With their fifth consecutive and 23rd total Pacific Division title last season, the Los Angeles Lakers have dominated their division and with the personnel moves they made this offseason, it’s very likely they’ll do it for several more seasons.
Los Angeles Lakers
PG: Steve Nash
SG: Kobe Bryant
SF: Metta World Peace
PF: Pau Gasol
C: Dwight Howard
Bench: Antawn Jamison, Jordan Hill, Steve Blake, Chris Duhon, Andrew Goudelock, Darius Morris, Earl Clark, Robert Sacre, Devin Ebanks, Jodie Meeks, Matt Barnes
As if acquiring one of the best point guards this offseason wasn’t enough, the Lakers somehow landed the best center in the game, Howard, while keeping most of the assets on their team. They did lose 24-year old center Andrew Bynum, but it seemed like the relationship between him, Bryant and the coaching staff was strained at best. Howard is easily an upgrade over Bynum, providing a young defensive presence to a team that has several aging stars. While the rest of his teammates are 30+ years old, “Superman” is just 26 years old and should be the cornerstone of this team once the others retire.
Nash’s signing is an interesting one, as fans will finally see what the “Black Mamba” plays like with a competent passing point guard, something he hasn’t had in several seasons now. Nash could average a career-high in assists, considering the number of offensive options available to him. Considering the work he’s done with lesser talent in Phoenix, what’s to keep him from eclipsing his past numbers?
The biggest challenge for the 2012 Lakers, if there is one, is keeping everyone happy on offense, including another new addition – Jamison. He was a top option in Cleveland, so keeping him involved will keep defenses honest. The only real challenger for this division has to be the Clippers, who can match the Lakers in terms of athleticism but not in experience.
Los Angeles Clippers
PG: Chris Paul
SG: Chauncey Billups
SF: Caron Butler
PF: Blake Griffin
C: DeAndre Jordan
Bench: Jamal Crawford, Eric Bledsoe, Grant Hill, Lamar Odom, Ryan Hollins, Trey Thompkins, Willie Green, Ronny Turiaf
With Blake Griffin recovered from his torn meniscus, the Clippers could possibly challenge in the playoffs, although a Pacific Division title is unlikely. Despite losing offensive cogs Randy Foye, Nick Young and Mo Williams in the offseason, they added two proven scorers and two former Sixth Man of the Year award winners, leaving them deeper and more experienced than last season.
Grant Hill shunned other lucrative deals to join the Clippers, including the Lakers and Heat. Despite the numerous injuries he’s suffered in his career and the amount of time he’s spent in the league, Hill seems to still be a top producer on whatever team he joins. With defenses focused on Griffin, Paul and Crawford, the former Duke Blue Devil should be able to pass his 2011 totals of 10.2 points on 45% shooting.
Chris Paul increased his stock as one of the top point guards in the NBA with his play in the Olympics; with another season under Vinny Del Negro and his roster, he could post career high assists and points.
What the Clippers young big men must do to improve is work more on fundamentals and rely less on their athleticism for offense and defense. Trying to dunk every possession won’t work, as defenses will adjust and slow the game down. If the Clippers hope to make noise next season, that could be their biggest challenge.
Golden State Warriors
PG: Stephen Curry
SG: Klay Thompson
SF: Harrison Barnes
PF: David Lee
C: Andrew Bogut
Bench: Carl Landry, Jarrett Jack, Brandon Rush, Richard Jefferson, Draymond Green, Andris Biedrins, Charles Jenkins
As if this team needed any more offense, they were able to draft UNC’s Barnes, who fell to them at #7 in the 2012 draft. His decision to stay in college for his sophomore year was heavily questioned, but his scoring numbers and percentages actually increased his second year. While the hype surrounding him was probably overkill, his skills speak for themselves, and he could post Rookie of the Year numbers in this fast-paced offense.
