In a conference full of remarkable talent and promise, the Pacific Division offers a peculiar mix of potential and weakness.
Los Angeles Clippers
At the top of the Pacific are the Los Angeles Clippers, a team whose biggest acquisition came off the court. The unmitigated disaster of the Donald Sterling debacle left the organization in a tough spot for most of the summer, keeping them firmly out of position to make major changes. The addition of Steve Balmer should help to change some of that. Balmer sounds like an intelligent and dedicated man, and even if he is too meddlesome, his desire to spend and win will be a major asset after decades of mediocrity.
On the court, the Clippers will look mostly the same. They lost Jared Dudley to a salary dump, but they will get better with Spencer Hawes as their third big man. Hawes is a conscientious objector defensively, but he can really shoot it, and his ability to stretch the floor will give LA more options in crunch time when Deandre Jordan isn’t making his free throws.
At the same time, Hawes is not a savior for this team. As good as LA looks on paper, they’ve never even made it to the West Finals because of the Thunder and Spurs. It’s easy to buy into the Clippers as a title contender, but only on the fringe. They’ll need to take a sizable step forward in their second season under Doc Rivers if we are to take them seriously as a force in the Western Conference.
Golden State Warriors
For anyone paying close attention this summer, the Golden State Warriors made some confusing decisions. They fired Mark Jackson without substantial justification and replaced him with a smart but inexperience coach in Steve Kerr. To a certain extent, Jackson was punished for the failures of the front office. His offensive sets may have been overly simple, but his ability to get Golden State to hustle and play defense was no small accomplishment. Most frustratingly, the front office refused to trade Klay Thompson, a good player headed for a huge contract extension, for a legitimate superstar in Kevin Love. A Thompson-for-Love swap may not have resulted in a title, but it would have been a step closer to that end.
Now Golden State has one star, and plenty of solid role players. Stephen Curry is great, but it’s impossible to surround him with limited players and expect a title. Klay Thompson is a terrible passer who doesn’t create his own offense. David Lee gets lost on defense on seemingly every other possession and Andre Iguodala is on the back end of his career. Andrew Bogut is never healthy when he needs to be. This is a good team, and nobody will want to play them in the postseason, but they are a piece or two from being a Finals contender.
The Phoenix Suns were the surprise team of they year in 2013/14, making it within a game of the playoffs despite being starting the year as a lottery candidate. Goran Dragic was a revelation last year, and Eric Bledsoe looked like a star when healthy. Phoenix has also done a great job of gathering the flotsam of the league and turning them into valuable contributors. Indiana gave Miles Plumlee away for what remained of Luis Scola, while Phoenix acquired PJ Tucker and Gerald Green for even less. Jeff Hornacek turned these castoffs into a dangerous team, as the Suns would have easily made the playoffs in the East.
Even though Phoenix is probably quite a ways away from actually being a title contender, they managed to get better this summer. They gave Eric Bledsoe a major extension, and brought in Isaiah Thomas to create a ridiculously high-powered backcourt that compliments their running ways. The future is looking up for Phoenix, even if the way forward isn’t so obvious.
The Sacramento Kings aren’t bad, but they also aren’t very good. DeMarcus Cousins is a star, who happens to be much better than people often think. He’s an absolute beast offensively, and is unguardable when he is at his best. Even if he gets lost as a pick and roll defender, he’s a decent defender who can guard his own position fairly well.
Rudy Gay is still not the player he has long been billed as, but he did take a step forward last year. Gay was much more efficient than in years past, and therefore turned into a more useful option for the offense. The problem remains for Sacramento that no matter what they do, they are a long ways away from being anything other than mediocre.
Los Angeles Lakers
By far, the most laughable excuse for an NBA team is the LA Lakers. They are going to regularly trot out a lineup centered around Carlos Boozer, Jeremy Lin, and a well-past-his-prime Kobe Bryant. There really just isn’t much to say about this disaster. Just get some popcorn and enjoy.