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2017-2018 NBA Pacific Division Preview

The NBA season begins in under a month, which means it’s division preview time! I was joined in this initial endeavor by writers of the other teams in the Pacific Division, who gave perspectives on their respective teams.

Los Angeles Clippers v Golden State Warriors Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images


My Take:

The Warriors, after putting together one of the best three-season stretches of all time, somehow got better this summer. The only player they lost of any significance was Ian Clark, and they replaced him with a superior presence in Nick Young. Meanwhile, Omri Casspi, inexplicably underrated by the NBA his entire career, signed with the Dubs on a minimum deal, providing them with another option to stretch the floor and play small. As a cherry on top, they got a steal in the draft with versatile defensive big man Jordan Bell. Even with no additions, the Warriors would have been the massive favorite to win the 2018 NBA title. By picking up who they did, and retaining Andre Iguodala, Shaun Livingston, David West, and JaVale McGee, it would be silly to bet on anyone else. That isn’t even counting improvement from young guys such as Patrick McCaw and Kevon Looney, or more cohesive play from their stars now that they’ve been together a full season. The Warriors could once again make a run for “best team in NBA history” with the squad they have together this year. The hype is justified.

Predicted Record: 70-12

Hugo Kitano, Staff Writer at Golden State of Mind:

The Warriors bring back twelve of the fifteen players from their championship squad, and added useful contributors in Nick Young and Omri Casspi. It might seem like overkill, but Golden State could really get better this year: they'll have more shooting off the bench, and the chemistry between Kevin Durant and the rest of the Warriors core will only improve. They have a few aging guys on the roster, but the superstar four of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant, and Draymond Green are still under the age of 30, right in their primes. They won 67 games last year despite a major injury to Durant, and I think they'll be better this year, though they may rest their stars more often.

Predicted Record: 69-13


My take:

The Clippers had more roster turnover than anyone else in the NBA, losing three starters and three key bench players. Chief among the departed players is Chris Paul, the Point God, whose loss will hard to overestimate this season. Yes, Pat Beverley, Milos Teodosic, and Lou Williams all add ball-handling, shooting, defense, and playmaking to various degrees—but Paul brought all those things, and more. The Clippers did get younger across the roster, and added a couple promising youngsters (Sam Dekker and Montrezl Harrell) to the squad, as well as two rookies who probably won’t get much playing time. Hopefully one (or more) of those prospects break out, as the Clippers need depth at every position but guard.

The Clippers, if healthy, should be pretty good this season. Danilo Gallinari, Blake Griffin, and DeAndre Jordan aren’t a perfect fit, but they are definitely one of the most talented frontcourts in the NBA. The issue is that Blake and Gallo aren’t exactly iron men, and the Clippers’ aforementioned depth behind them isn’t great. If one (or both) miss significant time, the Clippers’ performance will dip substantially. In addition, Teodosic, while one of the best players in Europe, is an unproven commodity in the NBA. It is quite reasonable to believe that his play will translate, but it isn’t a certainty. As an optimist, I think the Clippers will stay relatively healthy, and that the hodgepodge of guards can reasonably replicate league average production between them. A playoff appearance would be nice, but I’m more excited for a team that plays looser than in recent years, and has more fun with lower expectations.

Predicted Record: 47-35


My Take:

After being one of the worst teams in the NBA over the past four years, there is some hope that the Lakers might finally take a legitimate step forward this season. While trading former franchise PG D’Angelo Russell was a shock to fans, Brook Lopez is going to be the best player the Lakers have had on their roster since Pau Gasol four years ago. He’s a legitimate All-Star level center, and his scoring/shooting will help open things up for everyone else on the roster. The person who might love playing with him the most is Lonzo Ball, the rookie point guard from UCLA who is already one of the most divisive players in the NBA. A top-tier passer who runs the fast-break to perfection, Lonzo has high expectations in his first year in the NBA. While he should help the Lakers’ offense run more smoothly than it has in previous years, his defense and ability to break down a defense in the halfcourt are question marks. Helping out in those two areas is Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, whose “3 and D” presence is desperately needed by the Lake Show. I do think the Lakers got better this summer, but the extent of their improvement depends as well upon the development of young players such as Brandon Ingram and Julius Randle. If they stagnate, and Ball struggles in his first year, this season could get ugly for the Lakers in a hurry.

