Season Preview: Western Conference - Pacific Division
Web Editorial Associate
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 2012-13 campaign. Part II breaks down the Pacific Division, headlined by the new-look Los Angeles Lakers and their big-move offseason acquiring Steve Nash and Dwight Howard.
LOS ANGELES LAKERS
2011-12 Season record: 41-25, 1st in division, 3rd in Western Conference, lost Western Conference semifinals to Oklahoma City Thunder (4-1)
Dwight Howard (from Magic), Steve Nash (from Suns), Antawn Jamison (from Cavs), Jodie Meeks (from Sixers), Chris Duhon (from Magic), Earl Clark (from Magic), Darius Johnson-Odom (via Draft), Robert Sacre (via Draft), Reeves Nelson, Greg Somogyiv
Ramon Sessions (to Bobcats), Andrew Bynum (to Sixers), Christian Eyenga (to Magic), Josh McRoberts (to Magic)
In their first season without head coach Phil Jackson since 2005, the Lakers squeaked past the Clippers by one game for the 2011-2012 Pacific Division title and the third-seeded playoff spot in the West. After besting the Denver Nuggets in the Western Conference Quarterfinals, the Lakers dropped their semifinal series to the eventual Western Conference champion Oklahoma City Thunder.
Veteran guard Kobe Bryant proved that he still has plenty of gas in his tank, scoring 27.9 points per game—his best average since 2007-2008—and making his 13th consecutive NBA All-Star appearance. Returning big man Pau Gasol averaged a double-double (17.4 points and 10.4 rebounds per game) last year and continues to produce at a high level.
The Lakers were no wallflower this offseason—they orchestrated a blockbuster four-team trade for star center Dwight Howard along with a prior side deal for savvy point guard Steve Nash. Along with picking up role players in Antawn Jamison, Chris Duhon and Jodie Meeks, Bryant and Gasol will be getting plenty of help. Also returning are veteran contributors Metta World Peace, Matt Barnes and Jordan Hill.
In order to obtain Howard, the Lakers had to give up a highly promising young big man in Andrew Bynum. With Howard’s existing contract only lasting one more year, the Lakers should make a big push to extend him in the near future. Despite questions about Howard’s contract, trade rumors surrounding Gasol, Nash’s age and Kobe’s knees, there is still more than enough talent on this roster to make a very serious postseason run.
LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS
2011-12 Season record: 40-26, 2nd in division, 5th in Western Conference, lost Western Conference semifinals to San Antonio Spurs (4-0)
Jamal Crawford (from Blazers), Grant Hill (from Suns), Lamar Odom (from Mavs), Ryan Hollins (from Celtics), Ronny Turiaf (from Heat), Willie Green (from Hawks)
Randy Foye (to Jazz), Nick Young (to Sixers), Reggie Evans (to Nets), Sofoklis Schortsanitis (to Hawks), Mo Williams (to Jazz), Ryan Gomes (waived)
The Clippers will be looking to make another leap after a much-improved 2011-2012 campaign, where they moved up eight spots in the West (from 13th in 2010-2011 to fifth) en route to their first postseason berth since 2005-2006. They took the first round after defeating the Memphis Grizzlies in Game 7 but ended up falling to San Antonio in the Conference Semifinals.
The boost in play could be attributed to several factors—including the continued development of young forward Blake Griffin (20.7 points and 10.9 rebounds per game)—but most would agree that an offseason trade for star point guard Chris Paul (19.8 points and 9.1 assists per game) brought consistency to a talented roster. Both players were named NBA All-Stars and will return this year. DeAndre Jordan will anchor the center position, combining with Griffin to create one of the most athletic frontcourts in the NBA.
Despite losing solid options in Mo Williams, Nick Young and Randy Foye, the Clippers acquired two experienced veterans in free agency with Jamal Crawford and Grant Hill. Crawford is known for his instant offensive contribution, and Hill is still a strong piece going into his 18th NBA season. Head coach Vinny Del Negro is back for his third year at the helm.
For a franchise that has played second fiddle since it came to town, is this formula the one that will take it to the top of the league? With such a young, talented core returning along with some key veteran additions, expect this to be a fun year for the Clippers.
