There may be more talent in the Western Conference’s Pacific Division than any other in the NBA.
Lebron James, Anthony Davis and the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers enter the 2020-21 campaign as the decisive favorite to repeat as NBA champions. Their biggest threat to do so, at least according to bookmakers, comes in a Pacific Division rival, the crosstown Clippers.
Add in the trade which brought Chris Paul to the Pacific’s Phoenix Suns and the return of both Steph Curry and Draymond Green and the Golden State Warriors, not far removed from a dynasty, could be the fourth-best team in the division.
Here’s our Pacific Division preview:
Los Angeles Lakers
Additions: Dennis Schroder, Montrezl Harrell, Wesley Matthews, Markieff Morris (re-sign), Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (re-sign), Marc Gasol
Subtractions: Rajon Rondo, Dwight Howard, Danny Green, Javale McGee, Avery Bradley
2019-20 record: 52-19
The Lakers lost a few key contributors, but overall the 2019-20 NBA champions actually got better.
Harrell, first and foremost, should prove to be the Lakers most impactful signing. The sixth-year big man came over from the crosstown Clippers after averaging 18.6 points per game with 7.1 rebounds, which earned him the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year. Gasol is well-removed from his career-best campaigns but is still a solid big who can shot from the perimeter and defend, which LA will need after the departures of Howard and McGee. Schroder will likely prove to be an upgrade over the veteran Rondo while Matthews is a good shooter who could potentially take over the role of Danny Green.
Prediction: Finish first in division, 52-20.
Los Angeles Clippers
Additions: Luke Kennard, Daniel Oturu, Serge Ibaka, Marcus Morris (re-sign), Nicholas Batum
Subtractions: head coach Doc Rivers, Montrezl Harrell, Landry Shamet, Rodney McGruder, JaMychal Green
2019-20 record: 49-23
The Clippers opted against re-signing Harrell in order to bring in Ibaka, and that decision could have a major impact on their upcoming campaign.
Generally, we’re of the belief the Lakers got better while the Clippers got worse, but the draft night trade for Kennard was a good move. The Duke product and 2017 first-rounder averaged 15.8 points per game while shooting 40 percent from long range last season with the Pistons. He offers a big upside for the Clippers as he can be both a ball handler and shot creator to complement Paul George and Kawhi Leonard.
Prediction: Finish second in division, 50-22.
Additions: Chris Paul, Jae Crowder, Jevon Carter, Damian Jones, Dario Saric (re-sign)
Subtractions: Aron Baynes
2019-20 record: 34-39
The Suns impressed everyone in the NBA bubble, going a perfect 8-0 despite missing the postseason, and brought that energy into the offseason with the trade for Paul.
Acquiring the perennial All-Star could prove to be one of the best moves this offseason, providing fellow All-Star Devin Booker and 2018 No. 1 overall pick Deandre Ayton a veteran presence to help in their development. Ayton really should benefit from Paul’s arrival while the opportunity for Booker to play more off-ball could help him improve on his 26.6 points per game last year.
Additionally, Phoenix signing Jae Crowder for $10 per season over the next three years will be a beneficial move, as the ex-Miami Heat forward provides a solid defensive option when going against players like LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard.
Prediction: Finish third in division, 44-28.
Golden State Warriors
Additions: James Wiseman, Kelly Oubre, Kent Bazemore, Brad Wanamaker
2019-20 record: 15-50
The Warriors will benefit from a healthy Steph Curry and Draymond Green, but another season-ending injury to Klay Thompson, who tore his Achilles, is extremely unfortunate for a team which could have been up there with the best in the West.
Even still, the additions of Wiseman, the No. 2 overall pick, and Oubre certainly should help the Warriors get back to the playoffs after missing out on the postseason for the first time in eight years. Curry remains a MVP candidate and a starting five of Curry-Andrew Wiggins-Oubre-Green-Wiseman has a lot of potential. Bazemore and Wanamaker, an ex-Celtic, could be nice depth pieces off the bench, too.
Prediction: Finish fourth in division, 41-31.
Additions: Hassan Whiteside, Tyrese Haliburton, Glenn Robinson III, Frank Kaminsky
Subtractions: Bogdan Bogdanovic
2019-20 record: 31-41
The Kings got worse this offseason with the departure of Bogdanovic, who signed with the Atlanta Hawks in a cap-driven move. Whiteside returns to the franchise which drafted him and is doing so on a modest one-year deal.
The reality, though, is that the Kings are a team with lone star Deandre Fox in a division that’s as deep as any in the league. And with at least three of four other teams in the Pacific improving their team from 2019-20, Sacramento could see their win total drop significantly this season.
Prediction: Finish fifth in division, 26-46.