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Golden State will begin the 2013-14 season one of the odds-on favorites to make the playoffs. Their new ownership consisting of Joe Lacob, Peter Guber and Bob Myers have made a complete 180-degree turn in the positive direction. However, will their new additions in the offseason make them division champions for the first time since 1976? In this article, I’ll assess the state of the rest of the teams in the division and whether the Warriors can break through the recent L.A stronghold on the Pacific.
(Photo courtesy of Associated Press)
The Lakers had an offseason unlike any other in their history - one in which they lost a high-priced, star free agent in center Dwight Howard. Kobe Bryant has spent the whole offseason rehabbing from a nasty torn Achilles suffered in April, before Los Angeles was first-round fodder for San Antonio. Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports reported Thursday that Bryant is making a trip to Germany for the second time in three years to undergo platelet-rich plasma therapy and treatment on his knees. Bryant said undergoing the treatment in 2011 turned his career around. Although the treatment should accelerate Bryant’s recovery, the Laker superstar is still unsure that he will play in the season opener. The Lakers enter the season unsure of whether to blow up the whole roster (besides Bryant, who if traded or amnestied would cause a mutiny among Laker fans) and aim for a high draft pick, or to stay the course and likely be in the same spot as last year, on the cusp of or barely in the playoffs. Most within the league believe the Lakers would do well to try for a high draft pick this year, as there are a bevy of loaded teams at the top of the conference that would maul them in the playoffs. Unless injuries vastly derail the Clippers and Warriors, the Lakers have no shot at winning the division.
(Photo courtesy of Sports Illustrated)
The Suns have chosen the "rebuilding approach" as the franchise adjusts to life after the glory days of Steve Nash and the ‘Seven Seconds or Less’ era. In acquiring the talented but unproven guard Eric Bledsoe in a three-way-deal with the Clippers and Milwaukee Bucks, Phoenix is embracing youthfulness and risk-taking. The 23-year-old Bledsoe played behind Chris Paul for the last two years and is regarded as a "Mini-LeBron," for his extreme athleticism and excellent leaping ability at only 6 foot 1. Their center, Marcin Gortat, is 31 and in the final year of his contract; he is a prime trade target who could net Phoenix additional draft picks. Phoenix has no shot at a division title this year, as they are looking to get a high pick in the 2014 draft, considered the best draft in years.
Rich Pedroncelli/AP Photo
The Kings just finished off one of the most eventful offseasons in their long history in the NBA; however, the teams above them in the Pacific are still far better than them despite all the moves made by the new regime. The franchise was very close to being sold to a Seattle-based group led by Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and being forced to move to Seattle; luckily for the hometown fans, the team was eventually sold to a local group that includes former Warriors part-owner Vivek Ranadive and, as of recent reports, Shaquille O’Neal. Tyreke Evans, their former star combo guard and 2010 Rookie of the Year, was let go as a free agent and signed a 4-year, $44 million deal with the New Orleans Pelicans. The team hired former Warriors assistant coach Mike Malone to be their new head coach; this will be Malone’s first season as an NBA head coach. Also, the Kings acquired free agent Carl Landry, who should play a sparkplug role off the bench, and drafted shooting guard Ben McLemore (Kansas) with the seventh pick in the 2013 NBA draft. Last but not least, the team signed the immensely talented headcase DeMarcus Cousins to a four-year extension worth the maximum. While Cousins is generally regarded as one of the NBA’s rawest talents who oozes potential, most around the league believe that this was a very hasty move by the new ownership, including Grantland writer Zach Lowe. Lowe notes that "signing Cousins to a max contract is gambling on his personality, always a murky thing, and on his ability to morph into an average NBA defender." Sacramento has been able to acquire decent talent through the draft but likely need a few more pieces to complete their puzzle, and to secure one of the top talents in the much-hyped 2014 draft would be an excellent way to heavily improve the franchise. However, working this season towards only a top draft pick would anger the passionate fan base that gave their hearts and money to save the franchise. The Kings likely have a long ways to go before being competitive in the Pacific, but their moves this offseason have potential to make a sizable impact in a few years.
Nick Ut/AP Photo
The Clippers are currently the class of the division and possibly the Western Conference as well, and expectations are as high as they’ve ever been for the long-standing doormat. Los Angeles won a franchise-record 56 games last season en route to the team’s first ever division title. The franchise looks to build on that success, and over the offseason they re-signed star guard Chris Paul and traded an unprotected 2015 first-round pick for coach Doc Rivers. The Clippers also acquired wings J.J Reddick and Jared Dudley, and drafted guard Reggie Bullock out of North Carolina. These moves added much-needed perimeter shooting and more space for Paul and Blake Griffin to operate. A huge question mark that could impede Los Angeles’ progress is DeAndre Jordan, and whether he can ever make a basket outside of the restricted area or improve a career 42% free throw shooting. If Jordan has made strides in these areas, and if Griffin has an upgraded mid-range game, the Clippers will be one of the teams to beat in the NBA; if not, these could be giant holes that more refined teams such as San Antonio (who destroyed them in the 2012 playoffs) will exploit over and over again. Right now, the Clippers are the division favorites - when has that EVER happened? - and if all goes right, a legitimate championship contender.
What Will Golden State Manage Against the 2013-14 Pacific Division?
My Predictions for Golden State vs Pacific Division:
vs Suns: 4-0
vs Kings: 3-1
vs Lakers: 3-1
vs Clippers: 2-2
The Warriors should likely destroy the Suns, and though the Kings always play Golden State tough (seven of the last eight games between the regional rivals have ended within 8 points), Golden State has better talent and should at least win the season series against Sacramento. The real tests for Golden State are against the two L.A teams. Although it is unlikely the Lakers will win the division, they too have given the Warriors problems, even during their stressful past season in going 3-1 against Golden State, and have the potential to do so in the upcoming season - especially once Kobe Bryant returns from injury.
The Clippers-Warriors series last season was a doozy and the two division favorites should play four more terrific games this year; the division winner automatically gains a top-4 seed and home-court advantage for the first round of the playoffs. Last season showed the value of home-court advantage when Miami won two Game 7s at home - could they have still won had San Antonio or Indiana had home-court advantage in those games?
Both the Clippers and Warriors have heavily upgraded at positions of need - Golden State with a defensive stopper/rim slasher in Andre Iguodala, the Clippers with perimeter shooting and floor spacers in J.J. Reddick and Jared Dudley, and an actual head coach in 2008 NBA Champion Doc Rivers.
Due to their massive upgrade at head coach and the fact that all of their core players are fully healthy (with no injury concerns heading into the offseason like Golden State with Bogut and Lee), the Clippers are currently the favorites, but the Warriors are right there with a significant chance to win the division.
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