Upcoming 2011-12 NBA Preview – Pacific Division

WESTERN CONFERENCE – PACIFIC

LOS ANGELES LAKERS

Last Season 57-25, Division Champions, 2nd Overall in West, Lost to Dallas in Western Conf Semis

Key Losses Shannon Brown, Lamar Odom, Phil Jackson (head coach)

Key AdditionsJason Kapono, Josh McRoberts, Troy Murphy, Darius Morris (draft), Andrew Goudelock (draft), Mike Brown (head coach)

Main RotationStarters – Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Metta World Peace, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum; Key Reserves – Steve Blake, Jason Kapono, Matt Barnes, Josh McRoberts, Luke Walton, Troy Murphy

How are the Lakers going to react to losing two key components to their championship runs as well as the voided trade that could’ve landed Kobe’s first ever all-star point guard Chris Paul?  Gone are Phil Jackson who retired and Lamar Odom who was traded to Dallas.  Roll out the red carpet for their replacements – new head coach Mike Brown and Josh McRoberts…or wait.. is it Troy Murphy.  Brown is an ok replacement but as far as Odom’s replacement…. wow, what a downgrade.  Odom’s versaility, size, and offense will be sorely missed by the Lakers.  Josh McRoberts wouldn’t have been that bad of a choice to fill in another bench spot but not like this.  He’s a serviceable big man but will not provide anywhere near the impact Odom brought.  For Troy Murphy, I can’t believe he’s still in the league.

The Lakers will not be the Lakers of old this year yet they will still contend for a championship only because they have Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol.  Having to play for Mike Brown’s non-triangle offensive system will have an effect on both their stars but mainly Pau Gasol though.  Expect him to start off slow but by season’s end be pretty much acclimated to Brown’s system.  The Lakers will need to get an all-star performance from Andrew Bynum this year.  If he’s able to put up 18 and 12 a game this team should be much better than what’s being predicted here.  Also, the Lakers probably have their worst bench out of the last 11 years.  There’s no one that the Lakers can bring in to provide a consistent or playmaking scoring punch.  Kobe will be playing heavy minutes this year which at his age will not be good in a shortened season.

Kobe Bryant and Mike Brown will be something to keep a close watch on. As predicted, the Lakers may start off slow this season and the question will be how does Kobe react.  All fingers will be pointed to Brown as comparisons to Phil Jackson will be made with every decision the new head coach makes.  Kobe will need to make this work from a team player standpoint in order to keep the Lakers one of the favorites to win it all.  Side note – how crazy would it be if the Lakers big three were – Kobe, Gasol, and CP3.

Prediction41-25, Division Champions, 5th Overall in West, Championship Contender

LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS

Last Season:  32-50, 4th in Division, 13th Overall in West, Missed Playoffs

Key LossesChris Kaman, Eric Gordon, Al-Farouq Aminu, Jamario Moon, Craig Smith, Ike Diogu

Key AdditionsChris Paul, Chauncey Billups, Caron Butler, DeAndre Jordan (resigned), Trey Thompson (draft), Travis Leslie (draft)

Main RotationStarters – Chris Paul, Chauncey Billups, Caron Butler, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan; Key Reserves – Eric Bledsoe, Mo Williams, Ryan Gomes, Brian Cook, Trey Thompkins, Randy Foye

The most improved team and most likely Coach of the Year will come right here with the other L.A. team.  With the addition of Chris Paul to throw up all them alley-oops to Blake Griffin, this team will go from lottery bound to a potential candidate to reach the West Finals (well, pending playoff matchups).  Even with their two stars, CP3 and Griffin, it’s going to be Chauncey Billups and Caron Butler who will decide what playoff position they will get.  The Clippers will need these guys to put points up on the board and play with the veteran savvy they posess.  Billups should be able to play at a high level still but this time at the two guard which should take a lot of pressure of his body.  Butler is still a wait and see type after coming off his injury from last year.

