Hello everyone, I am Robert Flom, a new contributor here at Clips Nation. I will be focusing primarily on leaguewide news, so I'm starting off with a division-by-division preview for the new season. I will begin with our very own Pacific Division, and the previews are ordered in terms of projected record, from worst to best.
The Sacramento Kings
The Sacramento Kings had an interesting if fairly quiet offseason. Their main move was replacing Isaiah Thomas, their starting point guard and third leading scorer from last season, with recent Clipper Darren Collison (a large offensive downgrade, with moderate defensive improvement). The Kings also drafted Nik Stauskas (go blue!) at 8th overall to supplement and possibly supplant Ben McLemore at shooting guard. Late in the offseason, they signed Ramon Sessions to be their backup point guard. Outside of that, their only moves were small ones to improve the end of their bench and manage the cap, flipping Jason Terry, Quincy Acy, and Travis Outlaw for a handful of contracts they subsequently waived. Omri Casspi was brought in to backup at small forward, and Eric Moreland was signed to be an end of the bench big.
As for the upcoming season, things look much the same as they have the past couple seasons, though with slightly more hope. DeMarcus Cousins finally broke out last season as a true 20 point per game go-to scorer, and the Kings will hope he can consolidate his gains by improving efficiency as well as his defense. Rudy Gay is the other big scorer on the team, and while he improved his efficiency after his trade from Toronto last season, he still doesn't really resemble a second banana on a playoff team, being more suited to a third best starter role. Nonetheless, Gay and Cousins are a pretty effective duo at the top of the roster. The real problem is the rest of their team. They have some quality veterans in their rotation, such as Collison, Sessions, Carl Landry, and Jason Thompson, as well as one-skilled guys for the end of the bench in Casspi and Reggie Evans. However, none of those guys are starting quality, and three spots in the lineup need filling. The Kings have to hope for a strong rookie season from Stauskas (possible), a reverse performance after a miserable rookie year by McLemore (unlikely), or a latent development by Derrick Williams (doubtful). Ray McCallum is an athletic second year point guard who has a lot of athleticism, but his rookie season was pretty meh and he has a long way to go to reach Collison or Sessions. In other words, the Kings are going to be lurking towards the bottom of the Western Conference for yet another season in all likelihood, albeit with a more competitive squad.
Projected Record: 25-57
Players to watch: Nik Stauskas, DaMarcus Cousins
To get a taste from the Kings fans point of view, check out Sactown Royalty.
To put it bluntly, the Los Angeles Lakers did not have a good offseason, as the long-hyped free agent pool of 2014 came up mostly dry for the Lake Show. Pau Gasol and Jodie Meeks, their two best full-time players last year (ouch), both departed in free agency, as did Jordan Farmar. They did re-sign fashionista, basketball player, and awesome human being Nick Young, who is a plus both on and off the court, but he's already injured for 6-8 weeks. Also returning are such studs as Xavier Henry, Wes Johnson, Robert Sacre, and Jordan Hill. They made a trade for Jeremy Lin (who is going to be their starting point guard most likely), and drafted Julius Randle and Jordan Clarkson (both of whom I like). The decaying body of Carlos Boozer was signed off waivers to yell and get defensive boards while getting torched on defense. Finally, they signed Ed Davis to a very nice little deal, and brought in Wayne Ellington as a sharpshooter off the bench.
