The Pacific division last year brought to you your NBA champions, the Los Angeles Lakers. Other then that, it brought to you lottery picks.Will it be the same song and dance this year, a Lakers cakewalk? Will someone rise up and give the Lakers a sweat for the division until the last couple weeks? Will anyone else emerge as a playoff team? Who's cuisene will reign supreme?
1. Los Angeles LakersLet me just get this out of the way right now, so you can stop reading this preview and go straight to complaining about it. The defending champion Los Angeles Lakers lose about 26 games this year.
A 65-17 team last season, this year will present a bunch of new challenges to the Lake Show. First off, the addition of Artest is not all roses. Artest does not seem to me like the kind of player that will thrive in the triangle, surly he won't come into the season and mesh perfectly with his teammates on the offensive end. Will they just shut Artest out of the triangle until he gets into the groove, or will Artest waste possessions by not getting the ball movement the triangle craves? Either way, expect a rocky start to the season for LA as they work out the kinks of working a ball holding SF into a fluid offense.
Artest is also expected to alleviate the burden on Kobe on the defensive end, allowing him to focus on his offensive domination. I'm not sold that is a great thing for Kobe. I still expect Kobe to be a top 3 player in the MVP voting this year, but when he is focused on just carrying the weight of the offense on his shoulders, he can sometimes try to do too much.
Lamar Odom was resigned, which is good, but he also got paid, and for a player who's heart has always been questioned, getting paid may not be the best thing for regular season success (same could be said for Artest). The play at PG for the Lakers was fine in the playoffs, but needs to improve in the regular season to avoid the extra handful of losses I expect to see. Pau will likely have a fine year, but Bynum is always an injury question mark going forward into a full season.
The champs will have the bullseye on their backs, sure the Lakers is always a big game for every team, but heavy lies the crown, so expect teams to give LA their best shot every night out this season. I expect a sluggish start out the gates, a couple of games where they face superhuman efforts from teams looking for a signature win on the season, and in general I'm not sold this is the best regular season team in the West. Come playoff time, I expect this team will round into form and be a serious threat to repeat. But I expect them to have to do it as the #2 seed in the West this season.
My prediction: 56-26 (2nd seed in the West)
2. Phoenix SunsThe Suns are going to be back to the Suns of old, just with less overall talent. Steve Nash is back to give you everything he has this season, but his tank isn't as full as it once was. Jason Richardson has a year under his belt in the Phoenix system and could have a nice year. Grant Hill teams with Nash to provide veteran leadership that will be key for this team as they scrap for a playoff birth. Amare is finally got the paint to himself, and if he plays a full season, expect another All-Star caliber year from Stat. The additions of the promising rookie Earl Clark and the cronic underachiever Channing Frye are great pieces to round out this team's starting 5.
Let's not get fooled, this is still the Suns, a team good enough to give the best teams fits, and also inconsistent enough to drop games vs. the bottom of the barrel in the NBA. But the Suns are finally back to being the Suns, and that counts for something. With hope of a solid starting 5, this is a team that can improve on last season's record, and a repeat of last season's record would normally be enough to get the job done.
I expect the Suns to squeak into the playoffs, given the weaker status of some of the playoff teams from the West from last season. But I expect that to be as far as they can go, and this year really means nothing for the future of this franchise. The look of the Suns in 2010 will be far more important then trying to win one playoff game this year. But meanwhile, this is a squad that will alternate between flashes of the struggling Suns of last year and the good Suns of years before, and that's a dangerous proposition for any team in a 1 game matchup, but not dangerous enough during a 7 game series.
My prediction: 48-34 (8th seed in the West)
3. Golden State Warriors
What an interesting team. Anthony Randolph and Anthony Morrow were the toast of the Summer League, both dropping 40+ point games. Monta Ellis is a year removed from his injury, but still a long time removed from the explosive player that used to cause teams fits, and what Monta we see this year will be huge for this team. Andris Biedrins is a solid player that really works in the GS system. rookie Stephen Curry is a big name, but his minutes might be limited as he fights for time with Ellis, Claxton, and Law all in town now. Kelenna Azubuike is one of my favorite sleeper players in the NBA right now, he has an abundance of talent.The Warriors are very young, with an average age of about 25. Don Nelson coaches this team. Does that sound like a good mix to you? It doesn't to me, either. Sure, his offensive system may be great for these young gunners, but he is a coach that has been known to have little patience for mistakes, and this team will make a ton of mistakes this year.
