20-21 NBA Season Preview: Pacific Division

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20-21 NBA Season Preview: Pacific Division 

Post#1 » by RealGM Articles » Tue Dec 8, 2020 6:18 pm

Golden State Warriors

Additions: Kelly Oubre Jr., James Wiseman, Kent Bazemore, Brad Wanamaker

Losses: Ky Bowman

2019-20 Record: 15-50, 15th in Western Conference

Analysis: After an injury-induced “gap year”, the Warriors are looking to get back to their winning ways in 20-21. Unfortunately, those plans hit a major obstacle when Klay Thompson tore his right Achilles hours before the draft. Thompson, who was fully recovered from the torn ACL he suffered during the 2019 NBA Finals, will now miss a second straight season.

With Thompson out, it would have been easy for Warriors ownership to push GM Bob Myers to begin cutting costs. Instead, they gave Myers the greenlight to add players to the roster, despite the ever-increasing and historic luxury tax bill. That level of commitment, despite the fact that fans won’t be present in arenas for the majority of the season, is remarkable.

The Warriors will welcome back Stephen Curry after he missed the bulk of last season due to a fractured hand. Draymond Green is also recovered from the various injuries that had him in and out of the lineup last year. On the wing, Andrew Wiggins will take part in his first full season with the Dubs after being acquired at last year’s trade deadline. Those three make up the core of this year’s team, and Myers did a nice job filling out the rotation for Steve Kerr.

Golden State used what was then the league’s largest trade exception to acquire Kelly Oubre Jr. from the Oklahoma City Thunder. Oubre will slot in as the starting small forward and brings a versatile inside-outside offensive game to the team. He’ll also pair with Wiggins to inject some athleticism in a lineup that was a bit ground-bound over the last few years.

At the draft, the Warriors went big and selected James Wiseman out of Memphis. Many scouts had Wiseman tabbed as the best player in his class, and he also has the value of filling a positional need for Golden State. It often takes bigs a few years to adjust to the NBA game, but the Warriors would love to see Wiseman contribute right away. He can do that by focusing on rebounding and playing defense to earn his initial minutes.

Last season, as injuries ravaged the roster, Golden State’s lack of depth was exposed. Because the team had to dance around the hard cap all season, they had to rely on younger players. The good news is that diamond-mining process seems to have unearthed a few gems.

Eric Paschall is a good rotation player at the forward position. Marquese Chriss played the best basketball of his career, and should team with Wiseman and hold-over Kevon Looney for plenty of depth at the five. Damion Lee and Mychal Mulder can also help Golden State replace some of the shooting they lost in Thompson.

To bolster the young bench, the Warriors signed veterans Brad Wanamaker and Kent Bazemore. Wanamaker gives the team a viable backup behind Stephen Curry, and he has enough size to play alongside Curry some as well. Bazemore adds depth on the wing behind Oubre and Wiggins.

Without Thompson, it’s not the way the Warriors imagined getting back to contention, but this group is deeper than last year. That alone should help Golden State navigate any injury/illness issues that crop up. They might not be title contenders with Thompson out, but the Warriors should be back in the playoff picture. 

Los Angeles Clippers

Additions: Ty Lue (head coach), Serge Ibaka, Luke Kennard, Nicolas Batum, Daniel Oturu

Losses: Doc Rivers (head coach), Montrezl Harrell, JaMychal Green, Landry Shamet, Rodney McGruder

2019-20 Record: 49-23, lost in Western Conference Second Round

Analysis: Last season ended in disappointment as the Clippers losing a 3-1 series lead and fell to the Denver Nuggets in the West semifinals. That series loss cost Doc Rivers his coaching job and ushered in some roster changes as well.

Ty Lue slides over from the assistant’s seat to the top spot. This is Lue’s first head coaching job since he guided the Cleveland Cavaliers to the 2016 NBA championship and two additional Finals appearances in 2017 and 2018. His first order of business is bringing together a locker room that was fractured by infighting late last season.

Following the collapse against Denver, stories emerged that several Clippers were upset at what they perceived as special treatment for stars Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. The feeling was that Kawhi Leonard and Paul George weren’t pushed to practice or play unless they felt up to it, while others were left to pick up the slack. It’s up to Lue to make that a non-issue privately and perhaps publicly, and to get this team to play together. If he can pull that off, this group has the talent to contend for an NBA title.

The Clippers lost Sixth Man of the Year Montrezl Harrell, as well as key backups JaMychal Green and Landry Shamet. But the Clippers did a nice job of replacing those players and adding in veterans who should help the chemistry as well.

