Tag Archives: Los Angeles Clippers

2017-2018 Pacific Division Projections

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X-Golden State Warriors 69-13 (1)

The last three years have seen the Golden State Warriors playing at a different level than the rest of the NBA. The Warriors have won two of the last three NBA Championships, and in the process they’ve gone a combined 207-39 over the last three regular seasons. The Warriors are a team that is loaded with stars, but their best players don’t have a problem in regards to checking their egos at the door for the greater good of the team. And as the Warriors continue to play their brand of unselfish basketball, don’t expect this team to fall off anytime soon.

Steve Kerr is set to begin his fourth season as the head coach of the Warriors and he is seeking his fourth consecutive trip to the NBA Finals. Kerr knows a thing or two about hoisting the Larry O’Brien Trophy that represents the NBA Champion as he won three championships as a player with the Chicago Bulls, two more with the San Antonio Spurs, and twice now as the head coach of Golden State. Kerr knows how to let his players be themselves which he learned from playing under Phil Jackson, while he also reigns them in when need which he picked up from current Spurs head coach Greg Popovich. And as this formula has been so successful for the Warriors, don’t expect them to go away from it anytime soon.

The Warriors averaged 115.9 points per game last season which was tops in the NBA. Teams have tried to outscore the Warriors in their meetings which is a recipe for disaster as there is not another team in the NBA that can match them point for point.

Kevin Durant

After joining the Warriors last summer, small forward Kevin Durant knew that anything short of winning an NBA Championship was going to lead to more ridicule for him. Durant joined Golden State after spending the first nine years of his NBA career with the Seattle Supersonics/Oklahoma City Thunder franchise. Durant’s time with Oklahoma City included him being an NBA MVP, leading the league in scoring four times, and being a burden in the side of the Warriors.

But Durant joined Golden State seeking to get that elusive NBA Title and he delivered in a big way last season as after averaging 25.1 points, 8.3 rebounds, and 4.8 assists in the regular season. Durant would then take his game to the next level in the NBA Finals as he averaged 35.2 points, 8.4 rebounds, and 5.4 assists, while he shot nearly 47.5% from beyond the three-point line. Durant just turned 29 years-old last month, and as he in the prime of his career, he is not showing any signs of slowing down. Durant doesn’t appear to be content with just having one title which means that he’ll continue to be on board with Golden State’s “team first” philosophy.

Steph Curry

Like Durant, point guard Steph Curry saw his offensive numbers slightly dip as he was teamed with so many quality shooters, but that didn’t take away from his effectiveness. Curry once again shot more than 40% from behind the three-point line as he continues to show off one of the sweetest deep shots in NBA history. And if Golden State opponents want to put too much attention on Durant, Curry can light it up, and before you know it, he’ll have 50 points.

With so much of the focus being on Curry and Durant, the forgotten scorer for the Warriors has been shooting guard Klay Thompson. In spite of Durant and Curry garnering so much attention last season, Thompson still managed to average 22.3 points per contest which was a career-high. Like Curry, Thompson has connected on more than 40% of his three-point shots throughout his NBA scorer as along with Durant and Curry, this becomes a dangerous trio that I am in no rush to compete against in a game of H-O-R-S-E.

Draymond Green

But the glue that continues to keep this team together is power forward Draymond Green. Green does a little bit of everything for the Warriors at each end of the floor as he is indeed the team’s MVP. Last season Green averaged 2 blocks and 1.2 steals per contest en route to being named as the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year. Green’s temper at times can get the best of him, but he is by far the most intense player who is currently in the NBA. And as long as the Warriors are able to reign in Green’s aggression in a way that it benefits his club, the sky is once again the limit for this quartet.

Aside from Golden State’s star power, they also have a solid supporting cast. Small forward Andre Iguodala and point guard Shaun Livingston each had the opportunity to leave Oakland over the summer in free agency, but both guys chose to remain with the Warriors for an opportunity to win another NBA Championship. Iguodala continues to be one of the best perimeter defenders in the NBA, while at 6’9″, Livingston is mismatch for most point guards, and he also gives the Warriors a quality ball handler coming off of the bench.

One of the quiet signings over the summer in the NBA was the Warriors signing shooting guard Nick Young. Throughout Young’s NBA career, he has been an under utilized player with some of it being his on doing. Young has always shown flashes of being a solid scorer, but he has not always played within the realm of an offense. However Young should be committed to his craft which comes this season with playing for the Warriors and their dedication to winning. And if Young is on top of his game, he will provide Golden State with instant offense coming off of the bench.

The Warriors will enter the NBA season once again with a target on their backs. However in recent years Golden State has embraced the hate as they once again have everything in place to be playing in June.

Y-Los Angeles Clippers 52-30 (5)

Each of the last five years have seen the Los Angeles Clippers win at least 50 games in the regular season, but it has not translated to success in the playoffs. The Clippers have never been able to advance past the second round in the NBA Playoffs, while their recent success has seen them take a backseat to the dynasties of the San Antonio Spurs and Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference. And with the Clippers failing to get out of the first round of the playoffs in each of the last two years, changes were made and you can expect more to be coming down the pike for the “other” NBA franchise that calls Los Angeles home.

