach the NBA Finals.
The Oklahoma City Thunder's injury problems with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook opens things up a bit, but the Thunder still should be able to make the playoffs and have both of their star players healthy. Plus, there are a lot of other good teams in this conference as well who I've already addressed in my previous previews.
The West is LOADED and the Warriors are just one of several teams who are capable of winning the Western Conference. It'll be tough for them to come out of the West, but I expect them to be in the mix all season and certainly pose a threat to all who come their way.
Phoenix Suns (50)
The Phoenix Suns missed the playoffs last season after winning 48 games which for them was both heartbreaking and encouraging. They were expected to be a terrible team and instead they made a really strong push for a playoff spot. I expect them to continue to build on their success from last year and make an even more serious push to make the playoffs.
The problem for the Suns of course is the same problem that the Warriors have which is that the West is really stacked. However, with Goran Dragic, Isaiah Thomas, and Eric Bledsoe in their backcourt, the Suns should have plenty of firepower to hold their own in the hostile Western Conference.
The most interesting thing to see in this Suns team will be how Dragic, Thomas, and Bledsoe co-exist since all three are natural point guards. It could be really fun to watch and dangerous, or it could just be really fun to watch. Their head coach Jeff Hornacek will have to get creative in terms of figuring out how to maximize the most out of all three players.
In addition to a loaded backcourt, Marcus Morris and Markieff Morris provide a sound inside post presence. Both brothers continue to get better each season and should also be main contributors on this Suns team. Dragic, Bledsoe, and Thomas are going to need help if the Suns are going to make the playoffs, and I think the Morris twins might be the perfect duo to give them the help they need.
I like this Suns team a lot because of their back court. Thomas, Dragic, and Bledsoe all have all-star potential and could form one of the more frightening backcourts in recent memory. If they can figure out how to gel, then the Suns will be really scary. If they don't and there is tension, then look for the Suns to trade one of them. This team will certainly be interesting to follow.
Sacramento Kings (32)
The Sacramento Kings are an interesting team in that they have a lot of talented pieces, but all the same are projected to stink. How can this be? For one thing, they are young and secondly, it's unclear whether or not Rudy Gay is worth all the money. He's very good, no doubt, but he takes a lot shots and might detract too much from the Kings' franchise player DeMarcus Cousins. Cousins is a budding superstar and is likely going to be the best big man in the NBA in a couple of seasons aside from Anthony Davis.
Rudy Gay on the other hand is a really good scorer who kind of likes to do his own thing. He doesn't really fit, but on paper he makes the Kings a lot better. The Kings need to put guys around DeMarcus Cousins who compliment him; not guys who also need teams built around them. I'm confident that Rudy Gay can be a franchise player somewhere, but I don't think Sacramento is the right place given the fact that their centerpiece is a big man who needs a lot of touches.
In addition to Gay and Cousins, the Kings have a couple of talented shooting guards in Ben McLemore and Nik Stauskas. Both guys are really young but could become key players for them in the future. How they develop this season will be something to watch if you are a Kings fan.
In conclusion, this team has some talent, but they are not a team that will make a dent in the Western Conference playoff picture. They'll be slightly improved and win more than 30 games, but there is still a wide gap between them and the teams in the West that are competing for playoff spots.
Los Angeles Lakers (25)
Just about the only good news for this Lakers team is that Kobe Bryant appears to be rejuvenated and capable of putting up a ton of points. Outside of that, they are an utter and complete mess. Their 1st round selection Julius Randle, the #7 overall pick, is done for the season with a broken leg and Steve Nash is done for the season with various back problems. Carlos Boozer and Jeremy Lin were added in the offseason to provide some support, but neither player is good enough to elevate the Lakers into playoff status.
This proud franchise is hitting rock bottom. Their great owner Jerry Buss has passed away, Kobe Bryant is getting old, and they have nobody who they can have confidence in as a star for the future. Things look bleak in Los Angeles and it's not going to get any better if they stay the course.
The only thing that would make things better for this team is if they actually traded Kobe Bryant and got something back for him that they could use to build around. This would of course anger Kobe Bryant, but they need to do the best thing for their long-term future given that they are nowhere near having a championship team.
As it stands, the Lakers are destined to stink for the remainder of Kobe Bryant's career and be left with absolutely nothing to build around once he retires. It's sad and rather pathetic. This franchise shows no signs of getting better, and they aren't going to be better simply by being the Lakers. People say that the Lakers will bounce back and be good in five years, but their only reason is "They are the Lakers". I'm sorry, but as a philosophy major at UC Berkeley, I am not easily convinced by such arguments.
I want to see good decisions being made that indicate this is the case. So far I haven't seen such decisions which is why I remain skeptical. This franchise seems more focused on pandering to Kobe Bryant's wishes than they do on winning games. This indicates that their front office is filled with a bunch of idiots which in turn indicates that they will continue to stink.
If their front office is as stupid as I think they are, they will indeed continue on the path towards irrelevance and ineptitude. They'll become the New York Knicks of the Western Conference, only worse.
---Ben Parker: follow me on twitter @nba_lord