Serge Ibaka comes in as the primary backup big man behind Ivica Zubac and the re-signed Marcus Morris. Ibaka also gives Lue a consistent closing option at the five, which was hit or miss with Harrell. Ibaka is far less matchup dependent than Harrell was in that role and he could also play some minutes at the four alongside Zubac.

Luke Kennard replaces Shamet as the backup guard du jour for the Clippers. Shamet was thought to be a perfect fit as a shooter around high-usage wings Leonard and George. That never really materialized and the Clippers found themselves needing someone who could create off the dribble. When healthy, Kennard has shown the ability to be a scorer off the bounce, and he’s a better passer than the common perception.

The Clippers made a couple of other key re-signings besides Morris, as they also brought back Reggie Jackson and Patrick Patterson. Jackson played well for the Clippers, and he provides important depth behind oft-injured starting point guard Patrick Beverley. Patterson is a good locker room voice and brings a stretch element to the frontcourt.

The talent is there for the Clippers to contend for a title. It’s up to Lue to harness it and to find lineups that work. If he can, the Clippers will play deep into the playoffs. If not, Leonard and George can be free agents following the season, and their time with the Clippers may be short-lived.

Los Angeles Lakers

Additions: Montrezl Harrell, Dennis Schroder, Marc Gasol, Wesley Matthews, Alfonzo McKinnie

Losses: Danny Green, Rajon Rondo, Avery Bradley, JaVale McGee, Dwight Howard, J.R. Smith, Dion Waiters

2019-20 Record: 52-19, won 2020 NBA Finals

Analysis: The restart obviously went better for the Lakers than it did anyone else. Los Angeles came away with their record-tying 17th NBA championship, and they didn’t suffer any serious injuries while doing so. That’s a solid three months or so of work.

Now, the champs face the shortest offseason of any team in the NBA at just 71 days between games. And they do so while trying to incorporate several new players into their rotation. On the plus side, LeBron James and Anthony Davis are still around and will be for many years to come.

James signed a two-year contract extension, while Davis inked a new five-year max contract. That keeps the Lakers two best players in purple and gold through 2022-23. Those two will keep Los Angeles in title contention, but the additions to the roster are what may bring home a record 18th championship.

Perhaps with a premonition they wouldn’t be keeping Rajon Rondo, the Lakers traded away wing Danny Green for point guard Dennis Schroder. Schroder, who finished second in Sixth Man of the Year voting, will bring some much-needed off-the-dribble offense to Los Angeles. The Lakers were often overly reliant on LeBron James to create their scoring opportunities last season. Schroder will take some of that pressure of James, especially in a regular season where the Lakers won’t want to excessively rely on their veteran star.

Up front, the Lakers retooled their frontcourt. Davis is back, as is a re-signed Markieff Morris and young forward Kyle Kuzma. At the center spot, the Lakers jettisoned JaVale McGee in a trade with Cleveland, and let Dwight Howard leave as a free agent. In their place, Rob Pelinka signed Sixth Man of the Year winner Montrezl Harrell and veteran big man Marc Gasol.

Harrell will bring energy, effort and athleticism to the frontcourt. His bouncy game will be a boon on those nights where the Lakers are without Davis or James. Gasol’s presence in the pivot is about protecting the rim on defense and screening and passing on offense. Both should fit in nicely in the rotation, and neither should have issues being on the bench late in games when Davis slides over to the five.

On the wing, Los Angeles lost a lot with Green and Avery Bradley gone. Green will be replaced by Wesley Matthews. Matthews’ shooting and ability to defend bigger wings should be a nice fit. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is coming off a terrific playoff run and was re-signed. He’ll likely be leaned on all season long, as the Lakers lost Bradley in free agency. Bradley sat out the restart, but was a key contributor during the regular season. His absence will be made up for by Caldwell-Pope and with more minutes from Alex Caruso.

This regular season may see the Lakers put things more on cruise control. They had the shortest offseason of any team, and are reliant on veterans in several key spots. They also know what they can do in the playoffs, provided the main rotation players get there healthy. That may mean a small slide in the standings while keeping their eye on the main prize later in the summer.

Phoenix Suns

Additions: Chris Paul, Jae Crowder, E’Twaun Moore, Langston Galloway, Damian Jones, Jalen Smith

Losses: Ricky Rubio, Kelly Oubre Jr, Aron Baynes, Frank Kaminsky, Ty Jerome

2019-20 Record: 34-49, 10th in Western Conference

Analysis: While the Lakers had the most successful bubble experience, no team built more buzz during the re-start than the Suns. Phoenix went 8-0 during the seeding games and nearly forced their way into the play-in. That’s as close as the Suns have been to the postseason in a decade.

