Friday, September 12, 2008

Pacific Division (W) - August 22, 2008

Golden State

Oracle Arena is one of the most upbeat places to play in the NBA. The fans do not sit until the opposition scores its first basket, there is always a sea of golden shirts, and if the Warriors go on a run it can be as loud as any venue in professional sports. The Warriors fast paced offense fits the excitement of the fans perfectly, but this year they will have to do it without Baron Davis. Instead, Marcus Williams will have to step up as point guard and try to keep the team in playoff contention. Williams, is young, has solid play-making ability, and has great ball handle, but will he be able to play in such a chaotic environment on a basis. The team did sign Ronny Turiaf who is sure to feed off of the abundant energy off the bench and transfer it to the court. The team also acquired Corey Maggette who in combination with Stephen Jackson and Marco Belinilli will provide an effective scoring trio around the perimeter and when their shots are falling it will be hard to keep up with the Warriors. Most importantly the team retained Monta Ellis. Ellis has great leaping ability allowing him to get up there but also has a solid jumper that keeps defenders honest; however, the trick with Ellis is whether or not he is hot. When Ellis is streaking he is on of the most dominant players in the NBA, right up there with Kobe Bryant. When the Warriors are rolling they will be hard to stop, but when the shots aren't falling the team will be in for a rough night. With the loss of Baron Davis, the team lacks a dominant low post threat to keep the team in tight ball games and a reliable clutch to win those tight games. Monta Ellis or Stephen Jackson should be capable fulfilling the clutch role, though Al Harrington will have to become more consistent on the low post. Andris Biedrins will also have to step up his offensive game. Teams will be able to get away with a hack-a-Biedrins because of his poor free throw shooting, but if he can work on his shooting or work on making the follow through when he is fouled then he can play a critical role in keeping the Warriors in games they wouldn't be expected to stay in. Biedrins is one of the best rebounders in the league (on both ends of the court) and is one of the several defensive studs on the team. It was wise for the team to acquire players like Biedrins and Jackson who can play solid defense to keep the teams in those close games, but unless the team can find some interior offensive play then the team will struggle often. The organization has addressed this situation by drafting Brandon Wright (last year), Richard Hendrix, and Anthony Randolph. All considered to be raw player, Brandon Wright may develop into one of those technique post players like Tim Duncan who are extremely difficult to stop. Anthony Randolph has tremendous athletic ability and can become an instantaneous defense help but his offensive game will still take some time. If the team can step up and contribute to replenishing the role of Baron Davis corporately, then the Warriors have a shot to stay in the mix and possibly squeeze in for a playoff position.

Los Angeles Clippers

The team did a poor job of addressing their off-season needs. The team made no public efforts to adopt an official mascot. In the last six years, every team to win the championship had an official mascot. In order to take the big step the team needs to adopt an official mascot to jump through a burning hula-hoop at half time; without that consider this season a bust.As for the components that actually matter, the Clippers did a good job of addressing their on-the-court direction. The team acquired Baron Davis, Marcus Camby, Eric Gordon, Ricky Davis, and DeAndre Jordan. The team did take a hit with the loss of Elton Brand and Corey Maggette, but focused in on a new direction which has lead to a team that can compete for a playoff position. The only problem is if the team can come together and develop chemistry before it is to far into the season. The only returning players are Chris Kaman (still waiting for breakout season) , Cuttino Mobley, Tim Thomas (consistent shooting threat), and Al Thornton (came on as one of the best rookies last season). Mike Dunleavy will have the opportunity to set the tone for the team and will be responsible for building the atmosphere around this completely new set of players. It is hard to determine how the Clippers will do this season since so much rides on what type of offense will be run and how the players cooperate. This is definitely a promising collection of talent, the question is if they will come together and succeed like the Celtics or collapse like the Knicks.

