In keeping with time-honored tradition, Blazer’s Edge once again will be looking across the entire NBA and offering season previews for all 30 teams. Today we advance to the Pacific Division, where the hierarchy remains much the same. Golden State managed to improve its roster after finishing last year with the best regular season in NBA history, the Clippers remain contenders once again this year, and the Suns, Kings and Lakers all continue to look to the future for their contention plans.
2015-16 Record: 73-9 (No. 1 in NBA)
ORtg: 115.18 (No. 1); DRtg: 104.32 (No. 5)
Roster Additions: Kevin Durant, Zaza Pachulia, David West, JaVale McGee, Damian Jones (Rookie, No. 30), Patrick McCaw
Roster Subtractions: Harrison Barnes, Andrew Bogut, Leandro Barbosa, Marreese Speights, Festus Ezeli, Brandon Rush
Coach: Steve Kerr; SBN Affiliate: Golden State of Mind
After their infamous 2016 NBA finals collapse to the Cleveland Cavaliers after being ahead 3-1, the Golden State Warriors responded by becoming the undisputed winners of last summer's NBA free agency. For those of you who may have been off the grid for the last four months, Golden State managed to add superstar Kevin Durant to their already superstar-filled roster. The addition of Durant came at the price of valuable role players such as Harrison Barnes, Andrew Bogut, Marreese Speights, Festus Ezeli and Leandro Barbosa, but after Durant signed, the Warriors were able to restock their frontcourt when Zaza Pachulia and David West took massive pay cuts to join the team.
Those three join an already dominate Warriors' team that contains back-to-back MVP award-winner Steph Curry, two other All-NBA selections in Klay Thompson and Draymond Green, the 2015 NBA finals MVP Andre Iguodala, and a cast of very capable and battle-tested role players.
It is hard to find many weaknesses in this team. Last season, Golden State had the best offensive rating of any team since the 2010 Pheonix Suns, and should be even more potent of an offense after adding one of the best scorers in the league. The Warriors made an NBA-record 1,077 3-pointers last season while also shooting the second-best percentage in NBA history at 41.2 percent. Thompson and Curry own the top four spots in the all-time single season 3-pointers made list and Durant only adds more firepower from the outside. They are a very good defensive team, ranking No. 5 in defensive rating last year, and should be a good rebounding team again this year after finishing No. 8 in the NBA last year in rebounding differential.
In other words, this team is very good. On paper, Golden State looks like one of the best and most entertaining teams in NBA history. Anything short of a championship is a failure for this team, and after their Finals loss last year, they will be motivated. And as if they needed more entertainment, Shaqtin' a fool All-Star JaVale McGee may be occupying the last roster spot as well.
Los Angeles Clippers
2015-16 Record: 53-29 (No. 4 in Western Conference)
ORtg: 119.04 (No. 8); DRtg: 104.57 (No. 6)
Roster Additions: Brandon Bass, Alan Anderson, Raymond Felton, Marreese Speights, Dorell Wright, Devyn Marble, Brice Johnson (Rookie, No. 25), David Michineau (Rookie, No. 39), Diamond Stone (Rookie, No. 40)
Roster Subtractions: Jeff Green, Cole Aldrich, Pablo Prigioni, C.J Wilcox
Coach: Doc Rivers; SBN Affiliate: Clips Nation
After never winning 60 percent of their regular season games in the history of the franchise, the Los Angeles Clippers have now exceeded that mark in five straight seasons. But now, the Clippers and their fanbase are eager to take the next step into being true contenders.
Last year concluded with unfortunate season-ending injuries to Chris Paul and Blake Griffin during the first round of the playoffs against the Portland Trail Blazers. Both Paul and Griffin should be back to 100 percent by opening day this season to join DeAndre Jordan, Jamal Crawford, J.J Redick and Doc Rivers through another season together.
