Season Preview: Western Conference - Pacific Division
WESTERN CONFERENCE — PACIFIC DIVISION
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Editor’s Note: Timberwolves.com will break down each of the NBA’s six divisions leading into training camp, highlighting the moves each team made and what to watch for during the 2013-14 campaign. Part II features the Pacific Division, where the Los Angeles Clippers and Golden State Warriors have sped past the Lakers and claimed the top two spots thanks to their athleticism and depth.
LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS
2012-13 Record: 56-26 (1st Pacific Division, 4th Western Conference—Lost Western Conference Quarterfinals to Grizzlies 4-2)
2012-13 Record vs. Timberwolves: 4-0
Additions: J.J. Redick (trade), Jared Dudley (trade), Darren Collison (free agent), Antawn Jamison (free agent), Byron Mullens (freea gent), Chris Paul (re-signed), Matt Barnes (re-signed), Ryan Hollins (re-signed), Reggie Bullock (draft)
Losses: Grant Hill (retired), DeJuan Summers (waived), Eric Bledsoe (trade), Caron Butler (trade), Chauncey Billups, Ronny Turiaf)
The Clippers registered their first 50-win season and division championship in their 44-year history last year, and by all accounts L.A. enters 2013-14 looking like it got even better. That’s because along with re-signing All-Star point guard Chris Paul, the Clippers brought in Doc Rivers as coach, bolstered its back court with J.J. Redick and Darren Collison and added a little extra veteran presence in Antawn Jamison.
If there was one knock on the Clippers last season, it’s that coach Vinny Del Negro didn’t maximize the potential of a roster filled to the brim with athleticism and All-Star potential. Too much relied on successful pick-and-rolls with Paul and Blake Griffin, and not enough of a balanced, structured offense. That should change with Rivers, who helped direct the Celtics to their first title in 22 years in 2008 and kept the Cs in championship contention in the five years since. Putting all the new and old pieces together, and the Clippers once again look like the early favorites in the Pacific. This time, do they have enough to make a deep playoff run?
GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS
2012-13 Record: 47-35 (2nd Pacific Division, 6th Western Conference—Lost Western Conference Semifinals to Spurs 4-2)
2012-13 Record vs. Timberwolves: 4-0
Additions: Andre Iguodala (trade), Toney Douglas (free agent), Jermaine O’Neal (free agent), Marreese Speights (free agent), Nemanja Nedovic (draft)
Losses: Richard Jefferson (trade) Andris Biedrins (trade), Brandon Rush (trade), Jarrett Jack, Carl Landry, Dwayne Jones
If the Clippers are the early favorites in the division, the Warriors aren’t far behind. They were the darlings of the Western Conference playoffs last year, ousting the Nuggets in Round 1 before falling in six tot the eventual Western Conference champion Spurs. They did it with a mix of perimeter shooting and interior presence, but the emphasis was certainly on the perimeter shooting. Stephen Curry set an NBA record with 272 made 3-pointers last year, and he and Klay Thompson combined for 483 makes from behind the arc—the most by any tandem in NBA history.
And for Golden State, it’s getting better. The team signed 2012 All-Star Andre Iguodala on the wing to provide a little extra scoring to complement his standout defense. He’ll fit nicely with Curry and Thompson, not to mention 2013 All-Star David Lee at the 4 and Andrew Bogut at center. Add in newcomer Marreese Speights off the bench along with Harrison Barnes and Jermaine O’Neal, and coach Mark Jackson has a collection of weapons on both ends of the floor. The key will be health, because Curry and Bogut in particular don’t exactly have perfect attendance records when it comes to games played. Both have battled injuries in their careers. If they do find a way to stay on the court, though, look out.
LOS ANGELES LAKERS
2012-13 Record: 45-37 (3rd Pacific Division, 7th Western Conference—Lost Western Conference Quarterfinals to Spurs 4-0)
2012-13 Record vs. Timberwolves: 3-0
Additions: Wesley Johnson (free agent), Chris Kaman (free agent), Jordan Farmar (free agent), Elias Harris (free agent), Nick Young (free agent), Robert Sacre (re-signed), Ryan Kelly (draft)
Losses: Metta World Peace (amnesty), Chris Duhon (waived), Earl Clark, Andrew Goudelock, Dwight Howard, Antawn Jamison
I wrote a column about this earlier this summer, but the Lakers have missed the playoffs just five times in their six-plus-decade history. They’ve won more than three times as many titles and gone to more than six times as many Finals than they have missed the postseason. Think about that.
