After controlling the Pacific for the last few decades, the Lakers are going to have their worst season in years and not make the playoffs for the first time since 2005. Although the Lakers will be bad, the LA fans will not be without good basketball, as the Clippers should be competing for the Western Conference Crown. Along with the Clip, the Warriors have an extremely talented team and will be fighting for the Pacific Division title.
1) Los Angeles Clippers*
For one of the first times in decades, the Clippers are one of the favorites in the Western Conference. Unlike previous Clipper teams, Donald Sterling decided to spend money for a championship caliber team. During the offseason, the Clippers re-signed all-world point guard Chris Paul and traded/signed one of the best coaches in the league Doc Rivers. Although it is incredible that the Clippers might have a chance to win the Western Conference, it is even more incredible that the Clippers are the best team in Los Angeles for the first time since their emergence. This season, the Clippers will be led by superstars Chris Paul and Blake Griffin. Although Paul does not score like his peers, he has the ability to improve the level of his teammates on the offensive side of the ball. Paul’s ability to find his players, when they are open, encourages his teammates to play harder on offense and defense. Along with Paul, the Clippers will rely on Blake Griffin, to score and rebound the basketball in close games. Although Griffin is the target of much scrutiny because of his incredible athleticism, he is a fabulous player and has enhanced his game during every season of his career. The Clippers were able to succeed last season because their bench is incredibly deep and effective. During the offseason, the Clippers improved their team by signing and trading for JJ Reddick and Matt Barnes. Last season, the Clippers did not have many three point shooters, which enabled the opposition to clog the lane and double team Paul and Griffin. This season, the Clippers will be better at shooting threes with the addition of Reddick and Barnes. Last season, both of these players shot over 40%. These players will prove incredibly effective for the Clippers because the Clippers will be able to spread the floor. When the defense is spread and on their toes, Paul will have more freedom to run the offense and Griffin will be able to dominate players on the block, without facing a double team. During the postseason, Doc Rivers will motivate his players to play their best basketball, as he did with Boston and Orlando.
2) Golden State Warriors*
After a great postseason display last season, the Warriors have high expectations this season. Even though the expectations were high before free agency, these expectations rose to astronomical numbers when they signed former All-Star and Team USA member Andre Iguodala to a four year – $48 million deal. The addition of Iguodala will give the Warriors one of the best starting rotations in the league. Although the Warriors will have a deep team, they will be led by superstar Stephen Curry. Although many people knew Steph Curry and became aware of him during his run in March Madness for Davidson, every NBA fan realized the true greatness of Steph Curry. Although Steph is fragile and frequently injures his ankles, many believe that he is one of the greatest shooters of all-time because of his stroke and quick release. Along with Curry, the Warriors will be led by David Lee, Andrew Bogut, Klay Thompson, and Harrison Barnes. The Warriors will have incredible offensive talent this season. Every player on their starting rotation has the ability to score more than 15 points per game. Along with their offensive prowess, their defense will be must improved from last season. The Warriors’ defense will be led by Andrew Bogut and Andre Iguodala. When healthy, Andrew Bogut is one of the best defensive big man in the league because he is lengthy, but intelligent. Along with Bogut, Andre Iguodala is a good defensive player and has the ability to trouble the opposing team’s best perimeter offensive player. The two major deficiencies for the team this season will be their bench play and health. The Warriors bench is one of the worst in the league, besides for Harrison Barnes. Besides Barnes, the Warriors’ second unit is Toney Douglass, Kent Benzemore, Marressee Speights, and Jermaine O’Neal. The Warriors will have to rely upon their starters to play over 30 or 35 minutes a night, in order to win and stay competitive at the top of the Western Conference. However, Andrew Bogut and Stephen Curry will have trouble playing major minutes this season. Tragically, Bogut and Curry are two of the most fragile players in the world. They are consistently hurt, which will prove fatal for the Golden State Warriors. In order for the Warriors to succeed this season, they must stay healthy and keep their players fresh for the postseason. In the postseason, they will have the chance to defeat any team in the league, as seen from last years postseason when they played Spurs in six tough games.