Since Steve Ballmer became the Clippers owner in 2014, he has sought out to change the culture for this franchise. Ballmer inherited a head coach in Doc Rivers who knows what it takes to win an NBA Championship as he led the Boston Celtics to the title in 2008. Rivers joined the Clippers in 2013 not only as their head coach, but also as the team’s president. But with the Clippers inability to take the next step, Ballmer decided that it was time for Rivers to focus solely on being the team’s head coach which paved the way for Gillian Zucker to be the team’s president. However the biggest move that Ballmer made was to lure Jerry West away from the rival Warriors.

For nearly six decades, West has symbolized greatness in the NBA. West helped the Lakers win an NBA Championship as a player in 1972, while he became the team’s general manager in 1982 and became the architect of one of the greatest dynasties in league history as Los Angeles would go on to win four more titles with him at the helm during the 1980’s. Overall the Lakers would win seven NBA Titles with West as their general manager, while he would also help to reverse the fortunes of the Memphis Grizzlies and Warriors. West had been a consultant for the Warriors since 2011 and he helped to nullify a trade that would have sent shooting guard Klay Thompson to the Minnesota Timberwolves for power forward Kevin Love as Thompson has gone on to become a vital piece in two NBA Titles for Golden State. And after winning the NBA Title this past June, Warriors co-owners Joe Lacob and Peter Guber tried valiantly to retain the services of West, but his heart was on returning to Los Angeles; this time with the Clippers.

Upon joining the Clippers as a consultant, West inherited a disgruntled star player in point guard Chris Paul. The last six years saw Paul ascend to being the best player in Clippers franchise history, but a failed trade to acquire small forward Carmelo Anthony from the New York Knicks last season all but signaled the end of Paul’s run in Los Angeles as he had now reached his boiling point. And with Paul unwilling to sign an extension to remain with the Clippers, he was traded this past June to the Houston Rockets for eight players and a future first-round pick. This huge haul speaks to the genius of West as he has always had a keen eye for talent, while also being a tremendous negotiator. The Clippers may not have a point guard that can lead this team, but they now have the depth which could help them pull off some more trades in order to get one.

Blake Griffin

One of the biggest issues that has hindered the Clippers is that they have lacked a consistent go-to-guy. The hope is that power forward Blake Griffin can be that guy as he has led the Clippers in scoring in each of the last seven seasons, but you have to go back to his rookie season to find the last time in which he was able to play a full 82-game schedule. Griffin’s inability to stay healthy has limited what the Clippers have been able to do. However even with that Griffin received a new five-year $173 million contract from the Clippers this past summer after he flirted with joining the Phoenix Suns.

Aside from trading Paul, the Clippers lost three of their top five scorers from last year’s squad. Shooting guard J.J. Redick signed with Philadelphia 76ers, while shooting guard Jamal Crawford joined the Minnesota Timberwolves via a trade.

Danilo Galinari

In trading Crawford, Los Angeles was able to acquire small forward Danilo Galinari from the Denver Nuggets. Since Galinari came to the NBA from his native Italy in 2008, he has been an underrated scorer, and now he can give the Clippers a consistent scorer at the small forward position.

Lost in the trade which sent Paul to Houston were two of the guards that the Clippers received. Point guard Patrick Beverley has played with a chip on his shoulder since he came into the NBA in 2012. Beverley has always been a tough minded player which is right up the alley of his new head coach in Rivers.

Guard Lou Williams has always been instant offense coming off of the bench for the majority of his NBA career. Williams has averaged 12.8 points for his NBA career primarily as a bench player, and it does not take that much for him to get going. In trading Crawford, the Clippers parted with a player who is a three-time NBA Sixth Man of the Year Award winner. However Williams has also taken home the honor once, and the Clippers second unit should not skip a beat this season in regards to having quality scoring coming off of the bench with Williams.

With so many new players on the Clippers roster, they should start of slow before getting into a groove. However the Clippers still don’t match up with the Warriors or Spurs which will once again prevent them from making a deep playoff run.

Los Angeles Lakers 35-47

The best way to sum up the current state of the Los Angeles Lakers is that they are in uncharted waters. For the first time in franchise history the Lakers have missed the playoffs in four consecutive years as they have become a shell of themselves. Former Lakers point guard Magic Johnson was hired to be the team’s new president of basketball operations this past February and he knows a thing or two about the organizations winning tradition. Johnson helped the Lakers win five NBA Championships in the 1980’s as a player and now he wants to bring that winning formula to the front office. Johnson hired former sports agent Rob Pelinka to be the Lakers new general manager, while he retained the services of Luke Walton as the team’s head coach. And this will be the brain trust that can hopefully turn around the fortunes of the purple and gold.

The Lakers went into the 2017 NBA Draft in possession of the second overall pick. There were several directions that the Lakers could have gone in regards to their selection, but they ultimately decided on UCLA Bruins point guard Lonzo Ball. In Ball’s one season at UCLA, he averaged 14.6 points, 7.6 assists, and 6 rebounds en route to being a First-team All-American as well as the Pac-12 Conference’s Player of the Year.

Unfortunately for Ball, his prowess on the basketball court has been overshadowed by the off-the-court antics of his father LaVar Ball. Ball has been outspoken in regards to how he feels about the basketball skills of his son as well as how his son stacks up versus some prominent NBA players. All along the elder Ball wanted his son to play for the Lakers, but will his enthusiasm benefit or hinder the young Lakers team?

