The NBA offseason is heading into the home stretch, which means it’s time for pre-season content to finally kick off. While divisions don’t matter much in the NBA anymore, they still neatly divvy up the league, and make for an easy method to preview various teams. To start off the 2019-2020 NBA season preview, we will look at the Pacific Division, home to your LA Clippers, as well as the cross-town rival Lakers, northern California nemesis Warriors, and the hitherto irrelevant Suns and Kings.
Players Added: Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, Moe Harkless, Rodney McGruder, Patrick Patterson, Terance Mann, Mfiondu Kabengele
Players Lost: Danilo Gallinari, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Garrett Temple, Tyrone Wallace, Sindarius Thornwell, Wilson Chandler
Summary: The Clippers shocked the NBA last year, winning 48 games, making the playoffs, and taking a healthy Warriors team to six games in the 1st round. They succeeded on grit, heart, cohesion on both ends, and the indomitable spirit of their players. This year will be different. That same attitude will hopefully remain, but the underdog persona will no longer fit, not on a team that boasts two superstar players. The Clippers stunned the entire sports world by trading for Paul George to secure Kawhi Leonard, and will move into next season with those two wings surrounded by much of the nucleus of the previous year’s team. George may or may not be healthy to start the year, but while that might impact the bottom line a bit, it should not take away from what should be a team that excels on both ends of the court.
The Clippers are not only star-studded at the top of their roster, but also boast one of the best benches in the NBA. They also blend a good mix of experience, with players in their 30s (Lou Williams, Pat Beverley), guys in their prime (Leonard, George, McGruder, Harkless), and youngsters ready to improve (Landry Shamet, Ivica Zubac, Montrezl Harrell). It’s the latter component that might give the Clippers their sneakiest advantage next season. If any one of those guys (let alone multiple) makes a leap, the Clippers will be far more deadly, especially offensively. The Clippers have championship-level superstars, a veteran bench, and upside on the back half of their roster. Even if they coast somewhat during the regular season, or end a little lower than expected due to injury or load management, they will be a truly frightening team if they can gel and stay healthy going into the playoffs.
Predicted Record: 54-28
Players Added: D’Angelo Russell, Willey Cauley-Stein, Glenn Robinson III, Alec Burks, Jordan Poole, Omari Spellman, Eric Paschall
Players Lost: Kevin Durant, Andre Iguodala, Shaun Livingston, DeMarcus Cousins, Quinn Cook, Andrew Bogut, Jonas Jerebko, Damian Jones, Jordan Bell
Summary: The Warriors are fascinating. They’ve lost so many key pieces of their championship teams, including superstar Kevin Durant, versatile sixth man Andrew Iguodala, and steady veteran Livingston, as well as ancillary pieces such as Cook, Bell, and Jones. The Warriors will not be dominant next season, especially without the ultimate security blanked in Durant. However, their core, the same core that won an NBA-record 73 games just three seasons ago, remains intact. Klay Thompson might miss much of the season with a knee injury, true, but he will be back, and Steph Curry and Draymond Green are as phenomenal as ever. The Warriors also finally got younger, adding first-time All-Star Russell as well as Cauley-Stein and a couple rookies. They will lack some of that veteran presence, and the surehandedness of Livingston and Iggy will surely be missed. However, Russell is an intriguing addition, and while it will be tricky for him to adapt to a secondary role alongside Steph, his shooting and playmaking could make the Warriors even more dangerous offensively. The Warriors are not the powerhouse team of yesteryear, yet should persist as a strong playoff team, and if Klay is healthy by the postseason, there’s not a team in the NBA that will relish facing them.
Predicted Record: 52-30
Players Added: Anthony Davis, Danny Green, Avery Bradley, Quinn Cook, Jared Dudley, Troy Daniels, DeMarcus Cousins (out for season), Talen Horton-Tucker
Players Lost: Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart, Reggie Bullock, Lance Stephenson, Tyson Chandler, Michael Beasley, Mo Wagner, Isaac Bonga, Mike Muscala, Jemerrio Jones
Summary: The Lakers might have had a more eventful summer than any team but the Clippers, turning over at least half their roster, and making a franchise-altering trade by acquiring Anthony Davis. The Lakers’ young core is almost entirely gone outside of the seemingly untouchable Kyle Kuzma, and in their place are a series of role-playing veterans. The Lakers appeared to have learned their lesson from last year, eschewing ball-handling and playmaking alongside LeBron James to focus on shooting, and will probably be better for it. Daniels, Cook, and Dudley are not world-beaters, but they fit exceptionally well alongside LeBron, and are each better shooters than anyone the Lakers had last season until their mid-year trade for Reggie Bullock. That’s not even counting Green, one of the best 3 and D role players the NBA has seen, and a key piece to the 2019 champion Raptors. Yes, the Lakers got significantly better this summer.