Not content to rest on their laurels, Phoenix swung a huge trade to bring in Chris Paul. The Suns hope the addition of Paul will be enough to get them over the top and back to the playoffs for the first time since 2010.

Paul was plenty good in his lone season with in Oklahoma City as he led an overachieving Thunder team to the postseason. He’s aged quite well and remains better than any other point guard in the NBA at controlling the game. He should fit in perfectly with the Suns young stars Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton.

Booker has hit the point where all that is keeping him from regular All-Star and All-NBA selections is team success. Ayton improved as much as any player in the NBA following his 25-game suspension early in the season. They form the backbone of Phoenix’s future.

 In order to get the most out of that future in the near-team, GM James Jones added several other veterans to the roster in addition to Paul. Coming fresh off a Finals run, Jae Crowder should fit in nicely as one of the starting forwards. Crowder can defend 2-4 and had the best shooting stretch of his career while with Miami. E’Twaun Moore and Langston Galloway will give the Suns some bench shooting and scoring that they have lacked in recent years.

Speaking of reserves, Phoenix retained two key players in Dario Saric and Jevon Carter. Saric found a role as a backup five behind Ayton. He turned in some of the best play of his young career last season. Carter emerged as the team’s backup point guard, and should retain that role behind Paul next season. The Suns also picked up their team option for Cameron Payne, who played the best basketball of his career in the bubble.

Besides the young talent, new additions and re-signees, Phoenix can also hope to see continued growth from young forward Mikal Bridges and Cameron Johnson. Bridges became one of the Suns better two-way players as his shot improved to complement is already good defense. Johnson came on as his rookie season progressed and may have found a role as a floor-spacing, small-ball four.

It’s been quite some time since Phoenix had this much to be excited about. As long as they can stay healthy, Suns fans should see their team make a real push for the postseason in a deep Western Conference. 

Sacramento Kings

Additions: Monte McNair (GM), Tyrese Haliburton, Glenn Robinson III, Hassan Whiteside, Robert Woodard II, Jahmi’us Ramsey, Chimezie Metu

Losses: Vlade Divac (GM), Bogdan Bogdanovic, Harry Giles, Kent Bazemore, Yogi Ferrell, Alex Len

2019-20 Record: 31-41, 12th in the Western Conference

Analysis: After rebounding from an 0-5 start to the season, Sacramento got themselves in the mix for a playoff spot in the Western Conference. Unfortunately, a 3-5 record in the bubble kept them out of the postseason for a 14th straight season.

The Kings start the 20-21 season picking up the pieces a bit after losing Bogdan Bogdanovic to the Atlanta Hawks in free agency. Sacramento could have matched Atlanta’s offer sheet for Bogdanovic, but new GM Monte McNair didn’t want to hamper the team’s flexibility. With Buddy Hield and Harrison Barnes making more than $20 million apiece over the next couple of seasons, and De’Aaron Fox starting a max extension in 21-22, McNair didn’t want a fourth big contract on the books.

Despite losing Bogdanovic, Sacramento bounced back to have a productive offseason. First round pick Tyrese Haliburton should immediately be a part of the rotation as the third guard behind Fox and Hield. Haliburton’s size and ability to play on or off the ball makes him a natural fit beside either veteran guard. He’ll add a dose of playmaking that the offense was often missing when Fox was off the floor.

To bolster the reserve unit, McNair signed a pair of veterans in Glenn Robinson III and Hassan Whiteside. Robinson will bring some shooting and scoring to a bench group that was sometimes lacking in that area, aside from Hield. Whiteside brings size, rebounding and shot-blocking behind presumed starter Richaun Holmes. Both players were added on one-year deals for the veteran minimum so there is also motivation to prove they are worth more next year.

As mentioned previously, the Kings locked up Fox to a five-year, max extension. Unlike contemporaries Jayson Tatum and Donovan Mitchell, Fox did not get a player option on the fifth-year of his extension. That’s huge for Sacramento, as they can be assured their franchise player will be in place for several years to come.

For the 20-21 season, the Kings are hopeful Marvin Bagley will be able to put his injury issues behind him. When Bagley has played, he’s largely played well. He’s an important part of the versatility Sacramento wants in their frontcourt, as Bagley can play both the four and the five. That allows the Kings to play units featuring both Barnes and Nemanja Bjelica at the forward positions.

It’s going to be an uphill battle for Sacramento to break their playoff drought. The Western Conference is as deep as it’s ever been. The Kings did a nice job adding some depth, which should keep injuries and illness from torpedoing their season, as they have in years past. If Fox can make a leap to playing like an All-Star, Hield can re-find his happiness with the Kings and Bagley can stay healthy, Sacramento should be in the mix with those fighting to get to the play-in tournament.

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