If you didn't catch those first two division previews, you can read them here: Northwest & Southwest. Basically I just go team-by-team and talk about their offseason moves, how they finished last season and what to expect in the new year.
Today we'll be going through the Los Angeles Clippers, Los Angeles Lakers, Golden State Warriors, Phoenix Suns and the Sacramento Kings. Let's do this...
For Golden State: Along with the Brooklyn Nets and the Minnesota Timberwolves, the Golden State Warriors have improved their roster, drastically. Like the Timberwolves the Warriors are a team looking to get back into the playoffs after a lengthy hiatus (not quite to the extent of the TWolves...but it's been a few years). Golden State has addressed a number of issues. They traded for a starter-capable/proven point guard: Jarrett Jack (as a part of that trade they sent Dorell Wright to the Philadelphia 76ers). This shores up concerns if Steph Curry's ankle injuries continue to plague him (seems like a very likely scenario). They resigned Brandon Rush (a solid rotation guy, who can provide reserve minutes at SG & SF). They signed free agent Carl Landry, something I was very surprised by! I assumed Landry would sign with a team that would FINALLY allow him to be an everyday starter (Charlotte? Atlanta? Detroit?). Nonetheless, he's an incredibly capable and valuable backup. In the draft they grabbed small forward Harrison Barnes (7th overall) and center Festus Ezeli (30th overall). Harrison is likely penciled in as the starting small forward and Ezeli will back up Andrew Bogut at the five (I doubt he'll have a whole lot of trouble beating out Biedrens for that job). They've got some very good depth: Curry & Jack, Klay Thompson & Rush, Barnes & Richard Jefferson, David Lee & Landry, Bogut & Ezeli...not too shabby! In order for the Warriors to compete for a playoff seed (like Minnesota) it all depends on the health of their best players. Without a healthy Steph Curry and/or Andrew Bogut, aspirations of playing in the postseason, will fall short. A low playoff seed in the West is in reach; 6-8.
For the L.A. Clippers: Unlike a few of the Western Conference teams, the L.A. Clippers were a squad to add some veteran talent (as opposed to teams like the Mavericks, Nuggets or Rockets that have added a lot of 'youth' to their squad). Last season, with the acquisition of Chris Paul the Clippers finally crawled their way out of the basement of the Western Conference and had a decent playoff run. This offseason they added Jamal Crawford, Willie Green, Grant Hill, Matt Barnes, Lamar Odom, Ronny Turiaf and Ryan Hollins. Crawford will challenge Billups for the starting shooting guard spot, however the Clippers will likely look to use him as a spark off the bench (like his time in Atlanta, when he won 6th Man of the Year). They've certainly loaded up on wing players, though it seems like they could really use another backup big man. Grant Hill left Phoenix and had a chance to join Nash with the Lakers, but instead decided to challenge him with their counterpart Clippers. Who knows what to expect from Lamar Odom...I hope he can return to form, but it's really only so I quit hearing about him. Turiaf is an okay backup center (if that's really your only option). They've infused their second unit with a lot of veteran talent, however the starting lineup should remain the same: Chris Paul, Chauncey Billups, Caron Butler, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan. The Clips did say goodbye to Mo Williams (traded to Utah), however depth at point guard shouldn't be a concern (with Eric Bledsoe, Billups & Crawford all able to play some point). Griffin tore his meniscus while training with Team USA for the Olympics. All signs point to him being at 100% once training camp begins, however. They're certainly a Top 5 seed in the West and judging by their performances in last year's postseason, they'll be a fun team to watch.
For the L.A. Lakers: Let's just go ahead and give Mitch Kupchak the Executive of the Year Award, already! I have a feeling the Thunder are going to lose their Western Conference crown. Mitch executed a sign-and-trade with the Phoenix Suns for point guard Steve Nash to join the team (I think we'd all take Nash over Ramon Sessions--opted out and eventually signed with Charlotte). They grabbed forward Antawn Jamison...for the veteran's minimum (sure he's fairly one-dimensional nowadays, BUT the vet's minimum is a BARGAIN!). They resigned Jordan Hill. They drafted swingman Darius Johnson-Odom as well as center Robert Sacre. They signed former 76er Jodie Meeks (as Kobe's main backup at the two). And of course...Mitch pulled off a blockbuster that landed another Superman in L.A. Dwight Howard will team with Kobe & Co. to form a team, that if it's players are at 100%, I don't think can't be beat. In that trade they also landed Chris Duhon and Earl Clark. With a starting lineup of Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant, Metta World Peace, Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard; and a bench of Steve Blake, Jodie Meeks, Devin Ebanks, Antawn Jamison and Jordan Hill; the Lakers (to me) are the most intimidating squads in the NBA this season. DH likely won't be available for the start of the season (coming off back surgery), but they have plenty of options of starting lineups, until he can debut: a frontcourt of Jamison & Gasol or Gasol & Hill. There's no doubt they're a top two seed in the West and I'm pretty excited for the Wolves-Lakers matchups this year, hopefully we can steal at least one, from them. (Rubio vs. Nash, Roy vs. Bryant, AK47 vs. MWP, Love vs. Gasol & Pek vs. DH--after writing that I got 10x, more excited!).