In drafting Ball, the Lakers traded point guard D’Angelo Russell to the Brooklyn Nets. Part of the Lakers compensation for sending Russell to the Nets was that they were able to obtain center Brook Lopez. Lopez had spent his entire nine-year NBA career with the Nets as he became the franchise’s all-time leading scorer. Lopez comes to Los Angeles after he averaged 20.5 last season for Brooklyn. Lopez won’t be the focal point of the Lakers offense, while he must get adjusted to the triangle offense that Walton operates. But the fact that Lopez will become a free agent next summer should see him have a solid season for the purple and gold.

Brandon Ingram

If the Lakers are going to push for a playoff spot in 2017, the maturation process of small forward Brandon Ingram must continue. Ingram was the second overall pick of the 2016 NBA Draft by the Lakers, and as a rookie he averaged 9.4 points. Ingram came off of the bench in 39 games for the Lakers last season, and he should have more of an opportunity to be an impact player this year due to his potential as a scorer and ball handler.

Power forward Julius Randle continues to be a consistent double-double threat in the front court for the Lakers. However Randle is not going to be a player that can continuously produce 20 points and 10 rebounds due to his inability to be a consistent scorer in the post. Randle gets the majority of his points off of put backs and his energy on the boards must continue.

The young Lakers will be more exciting than they have been in recent years, but there is still a rather large gap between them and the playoff contenders in the Western Conference.

Sacramento Kings 32-50

The Sacramento Kings will enter the current NBA season in possession of the second longest current playoff drought in the league. You have to turn the calendar back to the 2005-2006 NBA season in order to find the last time that the Kings were able to reach the postseason. Since then the Kings have been plagued by bad horrible front office decisions which includes making poor choices in the NBA Draft. The Kings have one of the best home arenas in the NBA which the debuted last season in the Golden 1 Center. However the basketball fans in Northern California are not going to consistently support the Kings with the product that they are putting out on the basketball court. And by the looks of things this could be another long NBA season in Sacramento.

Dave Joerger

As Dave Joerger is set to begin his season season as the head coach of the Kings, his squad will definitely have a different feel to it. Five of the top six scorers for Sacramento from last season are no longer with them which includes All-Star center DeMarcus Cousins who was traded to the New Orleans Pelicans this past February. And in trading Cousins, the Kings are once again “starting over” which unfortunately has been the norm for them.

Buddy Hield

The key player that the Kings received in trading Cousins was shooting guard Buddy Hield. In 25 games last season with the Kings, Hield was able to averaged 15.1 points per game as he was showing the flashes of being “instant offense” which made him an All-American during his senior season for Oklahoma Sooners in the 2015-2016 college basketball season.

The Kings now have three first-round picks from this year’s NBA Draft on their roster. Guard De’Aron Fox, forward Justin Jackson, and forward Harry Giles won’t be able to turn around the fortunes of the Kings right away, but they will each have the opportunity to get their feet wet while potentially showing the fans of Sacramento a glimpse into the future. The Kings also have veterans such as power forward Zach Randolph and small forward Vince Carter who are familiar with Joerger’s coaching style from their time together with the Memphis Grizzlies. However it is hard to believe that a 36-year old Randolph, as well as a 40-year old Carter will be able to have a big impact this season for the Kings.

The Kings will be fighting an uphill battle all season long as their playoff drought will continue.

Phoenix Suns 30-52

Ever since the Phoenix Suns made the Western Conference Finals in 2010, they don’t have any postseason appearances, while only being able to record one winning season. During that time the Suns have restructured their front office several times, but to no avail as the losing continues. Earl Watson is set to begin his second full season as the head coach of the Suns. Watson has one of the youngest teams in the NBA to work with as the Suns had 13 players on their roster under the age of 25 when training camp began. And as the youth movement is once again the direction that the Suns are going, will it result in them being competitive in the Western Conference?

Eric Bledsoe

It is not a secret anymore that the Suns are developing one of the best backcourt combos in the Western Conference. Each of point guard Eric Bledsoe’s seven years in the NBA have seen his production increase. Bledsoe averaged 21.1 points per game and 6.3 assists last season. Bledsoe is one of the most explosive point guards in the NBA due to his speed and ability to get to the basket. And that ability could lead to Bledsoe making his first All-Star team this season.

Devin Booker

Booker made tremendous strides from his rookie season to his sophomore campaign in the NBA. After Booker averaged 13.8 points per game as a rookie, he was able to tally 22.1 points per contest last season which included him dropping 70 points versus the Boston Celtics on March 24. Booker is instant offense and as he is developing his perimeter game while also benefiting from the penetrating ability of Bledsoe, he could find himself in the top ten in regards to scoring this season in the NBA.

Another project for the Suns has been small forward T.J. Warren. Warren was selected by the Suns in the first round in 2014 and like Bledsoe and Booker, his production continues to improve. Warren does not yet have the ability to make an impact for the Suns as a perimeter scorer as he only shot 26% from behind the three-point line last season, but he could be a force in regards to playing pick-and-roll with Booker and Anderson, while also crashing the boards which will help the Suns who were sixth in the NBA last season in rebounds per contest with 45.

Last season the Suns were ninth in the NBA in scoring at 107.7 points per game, but they were also dead last in points allowed (113.3). The Suns must find a way to get tougher on the defensive end of the court as they are not always going to be able to outscore their opponents. However Phoenix should still be one of the more exciting teams in the NBA this season.