The Clippers have a log jam at the guard spot with Paul, Billups, Eric Bledsoe, and Mo Williams.  Someone needs to be traded and that someone is most likely going to be Williams.  They are about another big or two away as well as a backup three from competing for a championship.  Starting center, DeAndre Jordan, who the Clippers resigned, should have a breakout year.  Griffin will command a lot of  double teams or will need two guys to box him out therefore allowing Jordan to roam free near the basket for easy baskets.  However, the Clippers desperately need to fill their bench outside of Eric Bledose.  Look for more moves during the season by this team.

The Clippers will be part of a lot of ESPN highlights.  They will be very fun to watch.  You’ve got Chris Paul being a magician out there when it comes to passing and his ball handling.  Both Griffin and Jordan’s game calls for above the rim action.  Combined these guys will account for probably over 300 dunks this season. Lastly, Mr. Big Shot should still do what his name says.  If it comes down to one possession, the ball should still be in Billups’ hand.

Prediction 39-27, 2nd in Divison, 6th Overall in West, Playoff Contender

SACRAMENTO KINGS

Last Season:  24-58, Last in Division, 14th Overall in West, Missed Playoffs

Key LossesOmri Casspi, Beno Udrih, Samuel Dalembert, Marquis Daniels, Darnell Jackson, Pooh Jeter

Key AdditionsChuck Hayes, Travis Outlaw, Marcus Thornton (resigned),  J. J. Hickson, John Salmons,  Jimmer Fredette (draft), Tyler Honeycutt (draft), Isaiah Thomas (draft)

Main RotationStarters – Tyreke Evans, Marcus Thornton, Travis Outlaw, Chuck Hayes, DeMarcus Cousins; Key Reserves – Jimmer Fredette, J.J. Hickson, Francisco Garcia, Jason Thompson, John Salmons, Tyler Honeycutt, Donte Green

Sacramento made a nice move in the offseason to beef up their front line with the addition of Chuck Hayes.  From a role player signee standpoint, the Kings will be one of two teams who will get the most out of their role player acquisition.  (The other team being Miami’s Shane Battier).  The other key acquisition from the offseason is rookie Jimmer Fredette.  Is he going to be able to consistently score like he did at BYU.  Most likely not, Fredette will be a good player in the NBA but definitely not an all-star caliber player.  His lack of defense will keep this guy from reaching another level.  Their other rookie Tyler Honeycutt could end up being a sleeper.  If newly acquired small forwards, Outlaw and Salmons don’t pan out, Honeycutt should see a lot of time then.

Most say Tyreke Evans is a point guard and yeah maybe they’re right.  However, in order to maximize his talent, Evans should be playing at the two.  He’s a combo guard but his offensive skills set and ability to get to the rim are far more superior than setting his teammates up and running the offense.  Positions one thru five are filled in nicely in the starting lineup.  Travis Outlaw might be questionable but his three point shooting should be enough to compliment Evan’s drive and kick or DeMarcus Cousins passing out of the double team.

DeMarcus Cousins is one helluva talent.  If he can manage his anger and emotions better and be more aggressive on offense this guy could be one of the best centers in the league. Ok, most likely he’ll be more aggressive than last year offensively but who are we kidding, Cousins is a hot-head and honestly that’s fine.  This team will need someone to speak up at times and Cousins fits that mold.  However, it’s his attitude that may get head coach Paul Westphal fired at some point in the season.  Westphal is not as demanding as some coaches are so he’s not the right fit to guide Cousins.  One will have to go, and it surely is not going to be the big man.

