Gibberman: Pacific division preview
Los Angeles Lakers
Last Season: 65-17
The Los Angeles Lakers bring back essentially the same exact team in their quest to repeat as NBA Champions. The one change was signing Ron Artest to play SF and letting Trevor Ariza go. I think this is a risky move by GM Mitch Kupchack and head coach Phil Jackson. I love the attitude Ron Artest brings to the game, but he is not the same player he was earlier in his career. Artest no longer possesses the same lateral quickness and likes to pound the ball into the ground on offense. It will be interesting to see what kind of Zen magic Jackson tries to use on him.
Another key to the Lakers season is the development of center Andrew Bynum. Every time he starts to breakthrough he goes down with an injury. The kid can do it all, good post moves, plays solid D, and rebounds. Now he must stay healthy and put in consistent effort for 82 games. If he does go down to injury LA has a great insurance policy sliding Pau Gasol to center and Lamar Odom into the starting lineup.
Besides Odom the Lakers bench is their biggest weakness. Back up PG Jordan Farmar has not lived up to his potential, Sasha Vujacic is coming off a terrible season, Luke Walton is inconsistent, and Shannon Brown has never had to contribute for 82 games.
Last Season: 46-36
The Phoenix Suns run and gun style is back. Phoenix struggled at the beginning of the season and then improved when they fired head coach Terry Porter and picked Alvin Gentry to replace him. One thing the Suns did under Mike D’Antoni was beat teams they were expected to beat. Last season Phoenix lost to the Chicago Bulls twice, New Jersey Nets, Indiana Pacers, Minnesota Timberwolves, New York Knicks, Charlotte Bobcats, Golden State Warriors, Philadelphia 76ers, Miami Heat twice, Sacramento Kings, and Memphis Grizzlies. That will not happen this year, with Gentry going back to the fast paced style, the mediocre and lower echelon teams will struggle to keep up.
The Suns only major loss on the roster from the end of last season was Shaquille O’Neal. They cut both players they got in return for him, but the chemistry regained from Shaq being move must not be underestimated. Plus, the court will open back up for Amare Stoudemire and Steve Nash, which will allow them to go back to running the pick and roll that they became so good at.
Through free agency General Manager Steve Kerr added former University of Arizona Wildcat Channing Frye and in the draft they picked University of Louisville product Earl Clark with their first round pick. Frye is a flawed player, but he does one thing very well for someone who is 6’11’, hit long range jump shots. This will make him a good fit for the Suns. Clark adds to an already strong Suns bench, Jared Dudley and Louis Amundson will take care of the little things and Clark can bring a little bit more offensive firepower to go along with his versatility to guard a couple different positions. Leandro Barbosa is the spark plug when Phoenix starts slow. The one question mark they have is Goran Dragic at the back up PG. It is imperative that he plays well so Steve Nash does not get worn down during the regular season.
Golden State Warriors
Last Season 29-53
The Golden State Warriors have an unbalanced roster that is filled with tons of guards, nothing surprising for head coach Don Nelson who has been quirky throughout his time as an NBA Coach. That was the reason many people were surprised that they picked Davidson PG Stephen Curry with their first round pick. They already have PG Monta Ellis running the show and he is not known for his size. Curry and Ellis on the court at the same time will be explosive offensively, but will create some match up problems for them on the defensive end.
The Warriors will be relying on Andris Biedrins, Anthony Randolph, Mikki Moore, and Ronny Turiaf to man the paint. Power forward Brandon Wright was having a terrific training camp when he went down with a shoulder surgery and is expected to be out for at least six months. None of the four listed above are a post presence, Biedrins is an excellent rebounder and shot blocker, but is not a good on the ball defender. Anthony Randolph has huge upside. He left LSU after his freshman year, this is his second year in the NBA and he showed flashes last season when Nelson would give him extended minutes. Moore and Turiaf are nothing but role players.
The biggest question surrounding Golden State is chemistry. Nelson is going to have a tough time mixing and matching all of the guards and one of the leaders of the team last season, Stephen Jackson isn’t seeing eye to eye with the veteran head coach. The past week it seems that Jackson’s attitude has improved; he held a team BBQ at his house and has settled down on the court since the foul incident in the pre-season game against the Lakers.
Los Angeles Clippers
Last Season: 19-63
The Los Angeles Clippers are a difficult team to read, there is tons of talent, but I can’t figure out if it will fit together. Point guard Baron Davis looks like he is regaining the form he had with the Golden State Warriors after a disappointing season. SG Eric Gordon will build on an excellent rookie season forming a quality backcourt with Davis.
The front court is talented with centers Chris Kaman and Marcus Camby, the key for them is to stay healthy. They can rebound, score, and play defense. With the 1st pick in the draft they selected Blake Griffin. Griffin is an athletic freak, but needs to show that he can do more than just dunk the basketball. In the preseason the Clippers have experimented with him at the small forward position to try and find him more minutes.
The Clippers signed Rasual Butler away from the New Orleans Hornets, not a highly publicized signing, but he is a good team player who can shoot the ball very well. Stick him on the court with SF Steve Novak and you have two deadly three point shooters that can spread the court. I picked the Clippers to make the playoffs last season, I won’t make that mistake this season, but if head coach Mike Dunleavy can get the players to buy in they should be improved.
Last Season: 17-65
The Sacramento Kings are a couple of years away from being a competitive basketball team, but they do have a couple nice young players on the roster. 2nd year center Spencer Hawes has double-double potential, PF Jason Thompson has a well-rounded offensive game, SF Donte Green is an excellent scorer, and many expect Tyreke Evans to compete for Rookie of the Year. If head coach Paul Westphal decides to run Evans as the full time PG I see him struggling, I like Tyreke much more as the off guard. I would give former Portland Trailblazer Sergio Rodriguez the chance to run the team.
Shooting guard Kevin Martin is the one veteran on the Kings that you know what you’re going to get every night. Martin is going to give you over 20 points, but right now he does not have the supporting cast to help get this team to the playoffs. The Kings took a big hit when they lost SF/SG Francisco Garcia for at least four months. Garcia finally seemed like he figured out the NBA game last year.