X-Division Winner

Y-Playoff Berth

Source: Basketball-Reference.com

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Still A Wanted Man

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It has been more than 40 years since Jerry West has played in a NBA game, but his legacy lives on. West played his entire 14-year career with the Los Angeles Lakers which included him helping the franchise win an NBA Championship in 1972. West was also a 14-time NBA All-Star and he’s gone on to literally become the logo of the league. And as good as West was on the court, he has been even better as an executive. West was the Lakers general manager from 1982-2001, and during that time the franchise won five NBA Titles. West would go on to become the general manager of the Memphis Grizzlies in 2002 as helped the franchise make their first three trips to the postseason. West would remain with the Grizzlies until 2007 before he stepped down, but it wouldn’t take him that long to resurface on the basketball scene.

Jerry West

In 2011, West became a member of the Golden State Warriors executive board not long after Joe Lacob and Peter Guber purchased the team. And since then the Warriors have gone on to be one of the better teams in the NBA as they won a championship in 2015, while setting a single-season for wins last season with 73.

West turned 79-years of age earlier month, but he doesn’t appear to be slowing down. And as West still possesses one of the sharpest minds in basketball he is still a very wanted man.

West’s contract with the Warriors is set to expire at the end of this season and he has reportedly drawn interest from the Los Angeles Clippers for his services. West is a legend in the City of Los Angeles after what he did with the Lakers, and now the Clippers want in on the fun.

Steve Ballmer

The Clippers have made the playoffs in each of the last six years, but they have never been able to make it past the second round. Clippers owner Steve Ballmer has owned the team now for three years and is a person who is committed to winning. Ballmer has the ability to sell water to a whale if need be, but could he persuade West to leave Oakland for Hollywood?

Whereas the Clippers have been a competitive team, they are currently at the crossroads. The Clippers have a pair of perennial All-Stars in point guard Chris Paul and power forward Blake Griffin, along with shooting guard J.J. Redick who are all set to become unrestricted free agents this summer. And the Clippers ability to maintain all three players could come down to whether or not that Ballmer can get West to come on board. But as much as Ballmer may want West to return to Los Angeles, don’t expect Lacob and Guber to go down without a fight.

West might be an executive board member by title for the Warriors, but he has a keen eye for finding talent. The Warriors core trio of point guard Steph Curry, shooting guard Klay Thompson, and power forward Draymond Green who helped the franchise win an NBA Championship in 2015 were not top-five selections in the NBA Draft, and in the case of Green, he was a second-round pick. West joined the Warriors after Curry was drafted by the team, but he did have a hand in the selection of Thompson and Green who have gone on to be two of the better players at their respective positions. And the Warriors ability to woo small forward Kevin Durant last summer in free agency last summer cannot be omitted either.

The Lakers only missed the playoffs once during West’s tenure, while he built the Grizzlies into a contender. And after helping to make the Warriors into the modern day version of the “Showtime” Lakers, Lacob and Guber cannot afford to simply allow West to leave town, and I see the duo leaving no stone unturned in order to keep him happy in order for him to remain in Northern California.

Joe Lacob, Peter Guber

So now let the bidding war begin as West who is already wealthy is set to become wealthier as there will be some billionaires who are ready to open up the vault for his services. West has walked away from a winning situation before when he left the Lakers which makes joining the Clippers not that far-fetched. However with what the Warriors have accomplished along with what they still could do, it would be difficult to see West walk away from that in order to team up with Ballmer.

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Clipped Once Again

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There is no denying that the Los Angeles Clippers are one of the better teams in the NBA during this era. Each of the last six NBA seasons have seen the Clippers make the NBA Playoffs, and in the postseason they’ve been able to secure series wins over the Golden State Warriors and San Antonio Spurs who have won two of the last three NBA Titles. However the Clippers were unable to keep the momentum going after those series wins over the Warriors and Spurs as they have never advanced to the conference finals in their franchise history. Last season the Clippers won 53 games, but by the time that the playoffs rolled around, they had lost the services of point guard Chris Paul and Blake Griffin which made them easy pickings for the Portland Trail Blazers in the first round. This season the Clippers went 51-31 in the regular season, and there was some optimism for them heading into the playoffs. But like any Hollywood production, that optimism for the Clippers has now faded to black.

The Clippers would drop their playoff opener at home to the Utah Jazz who were playing without the services of center Rudy Goubert. The Clippers would bounce back to win Games 2 and 3 as they appeared ready to take control of the series. However things changed during Game 3 when Griffin suffered what initially appeared to be an insignificant toe injury. But that was not the case as that toe injury will put Griffin on the sidelines for the remainder of the postseason, and with that any legitimate chances of Los Angeles winning the NBA Championship are now out of the window.

Blake Griffin

This serves as another blow to a Clippers team that continues to be good, but not great which has prevented them from winning an NBA Championship. The Clippers have the sizzle of having a billionaire owner in Steve Ballmer, a head coach in Doc Rivers who led the Boston Celtics to the NBA Championship in 2008, an All-Star point guard in Paul, and Griffin who along with center DeAndre Jordan helped to form “Lob City”. However dunks won’t win in the playoffs as the Clippers always seem to fall short when the chips are pushed to the middle of the table. And with the Clippers chances of winning a title here in 2017 diced, it’s time for them to look ahead to next season as far as what they’ll need to get over that hump.

