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Pacific Division Preview

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The Champs. Are. Here.

I was there April 7th, 2010 when Don Nelson passed Lenny Wilkins for the all-time record in NBA coaching wins.

My dad had suite tickets from a business partner and I tagged along that night. The Wolves' starters were Kevin Love, Ryan Gomes, Corey Brewer, Jonny Flynn and Darko. Monta Ellis was sick. Anthony Randolph was injured. Corey Maggette playing was still kind of a thing (!!!)

I still have vivid memories of that game, probably because of the joker who screamed 'RUUUUNNNNNN' at half-injured Ronny Turiaf the whole night. It was April. Neither team had anything to play for. The Warriors finished that seasons 26-56 (the Wolves 15-67) In classic Wolves fashion, they found a way to get lit up by, of all people, Anthony Tolliver (34 points) The night ended with the arena 2/3rds deserted while Don Nelson jumping up and down on the court like a 5 year old with Steph Curry, Maggette, Deavon George and Vladamir Radmonavic.

That makes it particularly surreal to be writing about 2015 NBA Champion Golden State Warriors, led by 2015 MVP Steph Curry and 2015 Finals MVP Andre Iguodala (!?!?!?!?!?!?!????) The Warriors, through patience, smart drafting, smart coaching, and a good share of luck, climbed out of the basement all the way to the top of the ladder. The NBA Championship trophy once again resides in California, but it's no longer on a shelf of Purple and Gold. And odds are, it's staying in the Bay Area for a little while longer yet.

Golden State Warriors

2014-2015: 67-15 No. 1 seed

Season summary:

heyman

Coach: Steve Kerr

Key Departures: Alvin Gentry, David Lee

Key Arrivals: Jason Thompson

Expectations: Everyone seems to be asking "who will be the best team next season?" already. Personally, I think that's overthinking things. There's no reason the Warriors won't run over the competition again this regular season. They return everyone important on their roster. They have a gazillion ways to score the basketball, reinventing the wheel when it comes to the new standard in NBA playbooks. They play elite defense. They were so overwhelming last year that their starters regularly sat out entire fourth quarters. They're the champs.

The one, sole question is can Steve Kerr keep the offense clicking now that Alvin Gentry has departed? Gentry was the catalyst in transforming the W's from Mark Jackson's 90s method-ball to the lightning blitzkrieg motion system they dominated with last year. It seems a safe bet Kerr is up to the task, particularly considering he was there in Phoenix when Mike D'Antoni invented the style (literally...Kerr was PHX's GM at the time)

Kerr, Curry, Thompson, Iggy, Bogut, an unleashed Draymond Green, and Jason Thompson with something real to play for. There's no need to try and outsmart reality. This is the team to beat this year.

Don't sleep on: Draymond Green

This probably sounds silly considering what a breakout star Green became last season. He became a legitimate Defensive Player of the Year candidate and the poster boy for the New Way to Basketball so quickly that people forget he's only 25, and this will only be his fourth year in the NBA. He averaged just 11 points and 8 rebounds last season, and was a fifth option on offense for the first half of it.

Expect that to change. Green will get his buckets now behind only Curry and Klay, and as he's raised his FG% every year so far, it seems likely he'll make the most of it. His postseason averages of 14 points, 10 rebounds and 5 assists per could very well be his new baseline, as the Warriors expand their offense around his unique talents. He's a ferocious competitor in the same mold of Kobe and Russell Westbrook, and lives with that chip on his shoulder of having been told over and over for three years that he didn't belong. This is his time now.

Los Angeles Clippers

2014-2015: 56-26, No. 3 seed

Season summary:

volt

Coach(ident of Operations): Doc Rivers

Key Departures: DeAndre Jordan, Matt Barnes, Spencer Hawes

Key Arrivals: DeAndre Jordan, Paul Pierce, Pablo Prigioni

Who Even Knows: Lance Stephenson, Josh Smith, Wes Johnson, the new Clippers' logo

logo

Blocky. Crowded. Oddly proportioned. Completely indecipherable unless someone tells you what it is. Why yes, the Clippers are owned by a Microsoft guy. I feel like this is something from a 1994 Starter jacket. Or the new home button for Internet Edge-plorer.

Oh right, this is supposed to be about the roster....