The Lakers are relying on Kobe Bryant to come back and play like an All Star again this season. Now, he is probably the absolute last player I would bet against in today's NBA, but at his age, coming off an Achilles surgery, with all the miles he has on his knees and legs, I just don't see him playing at a high level for 82 games. Steve Nash, their supposed starting point guard, has barely played the last two seasons, and when he has, he has been a shadow of his formerly dominant floppy haired self (maybe he needs to bring that hairdo back?). I would be shocked if he played as many games as his age. The Lakers also have very little youth: just Randle, Clarkson, and 2013 pick Ryan Kelly. Now, I like Randle as a prospect, but he is not going to be mid 1990s Shawn Kemp any time soon, and some draft projections were very down on him to start with (shout out to Canis Hoopus' vjl110). Clarkson and Kelly are both decent young prospects, but solid play off the bench is the most that can be reasonably expected from them. The rest of their roster still has the semblance of youth for the most part (RIP prime Boozer), but little real potential for growth. I think Kobe has a pretty good season for someone in his circumstances, Randle makes 1st team all-rookie, and the rest of their roster plays on a range from bad to mediocre. They are going to be well into the lottery again this year, and their lack of a first round draft pick (that Steve Nash trade looks absolutely awful in hindsight) makes the misery complete.
Projected Record: 28-54
Players to watch: Julius Randle, Jordan Clarkson, Ed Davis
Look at the Lakers perspective on Silver Screen and Roll
The Phoenix Suns
The Phoenix Suns spent a summer doubling down on their shocker of a roster last season. Eric Bledsoe, the Morris twins, and PJ Tucker were all re-signed (mostly to good deals) and insurance was made towards keeping the Dragon in their backcourt (his brother Zoran Dragic was signed a couple weeks ago). They did lose Channing Frye, a mainstay in their rotation for half a decade, but Anthony Tolliver and improvement from the Morrii should offset the loss somewhat. The Suns did not stop there, bringing in Isaiah Thomas from the Kings to be their sixth man, and adding two rookies: guard Tyler Ennis and studly combo forward TJ Warren.
The Suns surprised everyone last year with a roster many predicted to be absolutely awful, but they won't be creeping up on anyone this year. Their three-headed monster backcourt of Bledsoe, Dragic, and Thomas is possibly the best in the league (I would take them over the Splash Brothers), and the two starters in particular are a devastating combination. Gerald Green and PJ Tucker are solid 3 and D guys on the wings, and lurking behind them is Warren — who I absolutely love as a breakout player in a year or two, but he probably won't get the minutes to compete for a rookie of the year title that he could potentially claim. In the frontcourt are the still improving Morrii twins, Tolliver as a stretch four, and solid big man Miles Plumlee.
They are going to hammer teams in the fast break and shoot a ton of three pointers, using an adopted model from the "Seven Seconds or Less" Suns of yore. Coach Jeff Hornacek proved to be an ace in his debut last season, and further improvements will push him into the second tier of NBA coaches if he isn't there already. Their combination of veterans with youth is one of the most balanced in the NBA, and potential can be found all across their roster. In particular, Bledsoe will be relied upon to stay healthy and get better now that he has a huge contract, and he could still make quantum leaps in his play. Alex Len is a lottery big man who barely played last year, and he's now squarely in line for backup minutes at center, while Tyler Ennis is going to develop his point guard play on the bench (or get traded for a wing). The Suns have health risks (Bledsoe) and a potential fall off from a career year (Dragic), and while both are not small dangers, their main issue — and the one that I think prevents them from a playoff spot — is a frontcourt that just can't compete against the top tier big men in the Western Conference.
Projected Record: 48-34
Players to watch: TJ Warren (duh), and Eric Bledsoe
Check out the Suns fan point of view on Bright Side of the Sun.
The Golden State Warriors had a summer of big time rumors and small time actualities. The early headlines had them in the Kevin Love trade mix, but a refusal to part with Klay Thompson (foolishly, I might add) apparently nixed the talks, and they moved on to smaller fish. Their other big change was at head coach, where ex-NBA champion and GM Steve Kerr was signed to a large deal to replace the controversial Mark Jackson. Shaun Livingston was signed to back up Steph Curry, filling the hole left by the departed Steve Blake and Jordan Crawford. Brandon Rush and Leandro Barbosa were brought in to stabilize the bench on the wings, but the departure of Jermaine O'Neal turned their backup big rotation into one with little experience.
