'06-07 Season Preview-- Pacific Division
The Pacific Division is becoming one of the best divisions in the NBA and is right there with the Central & Southwest. Phoenix should be leading the pack in the Pac, and with Amare back, possibly back to their '04-05 form. The Clips seemed to have turned the corner as a franchise, and are on the verge of breaking into the upper tier of NBA. The Lakers are always dangerous with the best player in the league (as far as I am concerned), and should get back to the playoffs. The Kings have a new young, fiery coach who should bring more discipline on the defensive end, which should help them stay in the running for one of the last playoff spots out West. The Warriors also have a new coach, but he's the polar opposite of Musselman--older, laid-back and not really caring if his players consider the concept of defense. But every team does have a legit shot at the playoffs, even the Warriors, so this division will be fun to watch.
GOLDEN ST WARRIORS--(34-48; 5th in Pac; T-12th in West)
Key additions: Pat O'Bryant
Key losses: Derek Fisher
There seems to be a fair amount of people excited about Nellie taking over the reins. Don't count me as one of them. It's no surprise he's employing a small ball lineup (something he was doing long before it was in vogue). Maybe his system will lend itself to some more victories in the reg season, but if the Warriors were to sneak into the playoffs, they would get throttled in the 1st round. Is this what Bay Area fans are really excited about? Getting blown out in the 1st round as their best option.
His quirky lineups might work some wonders on offense, but what about the other end? Defense has always been of an afterthought with Nellie, and G.S. has had issues with their D for awhile, and don't think Nellie will change anything for the better. Even with a conventional lineup with Troy Murphy at the 4 & someone like Foyle at the 5, they would be lousy defensively in Nellie's hands. But with Dunleavy at the 4, it's like Nellie really does not care what happens on the defensive end at all. Let's face it, Dunleavy is going to get abused on the block every night and the opposing team's gameplan is going to center around pounding it inside. Basically, the Bay Area fans need to prepare themselves that the defense is going to be bad.
The Warriors should not have trouble putting up points, but how efficient they put them up is the question. I think some coaches/front offices think they can just install these fast, undersized looks and hope for the same success as the Suns. I think they are misguided to how important/vital Nash is to the Suns' formula. You need a point guard who makes great decisions and take good shots and get good shots for his teammates.
Can Baron do that? Not sold. He needs to improve his shot selection and be able to improve the shooting % of his teammates. The Warriors were 3rd worst in Off. FG% in the NBA and coupled that with a poor 3pt %. The Warriors were also one of the worst rebounding teams in the NBA last year. Playing smallball obviously does not help this problem. GS likes to copy the Suns--poor rebounding, below average defense, forcing alot of TOs, but they are way off in the shooting efficiency department, and I think that is heavily influenced by the difference in point guards
The Warriors should just be called "the Knicks of the West Coast" from now on. The Warriors are locked into about 9-10 players for a couple more years and they don't seem to play well together, sort of like the Knicks. Good talent that does not fit together, bad defense & bad contracts--sure sounds like the Knicks. Although I can't totally rule them out of a bottom playoff spot--I think they have a slim chance, but I just do not think they are better than the Jazz, Lakers or Kings.
I just can't see who they can finish ahead of in the division.
LA CLIPPERS--(47-35; 2nd in Pac; 6th in West)
Key additions: Paul Davis; Tim Thomas
Key losses: Vlad Radmanovic
Will try to build on the momentum they established last year. This franchise seems to be on the upswing and has unofficially handed the "Worst Franchise" tag over to the Hawks.
Elton Brand has definitely made the jump to the upper echelon of the NBA--his mid-range post-up game is pretty devastating. His frontcourt partner, Chris Kaman, is developing into a solid NBA center, but still has a tendency to get lost on the defensive end. But frontcourt depth behind these two is definitely an issue. Tim Thomas helps, but he plays more like an SF & does not bring much in the way of defense. Rookie Paul Davis might need to step up to the plate this year--could be a nice pick-n-pop guy off the bench--because Zelly Rebraca & Aaron Williams are the only other options.
Right now it seems like they are sticking with Maggette, but I see his situation as pretty shaky with Dunleavy at the helm. I have sort of a love/hate relationship with Corey's game. Sometimes he really impresses me with his strong drives to the rim which often lead to him making a living on the foul line. The great defensive rebounding from the SF position wins high marks from me as well. But he can infuriate you at the same time with incredibly boneheaded turnovers and horribly misguided shot selection, so I understand why the Clips seem to always entertain offers for Corey.
I would not worry about Sammy's age, he still looked pretty good last year, plus his game has never been predicated on speed, it's all about his savvy, fakes & positioning. On top of that, S. Livingston is nearly ready to step in if Cassell gets old in a hurry-- Shaun is one of the best pure passers in the league, but needs to chug the whey protein & tweak his jumpshot.
I mentioned this last spring but I still don't think people realize that the Clippers are an underrated defensive team. They are also one of the best rebounding teams in the NBA. Don't forget they were the 6th best in Off. FG %. You would think with all this success in key categories they would have had a little bit better point diff. (+1.6) & maybe slightly better record.
One thing they need to improve on, is their 3pt. shooting--they were 2nd lowest in attempts--Thomas fills Radman's role, but no one elses lights it up from deep besides Mobley. Maybe the couple extra points per game the increased 3pt. makes bring will up their point diff.
I think the Clips have the ability to get to 2nd round, especially if they get the Nugs in the 1st round again. Would not be stunned if they got to the West finals, but I think it will tough as they are a notch below the Spurs, Mavs, & the Suns.
