With the Golden State Warriors as loaded as they are, the real battle in the Pacific Division will be for second place.
There is no calculus equation needed to conclude that that Golden State Warriors are the cream of the NBA Division crop. They have this division on lock, especially after bringing Kevin Durant on board. There challenging questions are in regards to the rest of the division. Will the Los Angeles Clippers ever show team production commensurate with their individual talent? Will the the young teams in the division, the Los Angeles Lakers, Phoenix Suns and Sacramento Kings push for anything other that lottery seeing?
Projected Order of Finish
1. Golden State Warriors
The Golden State Warriors were already elite and then they added Kevin Durant. And this isn’t the same as when LeBron James and Chris Bosh joined Dwyane Wade in Miami. The Warriors already have really good chemistry and Durant is going to fill in the starting position that Harrison Barnes held. The dynamic will have to change on offense somewhat since Durant and Stephen Curry both need the ball in their hands, so it will be up to Warriors head coach Steve Kerr to adjust accordingly. Another scary part about this team is that Durant flashed defensive versatility in the postseason that reminds us of Draymond Green. If Durant can continue defending at that level, this Warriors team will basically be unstoppable. It should be noted that some key contributors from the last few seasons are now gone, but the Warriors did a nice job of plugging in the holes that were left after adding Durant. This team is stacked and should make it back to the NBA Finals this season.
2. Los Angeles Clippers
The Clippers had a rough 2015-16 regular season as Blake Griffin suffered multiple injuries, one of which he brought upon himself in the well-documented incident involving a former team employee. Then, in the postseason, Griffin and Chris Paul both went down with injuries, which ultimately led to a first-round loss to the Portland Trail Blazers. After swinging and missing on Kevin Durant in free agency, team president and head coach Doc Rivers decided to give this core another chance at winning it all and strengthened the supporting cast by bringing in veterans like Marreese Speights, Brandon Bass, Raymond Felton and Alan Anderson in addition to re-signing Wesley Johnson, Austin Rivers, Jamal Crawford and Luc Mbah a Moute. The team should be a top-level offensive team once again and solid defensively, but that may not be enough considering the already dominant Golden State Warriors added Kevin Durant this offseason. You never know what can happen, and the Clippers have arguably as good a shot as anyone at upsetting Golden State, but the Warriors are and should be the heavy favorites in the Western Conference.
3. Phoenix Suns
I really like this young core of players and I think the Suns have a lot to be excited about heading forward. Devin Booker exceeded my expectations during his rookie season and he still has so much potential. It seems like he could emerge as a star given his remaining potential, and watching his development will be fun. Throw in fellow up-and-comers like Brandon Knight, Dragan Bender, Marquese Chriss, Archie Goodwin, Alex Len, T.J. Warren and Tyler Ulis – all of whom are under 24 years old (and most are significantly younger than that) – and there’s a lot to like. It’s on head coach Earl Watson to lead this young unit, but that shouldn’t be a problem. Watson is well-respected throughout the NBA and one of the reasons he was given the permanent gig after serving as interim coach is because his players loved him and praised the job he did. Also, veterans like Jared Dudley, Tyson Chandler, P.J. Tucker and Leandro Barbosa are in place to lead and help the youngsters maximize their full potential. I don’t think the Suns will be able to make the playoffs this upcoming season, but the young pieces are in place for this franchise to return to respectability and relevance in the near future.
4. Sacramento Kings
Generally speaking, the Kings are no less confusing now than they were a year ago, which means we’re probably in for one more year of the disgruntled version of DeMarcus Cousins. It’s a shame, too, because the happy version of Cousins was such a joy to watch this past summer as a member of Team USA. He’ll be trading in the likes of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving for Arron Afflalo and Ty Lawson, two free agent signings that capped off a pretty baffling offseason for the Kings. Getting Skal Labissiere as late as they did in the draft was a steal, except he’ll never see the floor on a team collecting centers like Pokemon. They’ve got a patchwork roster with plenty of talent, but nobody has any idea how it’s all going to come together. New head coach Dave Joerger should help put the pieces together, but even a good chef can only do so much with odd ingredients.
5. Los Angeles Lakers
The Los Angeles Lakers enter the upcoming season without Kobe Bryant for the first time in roughly two decades. This really is the beginning of a new era for the proud franchise and its fans. Fortunately, the team features a core of young talent, including D’Angelo Russell, Julius Randle, Larry Nance Jr., Jordan Clarkson and Brandon Ingram. This strong nucleus will be led by rookie head coach Luke Walton, who will need to do a better job communicating with and developing the young guys than his predecessor Byron Scott did. The team also added veteran free agents Luol Deng and Timofey Mozgov, plus made a deal for Jose Calderon. Deng and Mozgov were given a lot of money over the next four years, so the Lakers will need real production on the court from these guys and not just leadership in the locker room. Despite overpaying for Deng and Mozgov, the Lakers finally have a path towards rebuilding their team and a bright young coach to lead the way.