PACIFIC DIVISION: What the Lakers managed to put together over the offseason is so transcendent and rare that we might eventually forget how easily Pau Gasol got there five years ago in the midseason. Kendrick Lamar’s “Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe” is already the theme music of the Lake Show, as the rest of the division and Western Conference looks on.
NYQUIL (DON’T SLEEP): While you were sleeping, the Suns brought back Goran Dragic and the irritant known as Luis Scola from the Rockets’ throwaways. But, on a really slick play, Phoenix picked up Michael Beasley over the offseason, too.
That’s a nice move, since so many have already given up on Mike.
Is it his third team in five seasons after being the No. 2 overall pick in 2008? Yep. Can this be REALLY interesting if Beasley turns back into the 19 ppg scorer he was a couple of years ago, or even better? Damn right.
1 PLUS 1 EQUALS 2 (THE INEVITABLE): DeMarcus Cousins is going to have a monster year. Last season, Cousins’ attitude and maturity issues were exaggerated to talk over the fact that Paul Westphal had lost the team. But you saw what happened once the Kings lost Westphal — Cousins was an 18 and 11 player, while no one remembered who actually coached the first seven games in the lockout shortened season.
Don’t think for a second that a snarky dude like Cousins isn’t out here trying to show everybody that Dwight Howard ain’t the only center on the West Coast who can kick it. Just watch him work.
SLOW BURN (OH, IT’S COMIN’): We’re watching out for Lob City again this year, but let’s be real; too many of those cats have bad knees.Blake Griffin, Chris Paul, Chauncey Billups, Grant Hill and Lamar Odom are all on their SWV kick — weak in the knees.
No doubt the Clips are loaded, but Lob City will turn into Sob City if they lose one of their key pieces due to jammed up kneecaps. The buzz around the Clips and CP3 quieted after the Lakers upped the ante in the offseason. The Clips answered by picking up Hill and Odom. *Yawn*
THE WACKNESS: Matt Barnes – a staple in the Pacific Division after his time with the Suns, Lakers and now Clippers – was a TMZ headliner over the summer in this really bizarre arrest for an outstanding warrant and his use of the word fa**ot to a police officer. That’s more of a bad look than airing his relationship business on Basketball Wives.
These particular cops might be assholes, but who advised Barnes growing up on how to deal with the law? That right there is the po-lice, Matt.
ALL DIVISION SQUAD
Dwight Howard, Lakers, C: If there’s a better center on the planet, he’s going to have to stand up this season, and that’s with respect to DeMarcus Cousins, DeAndre Jordan, Andrew Bogut and Marcin Gortat.
Pau Gasol, Lakers, F: Pau is going to get a lot of touches and opportunities to make plays for all the Lakers’ new talent. He’ll score plenty, too.
Blake Griffin, Clippers, F: Griffin should show some kind of progression this season. Maybe we could see a consistent jump shot or a go-to move that doesn’t involve dunking.
Chris Paul, Clippers, G: Still arguably the best point guard in the league and the main reason the Clippers are relevant. Put the “Lob” in Lob City.
Kobe Bryant, Lakers, G: Kobe’s basically The Godfather of this division. But dare tell it; he might get a few open looks this season. Somebody better get a hand up.
PACIFIC MVP: It might be kind of difficult to accept that a beta male could be the MVP on his own squad, much less the division. But Dwight is at the point in his career where there’s really nothing else left for him to do but win MVPs and championships. He’s the best player on the best team in the division and the Lakers are going to play through him.
Don’t fall for this foolishness about Dwight being the Lakers’ Tyson Chandler. That possibility is for unintelligent people to consider. No one is buying anything other than Dwight turning the Lakers into a defensive monster, while inspiring Hack-a-Howard strategies on the other end.
HOOD PLATINUM: The barbershop conversation on Kobe should be interesting from this point on. We’ve driven the Michael Jordan comparisons through the wall and ripped Kobe for being selfish and a bad teammate. But as our Vinnie Goodwill wrote eloquently, we don’t have any more time to hate this man.
1. LOS ANGELES LAKERS
With Kobe going for his eighth NBA Finals appearance and a sixth title, the Lakers’ expectations for this season were going to be high whether they acquired Nash and Howard or not. Mike Brown said himself that it’s Kobe’s team. But with these additions, not only are the expectations lofty, it’s also going to be much easier to meet them.