LA LAKERS--(45-37; 3rd in Pac; 7th in West)
Key additons: Maurice Evans; Vlade Radmanovic; Shammond Williams; Jordan Farmar
Key losses: Devean George
The Lakers had an underrated off-season in my opinion by grabbing some shooters to surround Kobe & Odom, and grabbing a couple of points who could possibly help their weakest position. I like the signing of Radmanovic, and they got another solid wing for basically nothing in Mo Evans.
PG spot is still a question mark. They need someone who can knock down shots most importantly. Shammond Williams could be the best fit next to Kobe, not really a true point, but he does not have to be a playmaker, more important to hit open outside looks. I like Jordan Farmar's potential, but not sure how much he can contribute this year & is not much of a shooter either.
Mo Evans can cover up the loss of Dev George. Vlad also can help keep the extra defenders off Kobe & Odom. I would like to see Kobe at the 2, Vlad at the 3 & Odom at the 4 as the main lineup. I think Phil should start Odom at the 4, he has the best post skills of any of the Lakers. Also, Ronny Turiaf needs to see more time. Showed nice glimpses of potential in the playoffs last year & in this preseason. Has better offensive skills then Kwame, maybe not as big, but brings great energy off the bench. Kwame's off. skills need a ton of work--bad footwork, very little touch, passing skills lacking. Granted, he looked good vs. the Suns last year, but the Suns usually make any post player look like a Hall-o-Famer on offense.
I feel pretty confident they will grab one of the last playoffs spots, but I just can't see them advancing out of the 1st round. Although, with Kobe around, never totally count out the Lakers. But I just see their PG & Center positions not being quite up to snuff to help Kobe & Odom along.
PHOENIX SUNS--(54-28; 1st in Pac; 2nd in West)
Key additions: Marcus Banks; Jumaine Jones; Eric Piatkowski
Key losses: Tim Thomas; Ed House
Is this the year? It could all boil down to Amare's left knee. If he's relatively healthy & can get some consistency by March this team has a shot to win a title. If they can't get nearly enough from him, they can't hope to get out of the the West. And the clock is ticking, because Nash & his balky back are not getting any younger. Also, Marion could be on his way out because the Suns are headed for luxury tax land next year.
Although, Rob Sarver maybe had a change of heart after the draft where the Suns looked petrified to take on even the smallest of rookie contracts. I mean why did they pass on Rondo at about a mil/year then take on M. Banks at about 3 mil & then offer Barbosa & Diaw extensions? Maybe someone got to Sarver and explained to him to go all out because the time is now to win in Phoenix.
Can Diaw & Amare co-exist? They operate in the same area of the high-post playing off of Nash. It will be interesting to see how they play off each other & if either guy eventually crimps the other's play. Also, will Marion complain about fighting for touches? He has made small waves before complaining about his role. So don't be shocked if you hear some minor grumblings out of the desert this year, there are issues that are definitely ripe for the picking.
This team really did not address their biggest flaw this off-season--interior defense. They added perimeter guys who were overkill--Jumaine Jones--but are left with Sean Marks & Pat Burke as their only true centers, yeah. People seem to think having Amare back solves their interior defenses issue. Sorry, not really. Amare was never a good defender--occasionally he'd make some blocks coming off the ball, but otherwise he would stand around with his arms down going thru the motions, out of position & not having a clue what to do. I know the Suns' defense was better when Kurt Thomas was healthy in the reg. season, but the Suns' defense was solid in the reg. season in 04-05 and was awful in the playoffs.
One of the worst rebounding teams in the NBA, and this does help things on the defensive end when they give up so many easy shots. Should improve with Amare back & moving a double-digit boardman to SF. But could still be an issue come playoff time like it was 2 years ago with Amare playing.
This team still has to prove it can defend in the playoffs, especially in the paint. The Suns do not have to play great defense, just mediocre because their offense is so efficient. If Amare is not relatively healthy come April, it will be mighty tough for the Suns to get past either the Mavs or the Spurs.
SACRAMENTO KINGS--(44-38; 4th in Pac; 8th in West)
Key additions: John Salmons; Quincy Douby; Mo Taylor
Key losses: Bonzi Wells
They still have guys who score the ball, and their defense should be better by having Artest & Musselman from the start of the year. Musselman will definitely tighten up the defense.
Biggest holes were back-up defensive big & defensive PG. They really did not cover any of these holes this summer. Hate to say it but the Kings had one of the worst off-seasons of any team; one usually doesn't say that when Geoff Petrie is at the helm. Although, that should not really kill their playoff chances. They could have had Rondo (who would have been a perfect fit behind Bibby), but went after Douby, who is just another young 2-guard. They could have Josh Boone as well who could have helped defensively upfront. Then they went and vastly overpaid for John Salmons after he got cold feet with the Raptors (The Raptors must be delighted that Salmons nixed the deal, because now they have a better player in Fred Jones at half the price). I guess Salmons can cover some back-up point, but why are you paying him that much when he did not prove much with Philly.
Shareef Rahim might need to start--if they could move Kenny Thomas' putrid contract they would in a second. Shareef reminded people of his deft scoring talent by going to work over Duncan in the 1st round. This guy use to be a 20-9 guy when he was getting 38 mins per, so hopefully Musselman ups his minutes. Not sure why they needed another undersized PF who plays no defense in Mo Taylor. I am not that concerned about the loss of Bonzi because he overlapped with Artest somewhat and I feel confident in the talents of Kevin Martin, who played with a ton of poise in the playoffs.
I think the Kings are in the running for one of the last playoffs spots West with the Lakers, T-Wolves & Jazz. But they could definitely use some defensive help in the interior to make things easier on themselves. Right now I have them tentatively penciled into the 8th spot, but no team's fortunes are ever certain when their best all-around player is Ron Artest. You know with Ron being slighty goofy, in all