Of course, the vast bulk of that improvement will stem from Davis. AD is one of the most talented players in the NBA, and playing alongside Bron should both ease his offensive burden and allow for more creative play-calling. His defense will be needed more than ever, as the Lakers, while going heavy on shooting, have seemingly not taken the other side of the court into the equation with their pickups. With DeMarcus Cousins out for the year with a torn achilles, it’s more important than ever for Davis to play his natural position at center, allowing the Lakers to go small and add more shooting around the Bron-Davis pick and roll. Still, even if he doesn’t, the sheer natural talent of Davis and LeBron should push the Lakers to the playoffs. The supporting cast still isn’t great, and there’s almost no upside on the roster outside of Kuzma and the rookie Talen Horton-Tucker, who presumably won’t see the court much, but the Lakers will be a good regular season team and a potentially terrifying playoff opponent.
Predicted Record: 49-33
Players Added: Dewayne Dedmon, Cory Joseph, Trevor Ariza, Richaun Holmes, Tyler Lydon, Justin James
Players Lost: Willey Cauley-Stein, Kosta Koufos, Ben McLemore, Frank Mason, Troy Williams, Alec Burks, Corey Brewer
Summary: After being an awful garbage fire for over a decade, the Kings were maybe the biggest surprise in the NBA last year when they finished 39-43 and were one of the most entertaining teams to watch on a daily basis. De’Aaron Fox made a leap from underachieving rookie to fringe star with All-NBA upside, Buddy Hield scorched the nets from three, and rookie big man Marvin Bagley showed off in limited minutes. The Kings truly have one of the most promising young cores in the NBA, and if Fox and Bagley keep improving at the rate that they have so far in their NBA careers, they could threaten for a playoff spot as soon as this year.
Unfortunately, the Kings made some odd moves in free agency this summer. They overpaid for Trevor Ariza, who was bad last season, and will presumably not be any better a year further into his lengthy career. Harrison Barnes was re-signed to a massive contract, and while he’s a fine player, he’s not someone that should be committed to as a cornerstone of a franchise. Barnes can help the Kings, but his contract is unfortunate and could help the Kings from adding the help they need to take them to the next level. Joseph, Holmes, and Dedmon are all very solid veterans – Dedmon, particularly, has quietly been one of the most underrated players in the NBA the past couple seasons.
The problem (outside of the fact that the Kings overpaid for these guys too) is that they play at positions that the Kings’ best young players occupy. Dedmon and Holmes should not be getting huge minutes when the Kings have Bagley and Harry Giles, and while Joseph can play alongside Fox, Buddy Hield and Bogdan Bogdanovic are also natural shooting guards. The Kings should be good next year, and fun, but it’s tough to see them making the playoffs with the wing rotation they have unless their young guys exponentially improve.
Predicted Record: 42-40
Players Added: Dario Saric, Ricky Rubio, Aron Baynes, Cheick Diallo, Frank Kaminsky, Jevon Carter, Ty Jerome, Cam Johnson
Players Lost: TJ Warren, Josh Jackson, Dragan Bender, Jamal Crawford, Troy Daniels, Richaun Holmes, De’Anthony Melton, Quincy Acy, Ray Spalding
Summary: The Suns got a lot better this summer. Rubio will be the best point guard the Suns have had since they traded away Goran Dragic nearly five years ago, and will bring a sense of competency and order to the Suns on both sides of the ball. Saric, too, is a better wing than the Suns have run out there in recent years, and will help spread the floor for Devin Booker and DeAndre Ayton. At the same time, the Suns let go of much of their failed young talent, notably Josh Jackson and Dragan Bender. Richaun Holmes will be a true loss, but Baynes should be able to fill in as a backup center quite well, and the Suns also brought in Diallo, who has potential to be a positive rotation player too.
The problem with the Suns is that they’re still relying on a bunch of young players in an exceedingly competitive Western Conference. Ayton had a very promising rookie season, but his defense needs a ton of work, and it’s unlikely he can be the backbone of a strong defense as soon as this season. Devin Booker should have his offensive load lightened by Ayton’s development and the arrival of Rubio, which could make him more efficient. However, his defense will probably remain a disaster regardless, and there’s no guarantee he improves efficiency due to lower usage alone. None of that even goes into the Suns’ draft, which featured them reaching into the lottery for Johnson, a decent prospect who probably would have been available five or even 10 picks later. The Suns should approach competency this season, which is a nice leap. Being an actual good team is still far away, however.
Predicted Record: 29-53