Los Angeles Lakers

Everyone is still waiting for the debut of the complete LA Lakers. The team proved to be successful with Andrew Bynum as a center, then success came with Gasol but without Bynum, but now what will happen when the two are on the court at the same time. It is a safe bet to say that the paint will be a stronghold for the Lakers with two players that can provide valid rebounding, post, and blocking efforts. Now instead of team worrying about one player blocking a shot now there are two. If that isn't enough the team also has Lamar Odom, who is one of the most versatile offensive players in the NBA, and Derek Fisher who can lead the team through good and bad. And if it helps the team has a player named Kobe Bryant. It is fair to say that the Lakers have the best starting fives in the history of basketball. Surprisingly the team also has decent depth: Bryant is reliable as anyone in the NBA so he is not a problem. Lamar Odom is also good for 35 minutes a game. Jordan Farmer can backup Derek Fisher and is definitely capable of filling in the starting role if needed. On the bench resides Sasha Vujacic, Vlad Radmanovic, and Trevor Ariza. The slight hole is the back up center but do not expect Gasol and Bynum to play at the same time for most of the game. Their playing times are sure to be balanced in order to achieve the best possible fixture for the team. The problem is future. Jordan Farmer and Andrew Bynum are the only two players that can be counted on for the future. Bryant turns 30 tomorrow. The organization cannot expect all of their players to be there playing as if they are in their prime forever. The team traded away all of their youth for Pau Gasol; however, the team is the only franchise along with the Spurs to own their own NBA D-League team. The Lakers maybe able to get by, by bringing up players that already know the system and can actively contribute. The team will be in for some glory and possibly an NBA Championship this season and as the NBA changes due to the effects of the D-League and foreign involvement the Lakers, and the team's short minded philosophy may actually pay out.

Phoenix Suns

There will be some fun matchups this seasons when the Suns and Lakers meet up. Shaq/Amare vs Gasol/Bynum. That speaks for itself. The Bryant/Bell rivalry should be fun to watch as both players are known for great intensity on both ends of the court. Steve Nash needs no explanation either. He should have a Canadian province named after him. What is more impressive about the Suns is their depth. The Lakers have a bench that can get them by, but the Suns have one of the best benches in the NBA. If the team faces an injury they should have no problem finding someone to fill the role. The team can rotate between starting Matt Barnes, Boris Diaw, Grant Hill and Alando Tucker. The team also has Leandro Barbosa, who has proved to be a consistent scorer off the bench and one of the most proficient three point shooters along with Nash. Robin Lopez is a raw player but he plays with great passion which can help boost the team when times are rough. The only flaw for the Suns is the well documented back up point guard. The Suns have managed to avoid the conflict with good fortune with Nash's health. The team did come out of the draft with Goran Dragic, who is young but doesn't seem to be the point guard fix. In Europe, Dragic was more of a two but between Dragic and Barbosa the Suns may find relief. The organization should continue to pursue a two, but not with risky aggression. Look for Phoenix to continue its success this upcoming season.

Sacramento Kings

The Kings have initiated their journey for the future but the team is strained by several interesting contracts. Kevin Martin has come on as a nice center piece to build around. The team has been quite conservative by acquiring promising players who are fundamentally sounds: Spencer Hawes, Sheldon Williams and Jason Thompson. The team also has a collection of fine veterans to lead these players in the right direction. The real appealing player is Donte' Green. Green is simply unorthodox. This has been a major turn off for several teams causing him to jump around a bit but Sacramento will be happy with what they have found. Green may become of the better offenseive forces that comes out of this draft. His shot selection is poor, and he always seems to think that he is on but when he really is he can be as difficult to stop as anyone. If the time is put into him he is sure to be a delightful payoff. Fransico Garcia also came out as a capable NBA point guard last season. Sacramento is in a tough mix this year with so many dominant teams in the Pacific; however, this will be a great learning experience for the youth who will be up against the elite centers and power forwards night-in and night-out. The Kings have lined themselves up for oncoming success in the future.

I'd like to accredit HoopsHype.com, InsideHoops.com, USAtoday.com, and NBA.com for salaries, free agents, depth charts, and rosters respectively.

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