Last season’s Pacific Division standings ended up like the 2008 presidential election: competitive at first, predictable by the midpoint. Before culminating their playoff run with another NBA championship – the fifteenth in franchise history – the Lakers bullied their way to a 14-2 division record amid finishing the regular season with the same number of losses as the Kings did wins (17). With two teams falling short of the 20-win target (the other being the Clippers), the division as a whole screamed lousy like Al Davis screams old. Nonetheless, there has already been a flurry of offseason activity that will likely shake up the division, let alone the Western Conference. Sure we’re still two-plus months removed from Opening Night (Oct. 27), but it’s never too early to break down the five Pacific teams via their respective 2008-09 record (division standing), acquisitions, losses and expected division standing come April, followed by a brief synopsis for the 2009-10 season.
Golden State Warriors
Record: 29-53 (3rd)
Acquired: Speedy Claxton, Stephen Curry (rookie), Devean George, Acie Law
Lost: Marco Belinelli, Jamal Crawford, Al Harrington, DeMarcus Nelson, Marcus Williams
Expected Division Standing: 3rd
Synopsis: Characterized by an overwhelming amount of perimeter players and without a true center on the current roster, the Warriors will once again utilize their run-and-gun offense that led to last season's second-best team scoring output. Add seventh overall draft pick Stephen Curry – who averaged 25 points per game in three years at Davidson – as well as a full year of Monta Ellis to the mix and few teams will be able to contain the Warriors’ well-oiled offensive machine. The only question remains: How will Golden State’s defense fare against size and strength?
Los Angeles Clippers
Record: 19-63 (4th)
Acquired: Rasual Butler, Blake Griffin (rookie), Mark Madsen, Craig Smith, Sebastian Telfair
Lost: Paul Davis, Jason Hart, Cuttino Mobley, Mike Taylor, Tim Thomas
Expected Division Standing: 2nd
Synopsis: I never thought I’d say this, but in no way have I ever been so intrigued – !!! – by the Clippers, at least on paper. For one thing, they have a lethal combination of youth (Eric Gordon, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, Craig Smith, Sebastian Telfair and Al Thornton) and experience (Rasual Butler, Marcus Camby, Baron and Ricky Davis, Mark Madsen and Chris Kaman). Offensively, the Clips have the ability to push the tempo and run the half-court set equally well. On defense, they feature a lockdown perimeter defender (Butler) to complement an up-and-coming one (Thornton), and their height and length down low rivals those of the Lakers and Trailblazers. Still, coach Mike Dunleavy will find a way to screw it up like he always does. Quote me.
Los Angeles Lakers
Record: 65-17 (1st)
Acquired: Ron Artest, Chinemelu Elonu (rookie, unsigned)
Lost: Trevor Ariza, Sun Yue
Expected Division Standing: 1st
Synopsis: Coming off a season of supremacy, the Lakers upgraded their starting lineup with the addition of Ron Artest and re-signed two key pieces of their championship puzzle: Lamar Odom and Shannon Brown. Now with Odom more accustomed to his sixth-man role, Brown better acclimated to the triangle offense and Andrew Bynum (who looked like he was auditioning for the sequel of Dazed and Confused after overcoming knee surgery late last season) presumably returning to his dominant season-opening form, a purple and gold repeat appears inevitable – as long as the defending champs remain relatively healthy throughout the course of the season and on into the playoffs.
Record: 46-36 (2nd)
Acquired: Channing Frye, Taylor Griffin (rookie, unsigned), Aleksandar Pavlovic
Lost: Matt Barnes, Shaquille O’Neal
Expected Division Standing: 4th
Synopsis: Sure the Shaq experiment didn’t produce rewarding results, but it was a shot general manager Steve Kerr had to take after the Western Conference experienced an all-around increase in low-post power. With the Big Cactus out of desert sight, the Suns have retrofitted their roster in hopes of completely reinstating the “seven seconds or less” offense that fostered most – if not all – of their success when they headed the division a few years back. O’Neal’s departure may serve as a blessing in disguise for Amare Stoudemire and even Robin Lopez, but the aging likes of Steve Nash and Grant Hill will ultimately set the tone for a regressing Phoenix team.
Record: 17-65 (5th)
Acquired: Jon Brockman (rookie, unsigned), Omri Casspi, Tyreke Evans (rookie), Sean May, Sergio Rodriguez
Lost: Bobby Brown, Quincy Douby, Mikki Moore, John Salmons, Shelden Williams
Expected Division Standing: 5th
Synopsis: While owners Joe and Gavin Maloof are very optimistic about new coach Paul Westphal, draft picks Tyreke Evans (fourth overall) and Omri Casspi (23rd overall) and rookie Jon Brockman (whom they acquired from the Trailblazers), the Kings are plagued with youth and underdeveloped talent. They have an average age of 24.5 and aside from 32-year-old Kenny Thomas, no player eclipses age 30. This should provide for a promising future, but for now the Kings will be bowing down to almost every other team.
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Written by Josh Hoffman