Predicted Record: 31-51

Daman Rangoola, Contributor at Silver Screen and Roll:

The Lakers summer started off with the draft, with the Lakers selecting Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma, Thomas Bryant, and Josh Hart. But the move that truly sent ripples throughout the fan base with either a high or a low depending on which Lakers fan you spoke to: the trade that sent D’Angelo Russell and Timofey Mozgov’s albatross of a contract to the Brooklyn Nets for Brook Lopez. Many fans were eager to see D’Angelo Russell play alongside Lonzo Ball (myself included), but due to the Lakers’ desire to move long term salary, and their lack of belief in Russell’s long-term ability to be a key player on the team, it wasn’t meant to be. After discussing the deal with birdies around the league throughout this summer, I have generally understood all the reasons why the front office felt it had to happen-- and given that both Luke Walton and Byron Scott dealt with D’Angelo in a similar fashion, it appears the coaching staff wasn’t fighting incredibly hard to keep him either. I still think he will be a good pro in the league and I expect good things from him in Brooklyn, but it’s sad he wasn’t able to fulfill his potential in LA.

The draft itself was a rousing success for the franchise. Lonzo Ball will struggle at times as a rookie, but his feel for the game is elite already, and I think will show less growing pains then we are used to seeing from young point guards. Kyle Kuzma was the surprise of Summer League, showing incredible chemistry with Lonzo Ball and a three-point stroke that was a surprise to not only scouts around the league, but to the Lakers themselves.

In free agency, the Lakers lucked into signing Kentavious Caldwell-Pope from the Pistons to a 1-year deal: a move that will help the Lakers’ pitiful defense while also not hurting their chances to add impact free agents next season. The Lakers were expected to be quiet outside of deals like this, and they showed the restraint and discipline to retain cap room for the Summer of 2018, something they have not been shy about talking about (it even cost them $500,000).

This season, I still expect the Lakers to lose more nights than they win. As a Lakers fan, it’s rare that the team is in such an extended slump, but this season has the makings of a very fun one aside from the wins and losses the team incurs. Lonzo Ball will be must-watch TV, Brook Lopez has been forgotten as one of the game’s best offensive big men, Julius Randle is playing for a big contract, and Brandon Ingram is going to be one year better. I think that the net result of the offseason will yield more wins than the Lakers won last year, but not by much-- not yet. Young teams simply don’t win in the NBA.

Predicted Record: 32-50


My Take:

For the first time in eight seasons, the Kings will open training camp without DeMarcus Cousins. In my opinion, it was long past time that the Kings moved on from the mercurial star, and trading him should hopefully allow them to fully rebuild at last. While their stable of young players doesn’t have as much high-end talent as the 76ers, they have 10 players with two or less years of NBA experience. This means they probably won’t be very good this year, but they should at least be fun and promising. De’Aaron Fox is a true blue-chip prospect, and while the Kings might bring him along slowly, his talent should eventually win him a starting role on the team. Buddy Hield came on strong after he was traded to the Kings: although his upside is somewhat limited by his age and lack of athleticism, he still flashed potential to be a starting level player at the least. The rest of the Kings’ youngsters aren’t quite as promising, but players like Skal Labisserie and Harry Giles could certainly have long NBA careers if they pan out. The Kings also picked up several veterans this summer—George Hill, Zach Randolph, and Vince Carter. Not only are they solid basketball players (better than that, in Hills’ case), they are also respected voices who will bring professionalism and stability to the Kings’ locker room. With some roster continuity, a strong coaching presence in Dave Joerger, and high-character prospects, the Kings should be a mess no longer.