Rookie Brice Johnson was set back at least six weeks with a herniated disk he suffered in the preseason, but the new additions of Brandon Bass, Marreese Speights and Alan Anderson will more than make up for his absence and for the departures of Cole Aldrich and last year's half-season rental of Jeff Green. Those additions, however, do not tip the scale in the Clippers' favor any more than it was last year. With the L.A. at its salary cap max, It will be pretty much the same players carrying the burden this year as last. Maybe some better injury luck and some motivation from Paul Pierce's goodbye tour will finally help the Clippers get past the second round.
They're one of six teams to have finished in the top 10 in the league in both offensive and defensive rating last year. The Clippers defense starts with Paul and Jordan, both First Team NBA All-Defense selections. Paul is the catalyst that gets the Clippers' offense going as well averaging 19.5 points and 10 assists last year, while Griffin led the team at 21.4 points per game and has evolved into one of the game's best passing big men, averaging 4.9 assists.
When Griffin was on the court, he had a great season, but last year was not a good year for Griffin. He played only 35 games due to an injured quad and a suspension and injury related to an altercation involving a team manager. Griffin's name appeared in trade rumors immediately following the incident. If the Clips run into some early disappointment, look for his name to be back in the rumor mill.
Los Angeles is always a tough out of every playoff series, and with a great coach in Doc Rivers and maybe the best floor general in the NBA in Chris Paul leading the team, the Clips should have no problem landing in the top five teams in the West as long as they can stay healthy.
2015-16 Record: 23-59 (No. 14 in Western Conference)
ORtg: 102.94 (No. 28); DRtg: 109.8 (No. 25)
Roster Additions: Leandro Barbosa, Jared Dudley, Dragan Bender (Rookie, No. 4), Marquese Chriss (Rookie, No. 8), Tyler Ulis (Rookie, No. 34)
Roster Subtractions: Jon Leuer, Ronnie Price, Mirza Teletovic, Bogdan Bogdanovic
Coach: Earl Watson; SBN Affiliate: Bright Side of the Sun
Phoenix has been back and forth over the last few years, trying to decide if they are fighting for lottery positioning or a playoff spot. Last year, injuries to starting guards Brandon Knight and Eric Bledsoe forced their hand and the Suns finished with the fourth-worst record in the NBA. But all was not lost. Rookie Devin Booker showed the NBA that he has star potential, which has become only more obvious as he currently leads the NBA in preseason scoring. Booker started last year as the youngest player in the NBA and finished averaging 19.2 points per game and 4.1 assists after the All-Star break, while earning a spot on the NBA All-Rookie first team.
In this year's NBA draft, Phoenix picked up three high-upside players in Dragan Bender, Marquese Chriss and Tyler Ulis, who could all turn out to be good players alongside Booker and the rest of the Suns' young talent.
Phoenix fired head coach Jeff Hornacek in February of last year and named assistant coach Earl Watson the interm head coach for the rest of the season. Last spring, he was given full head coaching responsibilities.
The Suns have a few good young players and a bright future, and if they can stay healthy, there's enough proven talent to mix with the young guys to create a team much better than last year's 23-win squad. Eric Bledsoe was starting to look like a true star, averaging 20.4 points, 4 rebounds, 6.1 assists and 2 steals in 31 games before tearing his meniscus. He will be healthy for the start of the season. Brandon Knight also averaged just under 20 points before getting hurt last season, completing a very capable trio of guards along with Bledsoe and Booker. Phoenix also brought ex-Suns Leandro Barbosa and Jared Dudley back, which should help bring Phoenix closer to the playoff picture much sooner than expected.
2015-16 Record: 33-49 (No. 10 in Western Conference)
ORtg: 106.57 (No. 16); DRtg: 109.07 (No. 21)
Roster Additions: Aaron Afflalo, Matt Barnes, Jordan Farmar, Ty Lawson, Garrett Temple, Anthony Tolliver, Georgios Papagiannis (Rookie, No. 13), Malachi Richardson (Rookie, No. 22), Skal Labissiere (Rookie, No. 28), Isaiah Cousins (Rookie, No. 59)
Roster Subtractions: Marco Belinelli, Seth Curry, Rajon Rondo, Quincy Acy
Coach: Dave Joerger; SBN Affiliate: SacTown Royalty
It was a very Sacramento-like offseason for the Kings, which is not necessarily a good thing. The player turnover was large but the improvement was minimal. It was an offseason that had their franchise player, DeMarcus Cousins, looking to the heavens for strength to get through the NBA draft. Sacramento traded the No. 8 pick to the Suns for the 13th and 28th picks, then drafted two big men to add to their full front line of Cousins, Kosta Koufos and last year's first round pick, Willy Cauley-Stein.