3) Los Angeles Lakers
The Lakers string of postseason appearances will end this season. After greatly underachieving last season and not winning a single playoff game agains the Spurs, the Lakers will try to overachieve this season. Last year, the team came into the season with an incredible amount of hype since they were starting 4 future Hall of Famers. However, from the start, the group was unable to mesh and the season was a disaster. The Lakers had a lot of problems last year such as switching coaches half way through the year, suffering injuries to every starter, and failing to learn how to play as a team. However, this season, the Lakers will have many hurdles to overcome in order to reach 500. Kobe Bryant will miss at least the first three weeks of the season with an Achilles injury, Pau Gasol must return to his All-Star form of three years ago, Steve Nash must stay healthy for the first time in a few seasons, and a few young bench players must step up and prove valuable, in order to stay in the NBA. The Lakers starting lineup this season will not be intimidating until Kobe Bryant returns from injury: Steve Nash, Steve Blake, Nick Young, Shawne Williams, and Pau Gasol. The Lakers’ biggest problem will be their defense. The combination of Mike D’Antoni and a few below average defenders will be the major flaw with the Lakers. Besides Shawne Williams, every one of the players in the starting rotation is a horrible defensive player because of age, lack of physical ability, or effort. Also, Mike D’Antoni will not bring out the best defense in each of the players because he has been known to go weeks at a time without talking about defensive strategy. Especially, in the high flying Western Conference, the Lakers will probably have to average 110 points per game, in order to win games against the top teams in the West. However, this team does not have the fire power or scoring touch to frequently output 100 point games. Without Kobe, Pau Gasol must step up and average close to 20-10 and Nash must return to form, score 15-20 points per game, and set up his teammates so they can score easily. Also, the Lakers will need a big year from one of their new free agents, Wes Johnson, Xavier Henry, or Chris Kaman. However, these pieces are only role players at best so it looks like a long year for the team from Tinseltown. Although fans do not want to see their team fail, the Lakers need to rebuild. At the end of this season, they should be able to sign two All-Stars in free agency and grab a good starter in this year’s draft, since it is one of the deepest in the last 25-30 years.
4) Sacramento Kings
As usual, the Kings will be horrible again this season. The Kings are one of the worst organizations in the NBA, which has resulted in their futility the last few years. The Kings will be lead by 6’10” center DeMarcus Cousins. The young big man is an enigma on and off the court. Although he possess the talent to be an absolute stud and one of the best big men in the league, he is the least mature player in the league. Cousins’ play is frequently compromised by his fragile mental state. If Cousins can learn to manage his emotions and play hard in 90% of the games, he should average close to 23 points per game and 12 rebounds. Along with Cousins, Ben McLemore must show that he is a quality player at the pro level, if the Kings are going to be good in the future. As shown from his college performances, Ben has the ability to be a top scorer in the league because he has great physical ability and smooth shooting stroke. The Kings should look to improve the games of Cousins and McLemore, if they are going to succeed in the future and become a possible playoff competitor. Although the Kings future has some sort of brightness, this season the Kings will not achieve much success because they do not have much talent on their roster. The Kings will be sporting Greivis Vasquez, Marcus Thornton, John Salmons, Patrick Patterson, and DeMarcus Cousins in their starting rotation. Besides Cousins, the rest of the starting five has a limited upside. Thornton and Salmons do not have the scoring touch that made them a 20 point scorer in their past. Also, Salmons and Thornton do not pose threats on defense because they are slow and undersized. As usual, the Kings have an extreme amount of average point guards that will not help them win this season. Although Vasquez is a quality player, they could have received a better player at a position that they actually need such as a power forward or small forward. This draft, the Kings will be picking inside the lottery for the ninth straight season. Hopefully for the Kings sake, they will draft one of the few franchise changing players in the this year’s draft.
5) Phoenix Suns
The Suns, like the Jazz, are looking toward the future. Over the past few seasons, the Suns have rid themselves of their aging veterans such as Shawn Marion, Amare Stoudemire, Steve Nash, Luis Scola, and Marcin Gortat. However, the Suns have the assets to make them a playoff team in the next few seasons. Although the Suns do not have many quality players, they have a few young prospects that have the ability to become stars or solid NBA starters in the future. The Suns will be greatly hindered because they do not have a star to lead them through the West. However, the lack of a star will enable the young players to grow faster and play more minutes. During the offseason, the Suns added three young players that should be part of their core in the future, Archie Goodwin, Alex Len, and Eric Bledsoe. As shown from his stint with the Clippers, Eric Bledsoe looks like he can be a future All-Star or border line All-Star in the league. Alex Len and Archie Goodwin, both first round picks, are young, but talented players. Len is a physically imposing player, but has the talent and touch like a small forward. If Len can manage his raw talent, he will become a top center in the league. Along with acquiring young players this offseason, the Suns obtained first round picks, which should hasten the rebuilding process. Through the trades of Marcin Gortat, Robin Lopez, and Luis Scola, the Suns have garnered three future first round picks for this year’s draft. Besides four picks in this year’s draft, the Suns have two in the following draft. The Suns should be able to find at least one or two stars and two or three quality starters in the next two years. The Suns may be able to find more young talent and picks if they trade starting point guard Goran Dragic before the trade deadline. Goran is the best player on the Suns, but they have Eric Bledsoe to replace him and Archie Goodwin to start at shooting guard. Also, by the time the Suns are good, Goran will not be in the prime of his career. Although the Suns will be bad this season, they have a bright future and should have a chance to receive Andrew Wiggins.
Stats from ESPN.com