This team is a few years and a new coach away from making any serious noise. If you like fantasy players, this team will probably interest you greatly. If you like wins, this team just isn't ready for that at the moment, it has little D, little leadership, and little chance of improving that much from last season. I don't see anyone making a leap so great it changes the fortune of this team from this year to last. This will be a fun team to watch, big games galore, for both Warriors players and players playing the Warriors. But I don't know how they win close games, tough games, or many games.
My prediction: 30-52 (LOTTO!)
4. Los Angeles Clippers#1 overall pick Blake Griffin joins a team that already has Baron Davis, Marcus Camby, Eric Gordon, and Chris Kamen. The Clippers do not lack for talent, as they have finally started trading for talent and signing talent in the last couple years.
The Clippers are just plain dysfunctional, however. Coach Mike Dunleavy is awful. None of the players really seem to work well with each other (of course Blake is an unknown how well he will work with the team). They rarely show much fighting spirit.
If the games were decided on talent, then the Clippers would be a very good team. Isiah Thomas once traded for a bunch of talented players that didn't work together with the Knicks. I see a lot of the same with the Clippers. This team just seems to have no heart.
There are a lot of people that would like to see a new era in Clippers hoops. I can understand their thoughts. The key for the Clippers, the light at the end of the tunnel, will be how well promising second year man Eric Gordon plays with promising rookie Blake Griffin. If those two look like they could be the start of something, the Clippers might really have a foundation in place. If Baron Davis can join in and build a three man nucleus, then that is even more promising a sign for the beleaguered franchise.
But this is the Clippers. It's never wise to hold your breath waiting for them to show signs of turning into a contending franchise.
My prediction: 20-62 (LOTTO!)
5. Sacramento KingsWhat can be said about the Sacramento Kings that hasn't already been said about Afghanistan? They are bombed out and depleted.
Coming off a 17 win season last year, they drafted the very raw Tyreke Evans (take it from a Memphis college hoops fan, I don't see this kid being a huge performer this season, he's got a ways to go), trading for Sean May, and just hanging tight. Kevin Martin is a legit star in this league, but he's not a player you want to be your #1 option. Worse yet, he's not a guy you want to be your only real option.
The Kings bring nothing unique to the table as far as style goes, they are fully invested in freeing up cap room for the 2010 sweepstakes, they are not a good basketball team right now, and they will glady make any trade thrown at them that will make them worse this season to free up more cap room or bring in a cheap piece for the future. This team isn't even really trying to win this year, and there is nothing wrong with that, but there is also no system to shock anyone, no superstar to win a game by himself, no hope of achieving despite the odds. I don't see where any Bad News Bears story could rise up out of the ashes of this once contending franchise.
If you are a Kings fan, all you really care about is seeing how Evans, Martin, and Nocioni play this year, hoping Udrich and Garcia up their game this year, and seeing who you end up drafting after this year ends. With owners that have shown a willingness to compete in the past, you can count on the Kings to be active in trying to get their team back to respectable, but you can tell that team is taking a long term approach to returning to prominence, and meanhwile the fans will have to take their lumps. Last year was a big lump, and I'm willing to predict that this year is somehow even worse then the last.
My prediction: 15-67 (LOTTO!)
Again, don't shoot the messenger, I was happy to step from the Knicks to giving my opinions on the Western Conference, opinions of which I have plenty of, but I know that my thoughts that the Lakers may not have a great regular season, that the Warriors, for all their young talent, won't translate that talent into wins, that the Clippers, for all their big names, will continue to be the Clippers, and for more hard times in Sacto, may not play well with fans, but hey, just be happy that I don't get to decide the season, it's just one fans opinion of how it will happen. Remember, it's a lot easy to come back and tell me how wrong I was then for me to find all of you and brag about how right I was, so take that as comfort if you don't like what you read.