I was debating about whether or not to preview the conferences as a whole or if I should do it the old school way by divisions. Since I wish the NBA placed more of a premium on divisions for the purpose of creating more rivalries, I'm going to preview the NBA season by divisions. Up first is the Pacific Division, home to the defending NBA champion Golden State Warriors, Los Angeles Lakers, Los Angles Clippers, Sacramento Kings, and Phoenix Suns.
The Golden State Warriors are the defending NBA champions and are the odds on favorites to win it all again. Their core is back and on top of that they've added DeMarcus Cousins, who is coming back from a torn Achilles injury.
The bottom line with the Warriors is that so long as they stay healthy, they're going to be almost impossible to stop this year. They simply have too many weapons for any other team to deal with. Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson are the greatest shooting backcourt in NBA history, Kevin Durant is one of the best pure scorers in NBA history, and Draymond Green is one of the most underrated players in NBA history. When you then add a defensive specialist like Andre Iguodala and a supremely gifted big man like DeMarcus Cousins to the mix, you have a team that is virtually unstoppable.
The main thing to look for with this Warriors team is how Cousins fits in and how productive he can be coming back from such a serious injury. The good news is they don't really need him until May and June and if he becomes a headache in the locker room, they can always cut him. It's a low risk high reward move that could pay off handsomely.
The Los Angeles Lakers have a new lease on life after landing LeBron James in free agency. Joining James in Los Angeles is Lonzo Ball, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Brandon Ingram, Rajon Rondo, Lance Stephenson, Michael Beasley, Kyle Kuzma, and JaVale McGee. The Lakers may not be favored to win the NBA championship this year, but they have a very interesting squad nonetheless.
Personally, I believe the Lakers are going to be very good this year and have the chance to make a deep playoff run. If you have LeBron James on your team, you should never be counted out. LeBron has reached the NBA Finals with lesser talent around him, so they definitely should be feeling confident.
The major question mark is how the surrounding pieces will work together. Rondo, Stephenson, Beasley, and McGee make any team they're on more interesting by themselves. Together, they could form one of the most entertaining teams we've ever seen. Entertaining isn't always a good thing, though. What I'm particularly curious to see is what the Lakers' roster looks like after the trade deadline. I wouldn't be surprised to see a couple of these guys shipped out before the season comes to an end.
The big question is whether or not Bagley is the real deal. He looked like a men among boys in college and has the tools to be an elite player in the NBA. It is imperative for the Kings that he has a big year. If he does, the future will look bright. If he struggles and has an underwhelming season, the future will look murky.
The Los Angeles Clippers don't really appear to have an identity right now. Blake Griffin is in Detroit, Chris Paul is in Houston, and DeAndre Jordan is in Dallas. It's a totally new team led by Lou Williams, Avery Bradley, Patrick Beverley, and Tobias Harris. It's unclear what this team is with them as their new core. Rookie point guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is an intriguing talent and could prove to be the next star of this franchise, so it's not like the cupboard is totally barren here.
The change in direction was necessary, but not if it comes with lacking an identity. The Clippers need to find an identity this season if they want to feel good about this change in direction. Otherwise, they'll just go back to being the Clippers of old and that's definitely not a good thing.
DeAndre Ayton is looking like the real deal so far and with quality wings in Devin Booker and Josh Jackson alongside him, the Phoenix Suns finally have a team to be excited about. Actually, outside of the Warriors and Lakers, the Suns have more long term upside than anyone else in this division. The key for them is to keep these pieces together and get everyone to buy into their long term future. Locking in Devin Booker to a five-year, $158M extension helps a ton in that regard.
As far as this season is concerned, if the Suns can win 30+ games, that will indicate significant progress from last season's 21-61 record. They need to look at this as a retooling season and a chance for everyone to get comfortable with one another. If their core has fun playing together and is able to develop some chemistry, it will be a successful season in Phoenix.
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