Expectations: So the Clippers actually have a bench now, in theory. That's kind of neat. Even if Stephenson becomes a one man disco fire again (you better move/you better Lance) and Smoove decides you're all wrong, he can shoot 3s, they'll still be a better bench crew than last seasons Hedo/Big Baby experiment.

The Clippers knocked the reigning champs out of the playoffs last year in the first round. Then they had the Rockets dead to rights. Then....they....fell asleep...? The reason a real bench is so important for this Clippers team is it's likely sheer exhaustion was a leading cause of their otherwise inexplicable collapse against Houston in the playoffs. I guess 40 minutes a night against Tim Duncan and Kawhi Leonard and James Harden and Dwight Howard is hard work. Who knew.

The DeAndre Jordan hostage situation was an embarrassment to everyone involved, and the league as an entity, but the Clippers had to keep DJ in town. Absolutely had to. Even though his reputation as a defender is massively overblown, he's a monster on the glass and above the rim, one of the best weapons in the world in pick-and-roll sets, and forms an intimidatingly athletic tandem with Blake Griffin. Without him, LAC is starting a human bowling ball at center in Glen Davis, who's only intimidating in the sense that his inability to stop his own momentum makes him a car collision risk after the whistle. RIP Jermaine O'Neal.

With Jordan - and with the additions of the wily P4 veteran squad, the Clippers return to the upper echelon of the West, as much a threat to Golden State's title reign as the Spurs, Rockets, and (most likely) Thunder. Paul Pierce is a grumpy old man yelling at kids from a lawn chair now, but he can still pass, shoot, and make the hero play in clutch. Pablo Prigioni gives the Clippers a legitimate backup point guard so LAC doesn't have to gamble on miracle games from Austin Rivers. For all the drama - and don't expect that to die down anytime soon - this is a powerhouse team.

Don't sleep on: Steve Ballmer

He's a 6 year old Ritalin kid with billions of dollars and no reputation left to lose, who works himself into near-death experiences anytime the Clippers win or lose or he hears Fergie sing. It's like a student-art version or David Letterman or Vince McMahon - so deranged you're forced to accept it can't be anything but pure genius.

Los Angeles Lakers

2014 - 2015: 21-61

Season summary:

Coach: Byron Scott

Key Departures: Jeremy Lin, Ed Davis, Jordan Hill

Key Arrivals: Roy Hibbert, D'Angelo Russell, Julius Randle (basically), Lou Williams, Brandon Bass

Expectations: What. A. Drag. The Kobe Factor weighs heavily here. While the Lakers certainly have right to be excited over the addition of D'Angelo Russell and the health of Julius Randle, LAL may be setting up a short term gain at the expense of the future with the veteran additions they've made. They still owe a first round pick that's only top-3 protected. They lucked into moving up rather than down in this year's draft, which allowed them to pick Russell, but they've likely added too many pieces now to hang onto a top (bottom...) three spot in the 2016 draft.

At the same time, they haven't added nearly enough to actually compete in the brutal Western Conference. They won't make the playoffs. They probably won't even come close. But without a draft pick, all they'll have to show for their loses is....nothing. They'll lose, Kobe will kvetch again, and that's it. This whole season is odds-on likely to be a complete waste for the Lakers, with Bryant possibly bowing out on a sour note while the young kids are brought up by an antediluvian coach who will teach them bad habits that the next coach will probably have to entirely undo.

The Lakers have a genuinely bright future now with Russell, Randle and Jordon Clarkson to build on. But as long as Kobe's jersey hangs in the locker room, they're stuck with an obligation to try and win now, which is an impossible task for them at this point. Expect another season of absurd drama as Bryant loses patience yet again and the clock keeps ticking on Jim Buss' bluster.

Don't sleep on: NICK YOUNG, DUH

SERIOUS ANSWER THO: Jordan Clarkson

Clarkson isn't exactly Russell Westbrook like Mitch Cupcake keeps claiming, but he certainly can play. Clarkson nabbed the starting point guard spot away from Jeremy Lin last season and ran with it, averaging 17 points and 6 assists per over the last two months of the season - something not many realized as the Lakers faded into unprecedented unimportance. Clarkson has athleticism to spare, and showed increasing confidence in running the offense as the season went on.