This year will be challenging for L.A. Kobe Bryant is coming off a torn Achilles, the team lost starters Dwight Howard, Metta World Peace and Earl Clark this offseason, and it will take some time to get this squad rolling with so many new faces. L.A. signed Chris Kaman to be their center, signed Nick Young as well as former Wolves forward Wesley Johnson, and they brought back Jordan Farmar during the offseason. They still have an incredibly determined Bryant along with showman Steve Nash in the back court, and they still have 7-footer Pau Gasol in their front court. But the supporting cast is far weaker than any of the teams they’ve fielded since their last title in 2010, and last year they snuck into the postseason as the seventh seed. Whether or not they have enough to get back will depend heavily on how much Bryant, Nash and Gasol can provide on a nightly basis.
2012-13 Record: 28-54 (4th Pacific Division, 13th Western Conference—missed playoffs)
2012-13 Record vs. Timberwolves: 1-2
Additions: Luc Richard Mbah A Moute (trade), Greivis Vasquez (trade), Carl Landry (free agent), Ben McLemore (draft), Ray McCallum (draft)
Losses: Tyreke Evans (trade), Toney Douglas
The good news in Sacramento this offseason came in May when the NBA approved a local sale that keeps the Kings in town after a lengthy courtship by an ownership group in Seattle. Along with the change came a clean slate in the coaching department, as Mike Malone took over Keith Smart.
Sacramento continues to search for stability after seven consecutive years missing the playoffs. But the team made some moves this offseason that could help this young roster grow in the coming seasons. It began with trading Tyreke Evans to New Orleans for Greivis Vasquez at the point as well as dealing for Luc Richard Mbah A Moute at the 3. They drafted highly-touted Kansas shooting guard Ben McLemore. All these pieces complement the gifted by unpredictable DeMarcus Cousins at center and the combination of Jason Thompson and Carl Landry at the 4. Point guard Isaiah Thomas continues to play his way onto the court, and rookie Ray McCallum out of Detroit has a lot of potential as well. Marcus Thornton, despite having his scoring numbers decline from 21.3 per game in 2010-11 to 12.7 last year, is still another viable asset at the 2.
2012-13 Record: 25-57 (5th Pacific Division, 15th Western Conference—missed playoffs)
2012-13 Record vs. Timberwolves: 1-3
Additions: Eric Bledsoe (trade), Gerald Green (trade), Malcolm Lee (trade), Miles Plumlee (trade), Viacheslav Kravtsov (trade), Ish Smith (trade), Alex Len (draft), Archie Goodwin (draft)
Losses: Caron Butler (trade), Luis Scola (trade), Hamed Haddadi, Wesley Johnson, Jermaine O’Neal, Michael Beasley
Phoenix didn’t exactly enter the post-Steve Nash era with a bang. They ended up with the worst record in the Western Conference and had a tough time generating an identity. Two of their offseason acquisitions last year were former Wolves Michael Beasley and Wesley Johnson, both of whom are no longer on the roster.
But there is promise on this roster, though it will take some time to reach its potential. It begins with point guard Goran Dragic, who filled in admirably for Nash and was decidedly the team’s best player a year ago (14.7 ppg, 7.4 apg). This offseason, they made the move to bring talented guard Eric Bledsoe over from the Clippers, and they also made a trade that brought Gerald Green into town from Indiana. Twins Marcus and Markieff Morris will be the 1-2 punch at the power forward position—both of which got extra time at Summer League this July, and questions still surround Channing Frye’s availability after missing 2012-13 with a heart condition. But the most intriguing part of their roster is probably at the center spot, where established big man Marcin Gortat (11.1 ppg, 8.5 rpg) sits atop the depth chart but is followed by Maryland rookie center Alex Len, whom the Suns took fifth overall in June. He scored big marks during the Draft process despite being sidelined with a stress fracture, and how much he’ll be able to add to provide this team as a rookie will be an interesting storyline to follow. Add in Kendall Marshall in the back court, and the Suns certainly have some athleticism on the roster. But it will take some time until this squad makes its way toward the top of the Pacific.