Prediction27-39, 3rd in Division, 10th Overall in West, Draft Lottery-bound

PHOENIX SUNS

Last Season:  40-42, 2nd in Division, 10th Overall in West, Missed Playoffs

Key LossesVince Carter, Aaron Brooks (overseas)

Key AdditionsShannon Brown, Ronnie Price, Grant Hill (resigned), Sebastian Telfair, Markieff Morris (draft)

Main RotationStarters – Steve Nash, Shannon Brown, Grant Hill, Markieff Morris, Robin Lopez; Key Reserves – Josh Childress, Jared Dudley, Channing Frye, Marcin Gortat, Ronnie Price, Hakim Warrick

Phoneix needed to get tougher.  They needed to get stronger. They did not do that at all during the offseason.  Resigning 39 year old Grant Hill was ok but bringing in Shannon Brown and Ronnie Price is not what they needed.  They both are nice role players and would be a much better fit with a different team.  The Suns needed to beef up in order to hang with even the second tier teams.  Marcin Gortat is an ok start but the other big men such as Robin Lopez is not mentally tough and Channing Frye is afraid to go anywhere near the paint.  Rebounding will be an issue for this team.

A key player on this team will be Markieff Morris.  Plays won’t be ran for him and he’ll get most of his points off loose balls and hustle plays but at this point he is still an unknown.  Surprisingly, Grant Hill resigned with Phoenix for another year.  At his age, you would think he’d want to chase a championship and join a contender.  He would’ve been a nice fit in New York backing up Caremelo instead he decided to stay and be on a team that will struggle to win in the West on most nights.  Most teams got better and the Suns basically stayed put.

This isn’t the way Steve Nash should wind down his career in Phoenix.  He should have a chance to play for a championship in the similar fashion that Jason Kidd did last year with Dallas.  Phoenix fans should enjoy watching Nash out on the floor this year because it will be his last with the Suns.  As a free agent next summer, don’t expect Nash to resign with Phoenix as they rebuild their team.  He’s going to want to play for a championship.  Say goodbye Phoenix…..Say hello New York.

Prediction19-47, 4th in Division, 13th Overall in West, Draft Lottery-bound

GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS

Last Season:  36-46, 3rd in Division, 12th Overall in West, Missed Playoffs

Key LossesVladamir Radmonovic, Louis Amundson, Acie Law, Al Thornton, Charlie Bell, Jeremy Lin

Key AdditionsDominic McGuire, Kwame Brown, Brandon Rush, Klay Thompson (draft), Charles Jenkins (draft), Jeremy Tyler (draft), Mark Jackson (head coach)

Main RotationStephen Curry, Monte Ellis, Klay Thompson, David Lee, Andris Bierdins; Key Reserves – Brandon Rush, Dorell Wright, Kwame Brown, Ekpe Udoh, Dominic McGuire

New head coach Mark Jackson should get rid of that freestyle and lack of defense type of basketball in Golden State.  It’s fun to watch but it doesn’t get you to the playoffs.  As a player Jackson was very disciplined and savvy type of point guard and his style of play will be embedded into the city of Golden State.  Other than a new coach, the Warriors didnt make any major moves.  Actually, let me retract that statement.  The Warriors did sign Kwame Brown for one year $7 million.  Oh yeah that dollar figure is correct. No typo there.  That’s just pure stupidity by the front office.  There’s no question Kwame’s got to be surprised he had that much money thrown at him.

Back to coach Mark Jackson, he should enforce his style of play on his team if they ever want to compete for playoff spot.  The difficult part is this will effect his star backcourt of Monte Ellis and Stephen Curry to a certain degree.  Can these two guys be more disciplined in the offensive sets?  Golden State will slowly become a team that won’t take fifty 3point attempts a game.  With the lack of a post presence, Jackson will utilize his guards in pick and roll situations.  By guards, let’s also throw in rookie Klay Thompson too.  This kid could be something special but with him most likely being the third option, he’ll put on a quiet rookie campaign.

Golden State needs to find a way to trade Monte Ellis and allow Klay Thompson to fill that shooting guard role.  Thompson fits Jackson’s system better than Ellis would and is much better complement to Stephen Curry.  Golden State will take quite a fall this year but it’s for their own good.  Jackson is a winner and will not want to be at the bottom for too long though.

Prediction15-51, Last in Division, Last in Western Conference, Draft Lottery-bound

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