Aside from staying healthy, the Clippers need a proven go-to-guy in the clutch as neither Paul, Griffin, or Jordan are that guy. And as the Clippers will need to improve for next season, the time could be right for Ballmer and Rivers to pick up the phone and make a call to the 212 area code.

Carmelo Anthony

On the other side of the United States, the New York Knicks continue to be a calamity of errors as their owner James Dolan, team president Phil Jackson, head coach Jeff Hornacek, and star player in small forward Carmelo Anthony are not on the same page. The Knicks just wrapped up their fourth consecutive losing season which was highlighted by Jackson attempting the old “bait and switch” in order to get Anthony to leave, along with Dolan having his security team throw team legend Charles Oakley out of Madison Square Garden as if he were Jazz on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. And with Anthony and Jackson not on the same page, along with the fact he is now going through a separation from his wife La La, the time is now for him to get out of the Big Apple as the Clippers could be an attractive destination for him.

In 14 NBA seasons Anthony has averaged 24.8 points per game and he’ll be remembered as one of the best scorers of this era. But the fact that Anthony has been unable to win an NBA Championship is something that still lingers over him.

The Clippers attempted to acquire Anthony this past season as along with the Cleveland Cavaliers, they were the only team that he was willing to waive his no-trade clause for. But the deal fell through as the Clippers needed at least one more team to come into the fold in order for the deal to work. However now as the Clippers and Knicks don’t have to worry themselves with the shackles of the trade deadline, the time is now for them to hammer this out.

Jackson doesn’t want Anthony and the 10-time All-Star isn’t too fond of the public criticism that has been directed towards him by the Knicks team president, and if these two continue to work together it is only going to make New York’s so called rebuild that much longer to come to fruition.

But if Anthony were to go the Clippers, he would finally be a part of an organization that wants him. There would still be pressure on Anthony as he’d be in Los Angeles, but he would playing alongside his good friend in Paul, while he’d be in one of the best front courts in the NBA. Anthony wouldn’t have to worry about carrying the team as the Clippers do possess balance as the only thing that they’ve been missing is a proven scorer who can consistently create his own shot.

Getting to the playoffs for six consecutive years is cool for the Clippers as it is something that has never been done in their franchise history. But with an owner like Ballmer who put down $2 billion to purchase the Clippers in 2014, and a head coach in Rivers who knows what it takes to win a championship, it’s time for Los Angeles to stop relying on their core of Griffin, Paul and Jordan to get it done. Making the playoffs is one thing, but for the Clippers to be remembered and respected, it is high time for them to take that next step.

Source: Basketball-reference.com

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2016-2017 Pacific Division Projections

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X-Golden State Warriors 65-17 (1)

Last year was a dream season for the Golden State Warriors as they set a new NBA single-season record for wins 73 that should stand for a very long time. The Warriors appeared poised to repeat as NBA Champions as they built a 3-1 series in the NBA Finals, only to falter and lose the final three games to the Cleveland Cavaliers, which included two of those defeats coming at home. The Warriors only lost nine games during the regular season, but they would lose nine contests during the playoffs which includes their last three as they’ve had all summer to sit back and only ponder what could have been if they were able to repeat as NBA Champions. But after a record breaking season for the Warriors, don’t expect them to drop off that much.

Klay Thompson, Steph Curry

What has propelled the Warriors over the past few NBA seasons has been their perimeter shooting. As a team the Warriors shot nearly 42% from beyond the three-point arc while they were led by “The Splash Brothers” of point guard Steph Curry and shooting guard Klay Thompson.

Curry is the reigning two-time NBA MVP who is one of the best perimeter shooters that the game of basketball has seen as he is indeed a pure shooter. Last season Curry averaged 30.1 points per game and at times he can make deep shooting almost look like making layups as it doesn’t take that much for him to get into the zone.

Thompson is no slouch either when it comes to scoring as he is a career 42% shooter from downtown, while also seeing his points per game average increase in each of his five NBA seasons.

But one element that hurt the Warriors in their NBA Finals loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers was the fact that Curry nor Thompson have the ability to score close to the basket, while they are not nearly as effective when opposing defenses keep a body on them to prevent them from consistently getting open looks at the basket. And in a very surprising move which could remedy that issue, small forward Kevin Durant decided to join the Warriors on Independence Day.

Kevin Durant

For nine years Durant was the face of the Seattle Supersonics/Oklahoma City Thunder franchise. Only Gary Payton scored more points than Durant’s 17,566 in the history of the franchise, and no one who ever played for the organization made more three-point field goals (1,143) than him. Durant also helped the Thunder reach the NBA Finals in 2012, but allure of playing with the Warriors, while being lukewarm at best to remain in Oklahoma City and playing alongside point guard Russell Westbrook was enough to persuade him to take his talents west and join the Warriors.

What Durant gives the Warriors is a bigger scorer, but is he indeed the missing piece that can get Golden State another NBA Championship?

For Durant’s NBA career, he has averaged 27.4 points per game, but he is never going to be confused with being a defensive stalwart, which is an element that the Warriors are going to need if they are going to once again claim the NBA Title. The other big issue is going to be how will Durant fit in with Curry and Thompson as there is only one basketball to go around. Durant doesn’t appear to be the kind of player that will want to rock the boat as he understands that there is a winning formula in place, while Curry and Thompson must love the thought of having another scoring option that can take some of the burden off of them.