Nash will be handling the ball more than Derek Fisher was ever allowed to — and with good reason. And the variety of options the Lakers have for lighting up the scoreboard is of greater value mainly because the ball is usually in Nash’s hands to begin with.
Kobe looks like he’s ready to play Game 7 of the NBA Finals tomorrow if you tell ‘em it’s goin’ down. You can still expect his usage rate, which last season (35.7 percent) was as high as it had been since ‘05-06, to go down significantly – maybe even closer to ’03-04 (29 percent) when he had to mount up with Karl Malone, Gary Payton, AND Shaq.
The catch: for all the relief Nash gives Kobe on offense, the Mamba’s going to have to put in extra on D, which was required with Fisher, too. All these pieces still seem to fit together for the Lakers.
Projected Record: 65-17
2. LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS
Not that you should expect a significant drop-off with the Clips, but notice how all that talk about them sharing the local spotlight with the Lakers is dead now. They’re still relevant, which is more than they’ve ever been able to say. But with seven new faces on the squad, what exactly did they do to get better?
It’s important to remember that CP3 hits the open market after this season, and he’s too smart to stick around in L.A. on some hype-based theory that something is being built there.
The biggest acquisition from a name recognition standpoint was bringing back Lamar Odom, who started his career with the Clippers in ’99-00.
And shoutout to the Clippers for bringing Lamar back home where his heart is. I’m just waiting on him to do go into Drake-mode and shed some tears when things get rough.
Projected Record: 48-34
3. GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS
There are major questions on whether Stephen Curry is going to stay healthy enough to shine with Monta Ellis out of town. No one really seems to have a solution to Curry’s reoccurring ankle problems. I’m sure homie’s already tried taping his ankles and wearing three pairs of socks. Is this beyond medical control?
Good thing the Warriors are deep. Second-year pro Klay Thompson is also benefitting from Ellis’ absence by stepping into the starting lineup.
Remember when David Lee was the starting center? Well now, he and Carl Landry are probably going to share minutes at the 4. Andrew Bogut is holding it down in the middle, which is where ankle issues pop up again. The Aussie had ankle surgery early in the offseason and the Warriors are being ultra careful about rushing him back to the floor.
That’s because there’s no reason to rush. I mean, when’s the last time they had a reliable double-double in a true center, with a well-respected perimeter game to complement it?
They have enough in the Bay to be fun to watch again, but having it translate into anything beyond a .500 season is going to be difficult to do.
Projected Record: 42-40
4. PHOENIX SUNS
For all of the kickback you’d expect from watching the franchise player go to your rival on the way to a rebuild, the Suns tooled up and have a halfway decent squad in the first year after Nash. Still missing a few pieces, the Suns are going to lose more games than they win, but they won’t be terrible.
Understanding exactly what the Suns are going to do seems to be the issue here. The volume scorer in the starting lineup is Beasley, which means he would have to return to his 2011 form for this to make sense.
If it works, it could be the feel-good story of the season. Beasley, as a focal point of the Phoenix offense, could grab the Most Improved Player award if he’s about his business.
A Beasley/Scola/Gortat front court is solid, and then look at your point guard. Dragic is swagged out after his success in Houston. Even being back with the Suns, dude’s acting like this never happened.
Also, I can’t think of a better confidence booster than having a team trade you away one season, and bring you back the next.
Projected Record: 34-48
5. SACRAMENTO KINGS
This is a franchise without hope. Between the six-straight losing seasons and the soap opera with its long-term arena situation, it’s been hard to believe this organization is built to survive post-Webber.
We don’t even know how long the Kings are going to be in Sacramento, much less how long it will be until they’re competitive. Cousins was mentioned earlier because he’s a beast. Team him up with the No. 5 overall pick Thomas Robinson, let the guards do their thing and it’s actually still an interesting team with raw talent and nowhere to move but laterally.
Isaiah Thomas and Tyreke Evans are ballin’ in the backcourt, but with Thomas and the addition of Aaron Brooks, the Kings essentially have two point guards under 6 feet and Jimmer Fredette.
Sacramento isn’t much different than it was a year ago, despite having a magnetic rookie like Robinson. Not a lot of ways to reconcile that.
Projected Record: 28-54