Predicted Record: 30-52

Bradley Geiser, Staff Writer at Sactown Royalty:

I have really enjoyed the Kings’ offseason. My displeasure for how this team decided to go about the DeMarcus Cousins trade is not exactly my best kept secret, but seeing as it has already happened, I think the Kings have had a largely successful offseason. The draft haul was very good, in my limited opinion. I look forward to seeing what kind of players all the draftees from De'Aaron Fox on down look like. Perhaps the rookie whom I am most excited about is Bogdan Bogdanovic. He has looked great overseas, and appears to be the most NBA ready rookie whom the Kings have acquired.

I know several fans have voiced concern about adding veteran pieces (George Hill, Vince Carter, Zach Randolph) who could theoretically take minutes away from the young guys, but I think that veteran leaders such as those three (combined with Garrett Temple, an underrated vet presence in his own right) can do wonders for these young guys that will last long after they are gone. For years I watched young Kings teams allegedly rebuilding with none of those types, and I prayed for the team to find veterans who could show them the ins and outs of the NBA. Sacramento, especially as is, will never sign marquee guys. With these deals, they have brought in three veterans who fit roles and should help the young guys.

As far as wins and losses are concerned, I always struggle to do this. Smart money is somewhere in the mid-20's. If it is an especially bad year, they may sneak closer to 20, but if the young guys show up and the veterans find some youth, perhaps somewhere in the 30-win range is possible, but I think it is unlikely. I am not too worried about the win-loss record, though. I just want to see the young guys develop and the veterans leave their mark. Whether the record is good or bad, I think the Kings will be a fun team this year.

Predicted Record: 26-56


My Take:

The Suns are going to be bad this year. Very bad. Unlike the Kings and Lakers, who bolstered their rotation with competent veterans, the Suns were virtually inactive in free agency. Thus, their roster was changed only by the draft, where they picked up standout Duke small forward Josh Jackson. While he’s a great prospect, his lack of offensive game means he probably won’t contribute too much this year. Considering the Suns won only 24 games in 2016-2017, and the Western Conference improved substantially as a whole over the offseason, it seems doubtful that their record is meaningfully better in 2018. Eric Bledsoe is great, but he’s an increasingly likely trade candidate as his free agency approaches, and the Suns have very little point guard depth behind him. Devin Booker is one of the better young scorers in the game, though it remains to be seen whether he can contribute enough in other areas to become a truly impactful player. The Suns other young guys, such as Marquese Chriss and Dragan Bender, appear to be years away from having a positive impact on an NBA team. Any advance in win total would have to come from internal progress, and while that’s certainly possible, it would take several massive leaps from those prospects to make the Suns anything better than one of the worst teams in the NBA.

Predicted Record: 25-57

Evan Sidery, Editor at Bright Side of the Sun:

Compared to most other teams, Phoenix kept to themselves and continued to build their roster through the draft. With the selection of Josh Jackson, the Suns now believe they have two cornerstones long-term when including Devin Booker. General manager Ryan McDonough and head coach Earl Watson have come out and said Jackson would fill P.J. Tucker's role of covering opposing teams' top scorer, so they will let him learn on the fly. Meanwhile, second round selections of Davon Reed and Alec Peters will help further space the floor, where Phoenix struggled to capitalize last season.

Outside of the draft, Phoenix re-signed backup big Alan Williams to a 3-year, $17 million deal while Alex Len will likely return on his QO.

Looking towards next season, it will all be about progress-- not exactly wins and losses just yet for this rebuilding squad. Management hopes to see not only Booker take his leap to stardom, as many are expecting, but also wants Marquese Chriss, Dragan Bender, T.J. Warren, and Tyler Ulis to play big roles in 2017-2018. McDonough believes that with Warren, Booker, and Jackson they have one of the best young wing combos in the NBA. And it's hard to doubt that if Jackson is as advertised.

While the rest of the West battles it out against Golden State, Phoenix is more than content to sit back and wait it out while their main core develops. It will be a process, and require patience from fans who have already missed the playoffs seven straight seasons, but the excitement is palpable for a team likely to finish in the West's cellar until they flip the switch to legitimacy.

Predicted Record: 27-55