Draymond Green

The Warriors do have a defensive presence on their team in the form of power forward Draymond Green and small forward Andre Iguodala. Last year Curry was the NBA’s MVP, but in actuality Green is the Warriors best player. Green can do it all as he is a perimeter scorer, interior, rebounder, defender, facilitator, and the heart and soul of this team. I also doubt that Green would have an issue in taking a backseat to Durant, Curry, and Thompson as far as the scoring goes, while he can still strengthen the team in other areas.

But all is not well with the Warriors as they’ve lost some of their depth that was key to their success over the last few years. In making room for Durant, center Andrew Bogut was traded to the Dallas Mavericks, while center Marreese Speights left to join the Los Angeles Clippers, and shooting guard Leandro Barbosa is now a member of the Phoenix Suns. On top of that small forward Harrison Barnes left in free agency to sign with the Mavericks after the Warriors made it clear that they were zeroing in on Durant.

The Warriors new supporting cast includes the likes of veteran power forward David West and center JaVale McGee to partner with stalwarts off of the Golden State bench such as point guard Shaun Livingston, but will it be enough to get the Warriors back to the NBA Championship?.

In spite of not winning the NBA Championship last June, the Warriors will still have a bulls eye on their backs due to what they did in the last regular season. And Warriors head coach Steve Kerr will have to make sure that his team will be up for the challenge.

Y-Los Angeles Clippers 54-28 (3)

The last three years have seen the Los Angeles Clippers be one of the better teams in the Western Conference, but they’ve been unable to get over the hump in the postseason. The Clippers have never won an NBA Championship and dating back to their stints in Buffalo and San Diego, they’ve never gotten to the conference finals.

Doc Rivers

Doc Rivers has been the Clippers head coach for the last three years and he has given this organization a high level of respectability. Under Rivers, the Clippers have won 50 games in each of the last three seasons, and once you factor in their 56-win campaign under Vinny Del Negro during the 2012-2013 NBA season, Los Angeles is in the midst of their best run in franchise history. But unfortunately for the Clippers, they have taken a backseat to the Golden State Warriors in the Pacific Division which is something that must change if they are going to achieve their ultimate goal which is to win an NBA Championship.

Chris Paul

As point guard Chris Paul is set to begin his sixth season with the Clippers, he is the leader of this team, but who is the their go-to-guy? Aside from Paul, the other recognizable faces of the Clippers are power forward Blake Griffin and center DeAndre Jordan. Paul is one of the better floor generals in the NBA as he has averaged 9.9 assists for his 11-year NBA career, while Jordan is currently one of the top rebounders in the league. Injuries limited Griffin to just 35 games last season, and he needs to find a way to remain healthy for this campaign. But you have to wonder if the title window is closing for this trio?

Blake Griffin

Griffin has never come off of as being “the guy” for the Clippers as he plays off of Paul. Jordan has never developed his offensive game enough to be a consistent scorer, while he is also a liability late in contests due to the fact that he is a career 42% free throw shooter. And as for Paul, he has never shown the ability during his NBA career to be a player that a team can consistently count on to score 25 points per contest.

But aside from this the Clippers still have a team that can do some damage in the regular season as long as they can remain healthy. Shooting guard J.J. Redick is one of the best deep range shooters in the NBA which was evident last season when he connected on nearly 48% of his shots from downtown. Jamal Crawford is set to begin his fifth season with the Clippers, and after averaging 14.2 points off of the bench last year for Los Angeles, he will once again be vital to their success as he is the only three-time winner of the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year Award. At 39-years of age, small forward Paul Pierce is not the player that he was during the prime of his career, but his knowledge of the game should be able to help the Clippers in this his last go round in the NBA. The last few years have seen center Marreese Speights be a valuable role players coming off of the bench for the Warriors, and he should be an upgrade at the offensive end of the floor for the Clippers when Jordan goes to the bench. And at 6’10”, Speights’ size will also help the Clippers at the defensive end of the floor last season as they were seventh in the NBA in points allowed.

In order for the Clippers to have a shot to contend with the power teams in the Western Conference such as the Warriors and San Antonio Spurs, they must take care of their business against the also-rans. And if everyone is one the same page, the Clippers should be a tough team to reckon with in spite of the fact that they more than likely won’t win the NBA Title.

Sacramento Kings 36-46

You have to go back to 2006 to find the last time that the Sacramento Kings finished an NBA campaign with a winning record. Over that stretch the Kings have gone through eight different head coaches with a ninth in Dave Joerger set to begin his tenure with the club. The Kings have not won more than 38 games in a season during their latest journey to futility, while they’ve also been an organization that has lacked leadership which means that Joerger will have his work cut out for him.

Dave Joerger

Joerger spent the last three years as the head coach of the Memphis Grizzlies where he compiled a record of 147-99. Joerger also led the Grizzlies to three consecutive playoff appearances which included guiding a Memphis team last season that had a slew of injuries. Joerger is an excellent communicator, while he also focuses on defensive basketball, but he will have his hands full as far as turning things around in Northern California.

DeMarcus Cousins

Center DeMarcus Cousins has been the Kings best player in each of the last six years, but he has also been the organizations biggest headache. Cousins is coming off of a season where he averaged 26.9 points and 11.5 rebounds, while also being a member of the United States Men’s Basketball Team that won the gold medal this past August at the Summer Olympics. However the category that the Kings need Cousins step up in the most is his leadership.