For Phoenix: Steve Nash & the Suns have finally parted ways, however, they may not be as bad as I would have thought, if Nash had exited, two or three years ago. After trading Goran Dragic two years ago for Aaron Brooks, they resigned Dragic and let Brooks go to the Kings. They also drafted Kendall Marshall (13th overall). The resigned Shannon Brown (who could be their starting shooting guard--or possibly Jared Dudley). They signed former TWolf Michael Beasley (likely their starting small forward) and were involved in a three-team deal that sent Robin Lopez & Hakim Warrick to the Hornets, picks to the TWolves and Wesley Johnson & an MIN 1st-rounder to the Suns. Wes will backup Beasley at small forward (can't say I'll miss either of them). The Rockets amnestied Luis Scola and Phoenix had the 'winning bid' to get him. He'll start at power forward, with Channing Frye & Markieff Morris as their backups. They have Marcin Gortat at center who will be backed up by another of their free agent signings: veteran Jermaine O'Neal. I don't know that they'll be competing for a playoff spot in the West, but they'll be competitive. Their stars will definitely be their frontcourt (Scola & Gortat). If there were ever a time for Beasley to turn his career around, in Phoenix in their all O, no D. I'm very interested to see how our former 'Wolfs': Telfair, Wes & Beas do in Phoenix, this year. There's a good chance, no matter how well Beas, Scola, Dragic or Gortat play, they'll be a lotto team, once more: #10-15.
For Sacramento: The Kings are projected to be 'cellar-dwellers' once again, this season. They did make some significant additions, but A LOT of things have to go right if they want to even be a competitive bunch, this year. They signed free agent point guard Aaron Brooks (who's projected to be the team's starting point guard). With Brooks' addition, I'd say it's just a matter of time before Jimmer Fredette is changing his address. The Kings also completed a trade with the Toronto Raptors, the Kings sent a pick and in return received forward James Johnson, adding to a growing number of swingmen on the roster (Travis Outlaw, Francisco Garcia, Marcus Thornton, Tyreke Evans, Tyler Honeycutt and John Salmons). JJ is a versatile player and could see time at SG, SF & PF. Sacramento resigned Jason Thompson, but now he has some competition at the four. The Kings drafted Thomas Robinson (5th overall) in the 2012 NBA Draft. He didn't impress in summer league (looked afraid to 'bang' in the post and preferred to drift to the mid-range). On paper, a frontcourt of Robinson & DeMarcus Cousins looks to be a dominating force for the next few years in Sac-Town. If the Kings want any chance at success they need to figure out, Tyreke Evans. Is Evans their starting point guard? shooting guard? small forward? Is he best used as a reserve? Can Tyreke 'return to the form' that made him Rookie of the Year. Evans has to be their best player, their leader. If it's another season that doesn't meet expectations for Evans, he'll enter restricted free agency, next summer...and someone will make him a hefty offer. Like Minnesota, it's been a long rebuilding process for the Kings (longer for Minnesota...but 'long' nonetheless). They have some young pieces that they can rebuild this franchise on: namely Tyreke Evans & DeMarcus Cousins. Unless those two have big years AND guys like Brooks & Robinson exceed expectations. If not (likely not), the Kings will own another Top 10 lottery pick in the 2013 Draft.
That's all for now! With three divisions down (the entire Western Conference) we have three divisions down and the entire Eastern Conference to go! Hopefully we'll have them completed by the beginning of the Wolves' training camp (Oct. 2nd, I believe...BUT, I can't guarantee anything). Thanks for reading HOWL and GO WOLVES!