After losing Rajon Rondo to free agency, the Kings' point guard situation is in flux. Due to a domestic violence suspension to Darron Collison for eight games, Ty Lawson, Garett Temple or Jordan Farmar will end up being the opening night starting point guard.
The Kings' 2016-17 outlook got even murkier after Rudy Gay informed them a week before training camp opened that he intends to opt out of his contract after the season and does not plan on returning. GM Vlade Divac is now having to decide whether to keep Gay or flip him for assets, knowing that teams will not give up much for a one-year rental. The Kings do have depth at the wings even without Gay, as Ben McLemore, Omri Casspi, Aaron Afflalo, and Matt Barnes bring some experience to the table.
In another example of the Kings being the Kings, former Sacramento coach George Karl was replaced by Ex-Memphis head coach Dave Jeerer, who will be taking over as the Kings' ninth head coach since they last made the postseason a decade ago.
This is a team that is still trying to find its direction, but there is talent on this roster. Cousins continues to be one of the most dominate big men in the league and if he and Joerger can get on the same page, the Kings could be a tough win for other teams. That may be all they have to shoot for this season, though. Unless Cousins puts up MVP-like numbers, the West is just too deep for a team in turmoil to be fighting for anything close to a playoff spot.
Los Angeles Lakers
2015-16 Record: 17-65 (Last in Western Conference)
ORtg: 102.29 (No. 29); DRtg: 112.4 (No. 30)
Roster Additions: Luol Deng, Timofey Mozgov, Yi Jianlian, Jose Calderon, Thomas Robinson, Brandon Ingram (Rookie, No. 2), Ivica Zubac (Rookie, No. 32)
Roster Subtractions: Kobe Bryant, Brandon Bass, Roy Hibbert, Robert Sacre
Coach: Luke Walton; SBN Affiliate: Silver Screen and Roll
Enter the new, post-Kobe era of the Los Angeles Lakers. One where Bryant is no longer on the roster, Luke Walton is at the helm, and Timofey Mozgov is the team's second-highest paid player. The Lakers made a very popular coaching choice in Walton and added some experience to go along with some of their young talent, but it may be another year or two before that talent equates to more wins.
Last season saw the Lakers finish with just 17 wins, the lowest win total in the franchise's 69-year history. It was a year of growing pains and watching a 37-year-old shoot 36 percent from the floor on 17 shots per game in his farewell tour. The Lakers finished last in the league in defensive rating, last in field goal percentage, second to last in offensive rating, last in total points and last in assists.
The Lakers did sign veterans Jose Calderon and Luol Deng, so they should help bring some consistency to an offense that clearly needs it.
This season for the Lakers is all about their young talent. Julius Randle finished last year averaging a double-double. D'Angelo Russell seems poised for a breakout sophomore year after averaging 13.2 points, 3.3 assists and 3.4 rebounds in his rookie season, Jordan Clarkson shot 43 percent from the floor while averaging 15.5 points per game (43 percent is usually not a great percentage, but it was the most accurate of the Lakers top six scorers) and incoming rookie Brandon Ingram could turn out to be the best of the bunch. His long frame and athleticism make him a scout's dream. He still is pretty raw offensively and has not filled out physically, but he is only 19 years old and has the tools for success. These four young players hold the key to the Lakers' future. Luckily for them, there's to go but up in L.A.
(And just an FYI for those looking to follow the Lakers for entertainment purposes only: Metta World Peace and Nick "Swaggy P" Young will be on this year's roster as well).