As Cousins is now on his sixth different head coach with the Kings, it is safe to label him as a “coach killer”. But Kings owner Vivek Ranadive and general manager Vlade Divac continue to keep Cousins as their centerpiece in spite of the fact that he continuously clashes with head coaches, along with being unable to make the players around him better which will more than likely be on display this season due to the fact that Sacramento has individual talent and not a group of guys that will more than likely be able to function as a cohesive unit.

Along with Cousins, the Kings are set to return four of their top five scorers from last year’s team. Small forward Rudy Gay is set to begin his fourth season with the Kings. During Gay’s time in Sacramento, he has averaged 19.4 points per game, but just like Cousins he has been unable to help the Kings get over the hump and back to the playoffs. Point guard Darren Collison is set to begin his third season in Sacramento, and he could have more of an impact this year due to the fact that he won’t be looking over his shoulder after the Kings allowed point guard Rajon Rondo to leave in free agency. Small forward Omri Casspi gives the Kings a solid perimeter scorer coming off of the bench which will be vital as Sacramento does’t want to get lost in the shuffle once again in the Western Conference.

During the off-season, the Kings also picked up veteran wing players in small forwards Matt Barnes and Arron Afflalo who aside from both playing their college ball at UCLA could provide Sacramento with experience and more importantly a defensive toughness that is going to be necessary for them under Joerger.

Something will have to give for the Kings as no team in the NBA allowed more points per game (109.1) last season than they did, while Joerger typically had one of the better defensive teams in the league during his time in the Memphis. For the Kings to improve at the defensive end of the floor, it is going to take a collective effort, but players such as Cousins, Gay, and Casspi don’t have a solid history of being solid defenders which puts Sacramento in an interesting situation being that Ranadive and Divac have been known to chose Cousins over their head coaches.

Just like last year, the Kings have tremendous individual talent, but they must learn to play together as a team. The Kings are currently one of the most poorly run franchises in the NBA, and the only highlight of their season will be the unveiling of their new home in Northern California which is the Golden 1 Center.

Los Angeles Lakers 33-49

It’s no secret that the Los Angeles Lakers are in the midst of their worst stretch in franchise history. The last three years have seen the Lakers fail to post a winning record, while they’ve also been unable to qualify for the playoffs. This marks the first time in the illustrious history of the Lakers franchise that this has happened as they are now coming to grips with a very unfamiliar word which is “rebuilding”. The upcoming NBA season also marked the end of one era for Lakers basketball, and the beginning of a new one.

The past 20 years have seen shooting guard Kobe Bryant as a fixture on the court for the Lakers. Bryant helped the Lakers win five NBA Championships. But like all good Hollywood productions, Bryant’s time on the court has come to an end. Bryant’s departure means that the focus will be on the youth movement for the Lakers, along with a new voice on the sidelines.

Luke Walton

36-year old Luke Walton is set to become the 26th head coach in the illustrious history of the Lakers franchise and there is only one way for him to go which is up. Walton has played for the Lakers as he was a member of their championship teams in 2009 and 2010. Walton has spent the last two seasons as an assistant coach with the Golden State Warriors and he hopes to bring the same ball movement offense that has been successful in Oakland to Los Angeles. And although that Walton doesn’t have the same level of talent to work with in Los Angeles as opposed to Oakland with the Warriors, all is not lost for Walton as there is some potential on the Lakers roster.

As the Lakers have combined to lose 181 games over the last three NBA seasons, it has also seen them picking very early in the NBA Draft. In 2014, the Lakers used their first-round pick on power forward Julius Randle. In 2015, the Lakers used the second overall pick of the NBA Draft on point guard D’Angelo Russell. And after winning just 17 games last year, the Lakers once again had the second overall choice; this time they selected small forward Brandon Ingram whom they are hopeful will be another piece to their young core of players.

Julius Randle

In the first game of the 2014-2015 NBA season, Randle suffered a broken leg which ended his rookie campaign before it even started. Randle would return last season in what was his de facto rookie campaign as he averaged 11.3 points and 10.2 rebounds as he is showing that he has the potential to be a low-post presence in Los Angeles. Russell had an up and down rookie campaign as he averaged 13.2 points and 3.3. assists while having the locker room turn on him after an incident with shooting guard Nick Young. Russell is only 20-years of age, and there is still a level of immaturity that must be curbed if he is going to grow as a professional basketball player. Aside from Russell, the Lakers are high on another guard in Jordan Clarkson. Last year was Clarkson’s second NBA season and after averaging 15.5 points per game, he received a four-year extension that is worth $50 million. Ingram showed flashes of what he could be during his one year of collegiate basketball for the Duke Blue Devils as he averaged 17.3 and 6.8 rebounds en route to being the Atlantic Coast Conference’s Player of the Year. And Ingram’s development as a wing player and all-around player are going to be vital for the Lakers who are looking to pick themselves up off of the canvas in the Western Conference.

Aside from the Lakers youth movement, they do have veterans on this club such as small forward Luol Deng and shooting guard Lou Williams who’s experience will be important as Walton looks to get his message across to his young team.

It might not seem like it, but the Lakers are in the process of building something special, and although that the 2016-2017 NBA season will more than likely see Los Angeles miss the postseason once again, they are on the verge of building something very special.