2011-12 Season record: 33-33, 3rd in division, 10th in Western Conference, missed playoffs
Michael Beasley (from Wolves), Goran Dragic (from Rockets), Jermaine O’Neal, P.J. Tucker, Luis Scola (from Rockets), Wesley Johnson (from Wolves), Kendall Marshall (via Draft)
Steve Nash (to Lakers), Robin Lopez (to Hornets), Grant Hill (to Clippers), Aaron Brooks (to Kings), Ronnie Price (to Blazers), Hakim Warrick (to Hornets), Josh Childress, Jerome Dyson
Much like fans in Orlando, the Phoenix faithful will have to adjust to the absence of a franchise mainstay in their lineup. After 10 total seasons manning the point for the Suns, Steve Nash was traded to the Los Angeles Lakers over the summer.
A familiar face will be returning to the Suns, however, as Goran Dragic makes his comeback to Phoenix this season. The Suns also added instant offense in the sharpshooting Michael Beasley, who is a season removed from averaging nearly 20 points per game. The team’s frontcourt personnel will be bolstered by veterans Jermaine O’Neal and Luis Scola.
In addition to picking up veteran talent, several young players were also added. Phoenix used their top draft pick on Kendall Marshall, a talented point guard out of North Carolina. Marshall, who declared for the draft after only two years at UNC, set the ACC and North Carolina single-season assist records in his sophomore campaign. Former top-five draft pick Wes Johnson was acquired from the Timberwolves in a trade where Phoenix gave up forwards Robin Lopez and Hakim Warrick.
Phoenix hasn’t made the playoffs since 2009-2010, a season where they reached the Western Conference Finals. For a team that will be looking for its next leader to emerge, how will all of the fresh talent on this roster mesh together?
GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS
2011-12 Season record: 23-43, 4th in division, 13th in Western Conference, missed playoffs
Harrison Barnes (from Draft), Carl Landry (from Hornets), Jarrett Jack (from Hornets), Festus Ezeli (via Draft), Draymond Green (via Draft), Ognjen Kuzmic (via Draft)
Dorell Wright (to Sixers), Nate Robinson (to Bulls)
The Warriors failed to improve on their record from the year before, falling to fourth in the Pacific Division in 2011-2012 (one win above Sacramento). The bright spot for this club is that if everyone returns healthy, there’s a good amount of talent on this roster.
Top draft pick Harrison Barnes (University of North Carolina) joins a sharpshooting group on the wing. Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson shot 41% and 45% from 3-point land, respectively, and bench spark Brandon Rush enjoyed career highs in 2011-2012 for field goal (50 percent) and 3-point (45 percent) shooting clips. Curry was affected by an ankle injury that nagged all season, keeping him in and out of the lineup until he was sat for the year in April. If he can come back 100 percent, this could be a very dangerous shooting team.
Golden State also acquired Australian center Andrew Bogut in a midseason trade that sent out Monta Ellis; Bogut is a legitimate seven-footer who can provide a presence inside, while forward David Lee returns after leading the team in rebounding (9.6 per game) and finishing second in scoring (20.1 PPG).
Mark Jackson will head into 2012-2013 looking forward to his first full season with the Warriors, as he was hired midseason in April 2011 and led the squad through last year’s lockout-shortened campaign. You can bet that he is highly focused on bringing Curry and Bogut back healthy, as their presence on the court is essential for Golden State’s success.
2011-12 Season record: 22-44, 5th in division, 14th in Western Conference, missed playoffs
Thomas Robinson (via Draft), Aaron Brooks (from Suns), James Johnson (from Raptors)
Hassan Whitewide (waived)
For a team that finished last in the Pacific Division, their only roster loss is Hassan Whiteside, who averaged 6.1 minutes per game. This young squad will prepare for this season with a fresh coach in Keith Smart (who dropped his interim label this offseason) and a new stud rookie in Thomas Robinson.
Robinson, drafted with the fifth overall pick, will immediately bring physical and tough play to the low post. He will join DeMarcus Cousins, a third-year pro whose statistics continue to improve. Cousins led the Kings in rebounding (11 per game) while guard Marcus Thornton was the top scorer (18.7 points per game).
Another interesting young player to keep an eye on is Isaiah Thomas. Picked with the final pick in the 2011 NBA Draft, the rookie guard averaged 11.5 points and 4.1 assists per game en route to a NBA All-Rookie Second Team nomination. Although he is considered short for the NBA (listed at only 5-foot-9), Thomas garnered Western Conference NBA Rookie of the Month honors in February and March.
This young core combines with veterans like John Salmons and Jason Thompson to make an intriguing group. Climbing the Pacific division ladder will be tough with the two Los Angeles teams looming, but Sacramento will give 2012-2013 all they’ve got.