Y-Golden State Warriors 57-25 (3)
It took a couple of generations, but the Golden State Warriors are once again sitting on top of the basketball world. This past June, the Warriors defeated the Cleveland Cavaliers to claim their fourth NBA Championship in franchise history, but their first since 1975 and they have a team in place that doesn’t want the organization to wait another 40 years to once again be champions.
In Steve Kerr’s first season as the head coach of the Warriors, he was able to push all of the right buttons which resulted in an NBA Championship. Kerr has the benefit of having one of the best back court duos in the NBA play for him. Warriors point guard Steph Curry comes into this NBA season as the reigning MVP as he is the modern version of the “Microwave” due to the fact that it doesn’t take that long for him to heat up and once he gets going, just simply pull up a chair and enjoy the magic. Curry has the ability to average 30 points per game, but he doesn’t have to due to the depth that the Warriors possess around him. However Curry is still a phenomenal passer and like most good jump shooters, he is lights out from the free-throw line. Along with Curry in the Warriors backcourt, there is shooting guard Klay Thompson. Together Curry and Thompson form the “Splash Brothers” and aside from them both being the sons of former NBA players, they each possess tremendous jump shots as they each have the ability to put the Warriors on their respective backs for extended periods of time.
The Warriors also receive tremendous production from their front court. Last season saw small forward Draymond Green emerge as an impact player which saw him rewarded by the Warriors with a five-year contract extension over the summer that is worth $82 million. The Warriors have a ton of depth on their club that includes the likes of small forward Andre Iguodala who is the reigning NBA Finals MVP and he is also a defensive specialist which comes in handy when Golden State faces some of the premier teams in the Western Conference.
Last spring the Warriors swept the New Orleans Pelicans in the first round of the NBA Playoffs as these two teams will meet in two of their first three games this season. But being that the Warriors will comes into this season as the defending NBA Champions, they must expect to get every team’s best game on a nightly basis. It also won’t help the Warriors that Kerr will be sidelined to begin the NBA season as he is recovering from back surgery to repair a herniated disc. And in the interim the Warriors will be led by former NBA player Luke Walton as their head coach as it will be interesting to see if he’ll be able to get his message across to this team.
X-Los Angeles Clippers 57-25 (4)
Doc Rivers has been the head coach of the Los Angeles Clippers for two years, but he hasn’t been able to get his club past the second round of the NBA Playoffs. Last season the Clippers held a 3-1 series lead over the Houston Rockets in the Western Conference Semifinals, but they were unable to close them out which left them scratching heads. The Clippers would undergo a few changes this off-season with the biggest one coming in the form of new uniforms.
Center DeAndre Jordan became a free agent over the summer and he flirted with joining the Dallas Mavericks. Jordan”verbally” agreed to join the Mavericks, but he had a change of heart and worked things out in order to re-join the Clippers. What the Clippers get with Jordan is a player that led the NBA in rebounds last year at 15.0 per game along with being one of the better shots blockers in the league. From 2004-2013, Rivers was the head coach of the Boston Celtics and he helped the organization win their 17th NBA Title in 2008. At the center of that was small forward Paul Pierce who was the cornerstone of the Celtics franchise during the 2000’s. After being traded by the Celtics to the Brooklyn Nets in 2013, and spending last season with the Washington Wizards, Pierce has decided to join Rivers in Los Angeles. For his 17-year NBA career, Pierce has averaged 20.7 points per game and he’s also been one of the best clutch players during this era of basketball which is the kind of player that the Clippers have lacked. Pierce is also a native of Inglewood, California and he’ll now have the opportunity to play for one of his hometown NBA teams.
The signings of Jordan and Pierce are good for the Clippers, but the success of this team will come down to the ability of point guard Chris Paul and power forward Blake Griffin. Paul continues to give the Clippers quality seasons as he is one of the better floor generals in the NBA along with being in line with what Rivers expects from his point guards while Griffin must continue to develop into a valuable go-to-guy for the Clippers.
The Clippers are also hopeful that they were able to solidify their role players this off-season when they signed forward Josh Smith and guard Lance Stephenson along with re-signing guard Austin Rivers. Rivers is the son of the Clippers head coach while Smith and Stephenson have a history of being “loose cannons” which could hurt or help the Clippers this season.
The Clippers will have a chance to get off to a fast start in the first four games which includes a pair of meetings with the Sacramento Kings. And you can go ahead and circle November 4 on your calendar when the Clippers travel to face the Golden State Warriors who are the defending NBA Champions as there is no love lost between these two clubs.
Phoenix Suns 38-44
The past five years have seen the Phoenix Suns fail to qualify for the NBA Playoffs which ties their longest stretch without reaching the postseason in franchise history. Jeff Hornacek is set to begin his third season as the head coach of the Suns and in two years in Phoenix, he has made the most of his situation with the Suns, but unfortunately this is a team that lacks a star player that can put this team on his back.
The closest thing that the Suns have to a star player is point guard Eric Bledsoe. This will mark Bledsoe’s second full season in Phoenix and for him to lead the Suns to the postseason, he is going to put up an MVP caliber season and unfortunately he won’t be able to do it all by himself. The Suns are hopeful that power forward Markieff Morris will be able to take his game to the next level, but he currently isn’t a happy camper in the valley of the sun. Morris’ twin brother Marcus was traded by the Suns this off-season to the Detroit Pistons which has left Markieff disgruntled. Because of this Morris doesn’t want to play in Phoenix anymore, but the Suns are not budging due to the fact that he is under contract with them which has produced a stalemate.