Phoenix Suns

2014-2015: 39-43

Season summary:

Coach: Jeff Hornacek

Key Departures: Marcus Morris, Gerald Green, Brandan Wright, maybe Markieff Morris

Key Arrivals: Tyson Chandler, Devin Booker, Mirza Teletovic

Expectations: That list of departures doesn't come anywhere close to capturing the full scope of the Suns' implosion, as their truly key players left mid-season. Phoenix's hydra approach to point guard rattled too many egos, de-powering the trio down to just Eric Bledsoe. Goran Dragic: gone to Miami. Isaiah Thomas: gone to Boston. Also traded was Miles Plumlee, who had held down the center spot the year before but lost the job to the underwhelming Alex Len. Who in turn has lost the job to Tyson Chandler.

Then the Suns traded 1/2 of the Morrisii (Marcus) in a failed attempt to sign LaMarcus Aldridge, which has angered brother and 1/2 of the Morrisii bank account Markieff to the point that he doesn't want to play in PHX either. That's now four key players the Suns have alienated in a single year. At a certain point, that stops being unfortunate and starts being a trend.

The Suns' fortunes rest heavily how determined Markieff is to get out, and what level Brandon Knight can play at. Both of those are unknowns, and neither connects to the player who the Suns should be focused on, which is Bledsoe. The last thing the Suns need is for their lone remaining star to get fed up with the firefighting and skip town as well. In any event, this figures to be a long downer of a season for a team that held so much promise seemingly yesterday.

Don't sleep on: Mirza Teletovic

He's 6'10" and has stretches where he cannot miss from, well, anywhere. And as chaotic as things are in the Valley, the Suns are still in a better situation than the Nets. Phoenix has the guards and the style to utilize Teletovic's skills as a shooting big, and they have a big need for depth off the bench with Brandan Wright leaving for Memphis. Mirza could even end up the starting 4 if Markieff gets his wish for a trade.

He also is unafraid of LeBron James.

I know blue collar Ohio isn't exactly a paradise, LeBron, but Mirza's from a town that basically got carpet bombed in the Bosnian War. He's not afraid of you.

Sacramento Kings

2014-2015: 29-53

Season summary:

Coach: George Karl (....for now......)

Key Departures: Jason Thompson, Carl Landry, Ray McCallum, Sauce Castillo, peace and harmony

Key Additions: Nancy Lieberman, Rajon Rondo, Marco Belinelli, Caron Butler, Kosta Koufos, TRILL

Let me hit you with something real quick:

  • Dysfunctional front office recklessly hires head coach
  • Head coach pisses off best player
  • Bad draft picks
  • Trade future draft picks to get rid of bad draft picks
  • Derrick Williams
It's said history is cyclical, and the Kings are hellbent on proving that maxim true. Short of Darko and trading DeMarcus Cousins for the first pick in the 2019 draft, the Kings have followed the Kahnsian Wolves nearly step for step.

I'm not sure I can even put expectations to paper here. The Kings are a ticking time bomb: an ad-hoc collection of mismatched parts and reclamation players, with an alienated franchise star, all under a pair of coaches that could very well divide the locker room. That, in fact, is my biggest concern here: Lieberman was clearly brought in to "work with" Cousins. But Karl does not strike me as the kind of guy to accommodate a female coach the way Pops has with Becky Hammond, and he already rather hates Cousins. If Lieberman succeeds with Boogie, he's almost certainly going to push for he to be the head coach instead. That leads to the locker room taking sides, which is a disaster no matter which way you look at it.

Wins and playoffs are a secondary concern here. Just making it through this season without anyone getting punted will be an accomplishment.

Don't sleep on: Nancy Lieberman

She isn't called Lady Magic for nothing. Lieberman is widely regarded as one of the greatest - if not the greatest - women in basketball history. After a storied playing career that included collegiate championships, pro play in both womens' and mens' leagues, and what would have been an Olympic run had it not been for Carter's boycott of the 1980 Olympics, she moved into head coaching - first with the WNBA's Detroit Shock, then with the DLeague's Texas Legends.

Lieberman has the smarts and the teeth to head coach in the NBA, and while Vivek Ranadive is something of a loose cannon for an owner, he's aggressively progressive. If Lieberman builds a level of respect and trust with Cousins, and Karl can't repair his relationship with Cousins and Ranadive, it's not beyond imagination to think Lieberman could be named head coach, if even just on an interim basis.