2009 NBA Preview: Pacific Division

This year, we’re doing a division-by-division preview with quick-hitting analysis for every team in the league. If a franchise is a legitimate championship contender, I’ll focus on what stars have to line up for a title run. If a team is a playoff “also-ran,” I’ll identify the weaknesses that have to be shored up via trade, free agency or draft over the next couple of seasons to make it a contender. If a team is likely to miss the playoffs, I’ll take a look at the salary cap, and provide a blueprint for how the team should proceed in the near future to get back in the postseason. At the end of each divisional preview, I’ll provide some (random) thoughts for the fantasy hoopsters out there.

For each division, I’ll pick the order of finish. You’ll also see the team’s league-wide preseason rank in parenthesis. Be sure to check back over the course of the next couple of weeks for previews of each division.

Los Angeles Lakers (1)
The biggest obstacle for the Lakers this season is Ron Artest. This may sound odd, but the franchise is rolling the dice that Ron-Ron can behave for another season. They gave up on the quietly improving Trevor Ariza and made a big move to add the unruly Artest to the roster. This is risky, especially for a team coming off an impressive title run. Why fiddle with your chemistry like that? Well, GM Mitch Kupchak is well aware that the Lakers aren’t getting by on chemistry. They are a group of very talented players, held together loosely by Phil Jackson’s thoughtful approach and Kobe Bryant’s will to win. In other words, chemistry may not matter to the Lakers, because it’s a by-product of winning. (For most teams, it’s the other way around.) There’s no doubt that Artest brings a lot to the table, but he’s the biggest change from last season, so if the Lakers take a step back, he’ll probably get the blame. Meanwhile, it appears that the big lineup question surrounds the Lamar Odom/Andrew Bynum quandary, but the truth is that Bynum’s game has not developed enough to demand that he be on the floor in crunch time. Odom can shoot (albeit, only a little) and is a terrific ball handler/passer, so Jackson knows that he can better space the court than Bynum can. When both Bynum and Pau Gasol are on the floor, the lane gets clogged and Kobe can’t find driving lanes, so look for Odom to get the edge in minutes again this year. But back to Artest — assuming he accepts a reduction in his offensive role, the Lakers are the odds-on favorites to once again represent the West in the Finals.

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2008 NBA Team-by-Team Preview

Ron Artest is a Rocket, Jermaine O’Neal is a Raptor and Mo Williams is a Cavalier. Richard Jefferson is a Buck and Corey Maggette is a Warrior. Baron Davis signed up to play with Elton Brand in L.A., but Brand bolted for Philly to play with AI2 instead. And Andrew Bynum is back from injury, trying to figure out how to co-exist with Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom. There, you’re all caught up on most of the big summer news from the NBA.

Want more? We’ve got you covered. Our team-by-team preview breaks down each franchise’s offseason movement and outlook, along with a player (or situation) to keep your eye on. We also ask “The Big Question” that is haunting each team as it enters the season.

For the last two weeks, We’ve been previewing each team from #30 to #1, posting three team previews per business day, starting with the league’s bottom feeders – we’re looking at you, Thunder – and finishing up with the cream of the crop. So who will be #1? The Lakers? The Celtics? Or will there be a surprise at the top of our preseason power rankings?

Click here to see the entire preview.

2008 NBA Preview: #25 Los Angeles Clippers

Offseason Movement: Much has been written about the Clippers tumultuous summer. Out are franchise cornerstones Elton Brand and Corey Maggette and in are Baron Davis and Marcus Camby. For a while, it looked as if Davis would join Brand to give the Clippers a formidable one-two punch, but Brand elected to sign a big deal with the Sixers after the Clippers’ front office apparently ruffled the feathers of Brand’s agent, David Falk. The Clippers recovered (somewhat) by stealing Marcus Camby away from the Nuggets in a salary dump.
Keep Your Eye On: Eric Gordon, G
The team took Gordon #7 overall in the 2008 draft, and with Maggette gone, there’s a lot of opportunity for playing time. Cuttino Mobley provides a veteran presence at off guard, but if Gordon shows maturity, he could usurp the vet before season’s end.
The Big Question: Will Brand’s departure doom the Clippers to mediocrity?
The Clippers are now featuring a 29 year-old oft-injured point guard (Davis) alongside two centers, Camby and Chris Kaman. While the Camby deal was a savvy one, I’m not sure how he and Kaman are going to play alongside each other in today’s smaller-is-better NBA. The youth movement consists of Al Thornton (who was decent in his rookie season) and Gordon. The Clippers are going to need great play out of both of those players to be a factor in the Western Conference playoff race.
Outlook: Grim. There seems to be a rain cloud over the franchise now that Brand is gone. Davis is their best player and he’s almost 30 and hasn’t had much success in the playoffs. With the current roster, the Clippers will be competitive, but unless they really gel or one of their young players (Thornton or Gordon) turns into an All-Star caliber player, it’s highly doubtful that the Clips will be fighting for a playoff spot come April.

Check out our NBA Preview page for a look at every team. We’ll be posting three previews per business day, which will take us up to the start of the season on Tuesday, October 28th.

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