This team will go as far as the Splash Brothers take it, but as good as they are, I just don't see their destination being a banner. Yes, Stephen Curry is an offensive god who can destroy your team any time he takes the floor, and Klay Thompson is a sharp shooter who also plays some very good defense. Andre Iguodala is an all-around beast of a player, who contributes passing, rebounding, defense, and transition offense in equal measure. Draymond Green is an underrated player who is essentially a larger version of Iggy but who plays stretch four as well. Andrew Bogut is a mean Australian man who is a rim protector, rebounder, and good passer.
That's really the theme for this team, more than anything else: they are stocked with great passers. The only guys in their main rotation who aren't above average playmakers are Thompson and Harrison Barnes, who had an atrocious sophomore campaign following mediocre rookie and college seasons. Their starting lineup is terrific (David Lee as well), and their bench looks formidable on paper, but the Warriors just don't feel like a championship caliber roster. Steve Kerr has been given the keys to the kingdom, and it is hard to be much worse than Mark Jackson (Vinny Del Negro anyone?), but in his rookie year as head coach I think the usual ups and downs can be expected. They also don't have an abundance of upside, with only Festus Ezeli, Green, and Barnes as true sources of potential. Lee, Bogut, Curry, and Iguodala are in or leaving their primes, capping the ceiling on this squad.
Projected Record: 53-29
Players to watch: Draymond Green, Festus Ezeli, Brandon Rush
Look at the Warriors fan perspective on Golden State of Mind
The Los Angeles Clippers had a pretty unforgettable summer, and one which I am sure most of the Clips Nation membership is very familiar with, but I will run through it briefly anyways. Donald Sterling, a blight on the franchise for so long, and the man who might have single handedly ruined this team's playoff run last year, was finally removed, and replaced by Steve Ballmer, one of the richest men in the world. While he is an unknown as an owner, it is almost impossible to be worse than Sterling, and odds are Ballmer will be much better. On the basketball side of things, the only major addition was the signing of Spencer Hawes as a much needed third big in the rotation. Darren Collison skipped town for a starting job on the Kings, but he was replaced by another good backup in Jordan Farmar. Jared Dudley was dumped for cap space, and a bevy of small free agents were brought in or re-signed: Ekpe Udoh, Hedo Turkoglu, Glen Davis, Chris-Douglas Roberts, Joe Ingles, and Jared Cunningham. Wing player CJ Wilcox was also drafted in the late 1st round.
The Clippers are one of a handful of teams going into the season with contender status. They have two of the top 10 players in the entire NBA in Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, who fit together extremely well on the court. CP3 will have to try to keep his body together for a relatively injury-free season, since in previous seasons he was worn down by the time playoffs rolled around. Blake worked on his jumper for another offseason, and apparently his range is now out to just about the three point line, making him even more dangerous on offense. His pal in the frontcourt, DeAndre Jordan, is coming off the best season of his career, but he still has improvements to make on both ends of the floor, especially when it comes to decision making. His fourth quarter playing time may be cut into by Hawes, however, if his free throw percentage does not climb to at least somewhat acceptable levels. The hack-a-DJ is too effective a tactic for a gimmick that cheap.
Davis and Udoh represent two of the better backup big men during this current iteration of the Clippers, with Udoh even possessing some upside that Doc might be able to unlock. The duo of Farmar and 6th man of the year Jamal Crawford are one of the top backcourt reserve tandems in the league, and should be able to cover any short term injuries of Paul or JJ Redick. As has been the case for the past several years, the biggest hole on the team can be found at the small forward position. Matt Barnes is a capable player, but he is below average as a starter, and the reserves consist of journeymen and fresh faces. Hopefully one of the CDR, Reggie Bullock, and Joe Ingles trio can step up and become a solid presence off the bench, but if not, there are always ways to pick up veterans for cheap during the season. Doc Rivers is one of the best coaches in the NBA, and he is firmly in charge of the team. Expect another division title, along with a deep playoff run if the cards fall right.
Projected Record: 57-25
Players to watch: Ekpe Udoh, Reggie Bullock