Mark Heisler of the LA Times, for whom I have a tremendous amount of respect, has taken the bold step of predicting that the Clippers will be the third best team in the Western Conference this season, finishing ahead of the Suns.
It's particularly bold when you consider that lots of people, including the SI season preview, are predicting that the Suns will win not just the division but the title. But it's certainly not unreasonable. It all hinges on how you feel about Amare Stoudemire's return. If he's second team all pro, as he was before the injury, they're going to be tough to stop, even if they do have to re-integrate him into the offense. If he's simply not the same player, then the Suns lost Tim Thomas and Steve Nash got a year older.
But Heisler's suggestion that the Suns are "suddenly short on shooters", while nicely alliterative, seems disingenuous. They have all the same shooters as last year's team before the all star break when they acquired Thomas, and they led the league in every imaginable shooting category at that point. They may not be able to put 5 shooters on the floor without Thomas, but they'll have three or four at all times, and Steve Nash will get them shots.
Still, it's nice to see someone (someone really smart) picking the Clippers ahead of the Suns.