With a full season together, Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry should form an exciting and high-scoring backcourt for years to come. That is, if Curry’s ankles can stay intact, of course. After playing in 80 games his rookie year of 2009, he played in 74 games in 2010 and then just 26 last season due to injury. The pedigree is there (his dad is Dell Curry), but the body must hold up for Curry to reach his full potential. Thompson showed his true abilities once Monta Ellis was traded to the Milwaukee Bucks, increasing his scoring from 7.6 to 12.5 and his shooting percentages from 46.7% to 54.3%.
The frontcourt for the Warriors is, when fully healthy, a multi-tooled and effective unit. Lee and Bogut have been solid rebounders and efficient scorers, and Biedrins averaged 12 points, 11 rebounds, 2 assists, and 1.5 blocks just four seasons ago. Injuries have affected each of them, however, in the last few seasons. Bogut has averaged just 54 games a season since he won the 2005 Rookie of the Year award; his durability will be a major factor in how well the team plays in 2012.
Much like the last few years, offense will not be a problem for this team. They regularly score 100+ points in less than a full game’s time. The problem for this team, again, will be defense – you can’t win games when you give up 101 points and score 100.
PG: Isaiah Thomas
SG: Marcus Thornton
SF: Tyreke Evans
PF: Jason Thompson
C: DeMarcus Cousins
Bench: Aaron Brooks, Jimmer Fredette, Thomas Robinson, Chuck Hayes, Francisco Garcia, Travis Outlaw, James Johnson
Talent is abundant in California’s capital, as it has been for several years now. Unfortunately for Kings’ fans, however, the winning hasn’t happened despite the quality of players to come to the team. Whether it’s because of coach-player issues, immature players, lack of defense, or a combination of the three, Sacramento hasn’t had much success since the early 2000′s.
This group of players is different from that bunch, though. While that group was playoff-tested and experienced, this bunch of players – at least the ones who are main contributors – are all in their late 20′s and younger. While that helps athletically, it decreases the chance that they’ll make much noise in terms of winning games. Three of their best players – DeMarcus Cousins, Tyreke Evans and rookie Thomas Robinson – were all born in 1989 or later; the rest of their roster is just a few years older.
The on-the-court challenges aren’t the only thing that this team has to deal with. There have been talks for almost two years about relocating the team to Anaheim unless the city paid for a new arena. A tentative plan was in place in March 2012, but the Maloof family backed out of the deal. Even if the team moves, the chances of them being competitive is unlikely.
PG: Goran Dragic
SG: Wesley Johnson
SF: Michael Beasley
PF: Luis Scola
C: Marcin Gortat
Bench: Kendall Marshall, Channing Frye, Jared Dudley, Markieff Morris, Shannon Brown, Sebastian Telfair, P.J. Tucker
With just one personnel move, the Suns went from playoff fixture to probable lottery/top-5 team. Steve Nash had extracted just about all he could out of an unappealing roster, and probably played for the team longer than he deserved. The 16-year pro has yet to even sniff a chance at a championship, but he’ll likely get that chance with the Lakers. When he returns to Phoenix, anything less than applause is unexceptable.
Unfortunately for Suns’ fans, the bleeding didn’t stop with Nash. All-around good guy Grant Hill left the team for the Clippers and a chance to play with another All-Star point guard in Chris Paul, back-up guard Aaron Brooks went to the division rival Kings, and big men Robin Lopez and Hakim Warrick were traded for Wesley Johnson, an intriguing but raw former top five draft pick. The team also made some questionable free agency moves, signing Dragic to a $34 million contract and the oft-troubled forward Beasley for $18 million. Former UNC Tarheel Kendall Marshall was drafted as a potential replacement for Nash, so the Dragic signing is even more puzzling.
The Phoenix Suns team that NBA viewers have come to expect is long gone. They might be able to rebuild through the draft, but more than likely, this squad will have some serious growing pains in the next few years.
Topics: Blake Griffin, Chris Paul, Demarcus Cousins, Dwight Howard, Golden State Warriors, Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Clippers, Los Angeles Lakers, NBA, NBA Offseason, Pacific Division, Pau Gasol, Phoenix Suns, Sacramento Kings, Steve Nash