Phoenix Suns 30-52

Throughout the 48-year history of the Phoenix Suns franchise, they’ve never won an NBA Championship, but they have had a reputation of being a perennial playoff team. However things have really gone awry for the Suns as they have failed to make the postseason since 2010. Over that stretch the Suns have had four different head coaches which has taken away from their ability to build some cohesion. Earl Watson was the Suns interim head coach for the final 33 games of the 2015-2016 NBA season after Jeff Hornacek was fired. The Suns would go 9-24 under Watson, but team general manager Ryan McDonough decided to stick with him heading into the upcoming NBA season. However it doesn’t matter who will be coaching the Suns as this organization has lost its luster.

When you think of the history of Suns basketball, an uptempo pace that produces plenty of points generally comes to mind. But last season the Suns were 22nd in the NBA in points per game at 100.9 per contest. One issue that the Suns have had is that they’ve concentrated too much on being a guard oriented team. In the past five years the majority of the Suns draft picks have been guards and this has robbed the Suns from gaining cohesion on the basketball court along with an overall identity. The Suns two best players are a pair of point guards that played collegiately for the Kentucky Wildcats in Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Knight, but it is counter productive to have each of them on the court at the same time when they have the same skill set.

Devin Booker

However regardless of whether it is Bledsoe or Knight that is running the show for the Suns at point guard, they have a promising player to run with in the Phoenix backcourt in shooting guard Devin Booker. Last year as a rookie, Booker was the Suns third leading scorer at 13.8 points per game behind Bledsoe and Knight and the ceiling is very high for him as his second year in the NBA is set to begin.

The Suns do have a veteran presence in their front court with center Tyson Chandler who is still a solid rebounder, and power forward Mirza Teletovic who is a quality scorer as he averaged 12.2 points per game last year for Phoenix, but it is highly unlikely that it will be good enough to make them a playoff team.

Five of the Suns first eight games this year will be on the road, and a slow start could be the prelude for another long season in Phoenix.

X-Division Winner

Y-Clinched Playoff Berth

Source: Basketball-reference.com

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2016 NBA Playoff Projections

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Western Conference

1. San Antonio Spurs

2. Oklahoma City Thunder

3. Golden State Warriors

4. Los Angeles Clippers

5. Houston Rockets

6. Memphis Grizzlies

7. New Orleans Pelicans

8. Dallas Mavericks

First Round

Dallas Mavericks vs. San Antonio Spurs (Spurs win series 4-1)

The Spurs will enter the NBA Playoffs as a team on a mission which means that the Mavericks will get steamrolled.

New Orleans Pelicans vs. Oklahoma City Thunder (Thunder win series 4-2)

Last year saw the Pelicans beat out the Thunder for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. But as long as the Thunder remain healthy this year, they will be a force to be reckoned with.

Memphis Grizzlies vs. Golden State Warriors (Warriors win 4-2)

As usual the Grizzlies will be a tough out in the NBA Playoffs, but they won’t have enough to get past the Warriors.

Houston Rockets vs. Los Angeles Clippers (Clippers win 4-3)

Very quietly this is turning into one of the best rivalries in the NBA.

Conference Semifinals

Los Angeles Clippers vs. San Antonio Spurs (Spurs win 4-2)

Last year saw the Clippers squeak past the Spurs in the first round of the NBA Playoffs which won’t be the case this season.

Golden State Warriors vs Oklahoma City Thunder (Thunder win 4-3)

True champions go down fighting and the Warriors aren’t ready to relinquish their throne without a battle.

Conference Finals

Oklahoma City Thunder vs. San Antonio Spurs (Spurs win 4-2)

The Spurs dipped into free agency to transcend into the future which will culminate in another trip to the NBA Finals.

Eastern Conference

1. Cleveland Cavaliers

2. Chicago Bulls

3. Miami Heat

4. Atlanta Hawks

5. Washington Wizards

6. Milwaukee Bucks

7. Toronto Raptors

8. Boston Celtics

First Round

Boston Celtics vs. Cleveland Cavaliers (Cavaliers win series 4-0)

These two teams met last season in the NBA Playoffs and the Celtics are still not equipped to take down the Cavaliers.

Toronto Raptors vs. Chicago Bulls (Bulls win series 4-1)

Once again the Raptors will get caught up in the squeeze of not having enough size in their front court.

Milwaukee Bucks vs. Miami Heat (Heat win series 4-3)

After a one-year hiatus from the NBA Playoffs, the Miami Heat are back to show that they are still an elite team.

Washington Wizards vs. Atlanta Hawks (Wizards win 4-2)

The speed of guards John Wall and Bradley Beal will be too much for the Atlanta Hawks to deal with.

Conference Semifinals

Washington Wizards vs. Cleveland Cavaliers (Cavaliers win series 4-1)

Small forward LeBron James is solely focused on winning an NBA Championship in Cleveland.

Miami Heat vs. Chicago Bulls (Bulls win series 4-3)

This will be an epic series where the Bulls will have just enough to survive the Heat.

Conference Finals

Chicago Bulls vs. Cleveland Cavaliers (Cavaliers win series 4-2)

It doesn’t matter if LeBron James plays for the Cleveland Cavaliers or the Miami Heat; he continues to be a thorn in the side of the Chicago Bulls.

NBA Finals

Cleveland Cavaliers vs. San Antonio Spurs (Spurs win series 4-2)

Just like LeBron James continues to be a problem for the Chicago Bulls, the San Antonio Spurs continue to be a problem for him.

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