|Kobe isn't ready for a passing of the Pacific torch to Griffin just yet. (Getty Images)|
M-W-F for the next two weeks we'll be previewing the 2012-13 season, division by division. Today it's the Pacific Division. Enjoy. For the rest of our previews, click here.
Cream of the crop: Los Angeles Lakers. You might not like the Lakers, but I would imagine we’re all fascinated to watch them play basketball this year. A lot like when the Miami Heat came together two years ago or the Boston Celtics came together five years ago, whenever really incredible veteran players join up in some way, it’s only natural to be intrigued by the possibilities.
The Clippers pushed the Lakers in the division last year for the first time since Smush Parker and Kobe Bryant were buddies. So what did the Lakers respond with this summer? They went out and got the best big man in the league and the best pick-and-roll point guard we’ve ever seen. The only real drawback to getting Dwight Howard and Steve Nash is they both have back issues that could flare up at some point. But it was definitely a risk worth taking.
I don’t think anybody really doubts that this is a championship-caliber team, but there are serious questions about the bench and supporting cast. Jodie Meeks was brought in to stretch the floor, Steve Blake is back to being a full-time backup point guard, Jordan Hill is -- well still -- still Jordan Hill. The Lakers will need Antawn Jamison and Devin Ebanks to really step forward and offer a lot of help this season.
However even if they don’t, it’s still not inconceivable to think about the Lakers winning it all.
Sitting Pretty: Los Angeles Clippers. This season is the moment of truth for the Clippers organization.
They have a history of building small glimmers of hope before it completely falls apart in some soul-crushing way for Clippers fans. This franchise is seemingly always stockpiling young assets, and they’re one free agency period away from Chris Paul possibly leaving and putting them back at square one building around Blake Griffin.
What the Clippers did this offseason was pretty great when you compare last year’s roster to this year. They beefed up the perimeter defense with Matt Barnes and Grant Hill. They added to their perimeter scoring with Jamal Crawford. They brought Lamar Odom back to Los Angeles in the hopes of helping him regain his Sixth Man form from two seasons ago.
While this team still isn’t very deep inside after Griffin and DeAndre Jordan are off the court, they can go small in a variety of fun ways to really push the opposition. We should see big steps forward from Jordan and Eric Bledsoe, giving the Clippers an even more balanced attack than their fourth ranked offense from a year ago. Maybe they’ll even continue to push the Lakers in the division?
On the cliff: Golden State Warriors. Games are not won on paper; they’re won in the training room.
At least that’s how the Golden State Warriors seem to be built. On paper, most everybody seems to love the potential for this team getting to the playoffs. They have a lot of firepower in the backcourt with Steph Curry and Klay Thompson. They have a great mix of capable small forwards with Harrison Barnes, Brandon Rush, and even Richard Jefferson. They’ve got a really good offensive power forward that is complemented perfectly on both ends with Andrew Bogut.
There’s depth with Carl Landry and Jarrett Jack. And you can definitely see Draymond Green, Jeremy Tyler or Festus Ezeli stepping up as a contributor off the bench. This team is deep and well constructed. But Bogut’s extremities still don’t seem to be ready and Curry’s ankles have already turned on him a bit.
It wouldn’t be crazy to see this team winning 43-48 games and pushing themselves back into the playoffs. It also wouldn’t be crazy to see them struggle to get to 30 wins because of injuries and once again, think about the lottery instead of the first round.
Such is the life of the Golden State Warriors.
Waiting in the tall grass: Sacramento Kings. How many players on this team need to step forward in order for them to really start thinking about being a winning organization again?
Even though DeMarcus Cousins seems to be the direction this franchise is headed, Tyreke Evans might be the most important player on the team. Two years ago, Reke was entering his sophomore year after a historic rookie campaign and flopped due to plantar fasciitis and poor decision-making.
Keith Smart got him to get a little back on track this past season, but the Kings need him to be a wrecking ball into the paint with shooters and playmakers waiting on the perimeter to get this team to be truly dangerous. If they can get the offense moving in a free-flowing way, it could energize this unit to rotate harder on defense.
The Kings keep loading up on young, talented players but at some point the focus of the team has to be established and surrounded with complementing players. Keith Smart will help with the focus, but the front office has to figure out the complements.
Dead Meat: Phoenix Suns. I’m not quite sure what to make of this Suns team. In the post-Nash era, it could get really ugly for a team that was run beautifully on the court over the last eight years.
Yes, they brought Goran Dragic back and put him on a team with a few veterans up front (Marcin Gortat and Luis Scola). They have Jared Dudley and Markieff Morris to bring a little youth and a lot of smart playmaking off the ball. They have Wes Johnson, who is trying to be a reclamation project, and Michael Beasley, who could end up being the scorer we’ve always dreamed of or continue being frustrating potential personified.
The Suns have just enough weapons to make you think they’re capable of surprising everybody this season and not quite enough cohesive parts to really make you believe in them. They’re basically a walking contradiction as a franchise. Instead of licking their wounds and rebuilding in the post-Nash apocalypse, the Suns have decided to piece together a treadmill team. They’re probably going to keep running in place as constructed and add to Robert Sarver’s stellar reputation as an owner.
Division MVP: I don’t think it’s ridiculous to believe the Los Angeles Lakers players might end up splitting up a lot of MVP votes amongst them. Between Bryant and Howard, they could easily knock each other out of the race with the voters fixated on them.
I think this makes Paul the clear MVP of the division. He might not only be the best player in the division, but he’s going to be the lifeblood of how the Clippers come together and execute on the court. Also, he’s still Chris Paul.
Division ROY: It’s tough to make the choice between Barnes and the Kings' Thomas Robinson here. The thing keeping me from believing Barnes will be the best rookie in the division is the amount of depth the Warriors have on the wing.
Robinson, however, will be part of a good three-man rotation inside with Cousins and Jason Thompson. His playing time won’t be yanked around and it should lead to a lot of energetic and exciting plays. That’s exactly what the Kings need from him.
1. Los Angeles Lakers: 55-27
2. Los Angeles Clippers: 49-33
3. Golden State Warriors: 37-45
4. Sacramento Kings: 26-56
5. Phoenix Suns: 26-56