Heart and hustle have made the Suns competitive in Hornacek’s first two years in Phoenix, but the 2015-2016 NBA season will be a completely different beast as they should struggle in the Western Conference.
Sacramento Kings 39-43
The Sacramento Kings have not posted a winning record since 2006 and six of the last seven NBA seasons have seen them lose at least 50 games. The Kings have also become one of the most dysfunctional franchises in the NBA which is evident by the past few months. Last season the Kings went through three different head coaches with George Karl set to led this team for the 2015-2016 NBA season. Karl hasn’t been on the same page with Kings power forward DeMarcus Cousins which led to Karl wanting to trade Cousins prior to the 2015 NBA Draft. But Kings owner Vivek Ranadive decided to step in as he wants Cousins and that almost led to Karl being fired.
Cousins is one of the premier power forwards in the NBA and he would be more of a household name if he played in a bigger market and/or on a better team. But if Karl and Cousins are able to get on the same page, he is a player that has the potential to average 25 points and 15 rebounds.
Along with Cousins, the Kings have a proven scorer in small forward Rudy Gay. In nine seasons in the NBA, Gay has averaged 18.5 points per game as the Kings are the third different franchise that he has played for. But Gay’s versatility on both ends of the floor make him the perfect compliment to Cousins. The Kings used the sixth overall pick of the 2015 NBA Draft on center Willie Cauley-Stein who is a shot blocker that will need some time to get adjusted to the NBA game. The Kings also have size behind Cauley-Stein in center Kosta Koufos while they have a young in shooting guard Ben McLemore who is emerging as a scoring threat while they have also proven veteran scorers in small forwards Caron Butler and Marco Belinelli. But the Kings have a huge question mark at the point guard position.
In 45 games with the Kings last season, point guard Darren Collison averaged 16.1 points and 5.6 assists. But the Kings still went out and signed point guard Rajon Rondo who has been known to clash with head coaches; regardless of their credentials in the NBA. And this is something that Karl will have to find out the hard way for himself.
It won’t be an overnight turnaround for the Kings, but as the season progresses, Karl will begin to mold this team in his own image or get fired trying.
Los Angeles Lakers 34-48
The start of a new NBA season means that hope will spring eternal for the Los Angeles Lakers. The Lakers coming off of their worst two-year span in franchise history as they’ve combined to win just 48 games over the last two seasons which typically represents just one down campaign for them. The Lakers must find a way to be more competitive under head coach Byron Scott this season as en route to losing a franchise worst 61 games last season, they lost 9 games be 20 or more points.
Unfortunately for the Lakers they are pinning their hopes on the return of shooting guard Kobe Bryant. Bryant only appeared in 35 games last season due to injury. Bryant is the Lakers all-time leading scorer, but it is hard to expect him to return this season at 37-years of age and be the player that he was several years ago when he was one of the top scorers in the NBA. Scott also intends to limit the amount of minutes that Bryant plays this season, but is there another viable scoring option for the Lakers behind him?
Like Bryant, Lakers small forward Nick Young missed significant time last season due to injuries and he also clashed with Scott. Young is a proven scorer in the NBA as he has averaged 12.3 points per game over his eight-year NBA career, but will he be able to remain within in the realm of what Scott wants from him?
In 2014, the Lakers made power forward Julius Randle the seventh overall pick of the NBA Draft, but he suffered a fractured right tibia in the first game of the season as the book is still out on him. This summer, the Lakers had the second overall pick of the draft and they used it on point guard D’Angelo Russell. Russell is only 19-years of age and it will be a steep learning curve as far as him getting adjusted to the professional game. The Lakers entered the 2015 NBA Draft with a pair of first-round picks as their second choice was used on forward Larry Nance Jr. If the name sounds familiar it is because his father Larry Nance Sr., played in the NBA with the Phoenix Suns and Cleveland Cavaliers and he was the winner of the league’s first slam dunk contest. Like father, like son as Nance Jr. has tremendous athleticism which led him to being named as the Mountain West Conference’s Player of the Year in 2015 during his senior season at the University of Wyoming.
Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak signed guard Lou Williams in the off-season as he’ll be looked at as far as providing scoring off of the bench while Los Angeles also acquired center Roy Hibbert from the Indiana Pacers. In seven season with the Pacers, Hibbert always had instances where he would flash potential, but he’s never been consistent and the Lakers are hopeful that a change of scenery will do the trick for him. And in a surprise move just before the beginning of training camp, the Lakers signed veteran small forward Metta World Peace aka Ron Artest, but you just have to wonder if the NBA game has passed him by at the age of 35?
Early on in the season, the Lakers will have a five-game road trip which is a good time for this team to bond with so many new parts. Bryant will be eager to reclaim his post as one best players in the NBA, but whereas in the past he has dished out tough love to his teammates, this is a young team that will need that big brother to put his arm around them. And if Bryant doesn’t adjust, his time in Los Angeles this season will be very frustrating for him.