By Lee Jenkins
October 22, 2012
2012-13 NBA Preview: Pacific Division
How They'll Finish
Los Angeles Lakers
2011-12 Record: 41-25; lost to Thunder in conference semifinals
Top Addition: Dwight Howard | Biggest Loss: Andrew Bynum
General manager Mitch Kupchak has assembled one of the most decorated starting lineups of all time, with Steve Nash and Dwight Howard flanking Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol. To maximize their additions, the Lakers are also installing a new system, which features elements of the Princeton offense and more liberal use of the pick-and-roll. Like any super-team thrown together on the fly, the Lakers will need time to mesh, but perhaps not as much time as the Heat. Their stars possess vastly different skill sets and don't figure to step on each other's sneakers. Although Bryant is still defined by his scoring, Nash and Gasol are among the most selfless playmakers in the league, and Howard will be hailed simply for protecting the rim. If all these players were in their prime, L.A would win 70 games. As it stands, the rest of the NBA needs age to catch up with the Lakers, or they will be celebrating yet another championship in June.
Los Angeles Clippers
2011-12 Record: 40-26; lost to Spurs in conference semifinals
Top Addition: Jamal Crawford | Biggest Loss: Randy Foye
Chris Paul gave the Clippers two years to prove they were worth a long-term commitment, and so far, they have held up their end of the deal. They won a playoff series. They re-signed Blake Griffin. They brought back Chauncey Billups. They made themselves one of the deepest teams in the league, with the additions of Jamal Crawford, Lamar Odom and Grant Hill. But to take another step, the Clippers will have to reach the Western Conference finals, a difficult task with the Lakers and Thunder in the way. Much pressure falls on coach Vinny Del Negro, who will have to satisfy a lot of high-profile veterans on his bench, and convince Paul he is the man for the job. The Clips don't need to win it all this season, but Paul becomes a free agent on July 1, and he must be ready to commit then.
Golden State Warriors
2011-12 Record: 23-43
Top Addition: Harrison Barnes | Biggest Loss: Dorrell Wright
Andrew Bogut arrived in Golden State seven months ago and still hasn't played a game there. His health is the key to this season and perhaps the upcoming era. The Warriors expect Bogut to be fully recovered from ankle surgery early in the season, which makes them a legitimate threat for one of the last playoff spots in the West. Golden State has protected its other injury-plagued cornerstone, point guard Stephen Curry (who has been shut down for the remainder of the preseason), with a premier backup in Jarrett Jack. They drafted one promising wing, Harrison Barnes, to go along with another, Klay Thompson. But the problem for the Warriors is always size, and if they can keep Bogut on the court next to David Lee, they will finally be able to solve it.
Phoenix Suns
2011-12 Record: 33-33
Top Addition: Luis Scola | Biggest Loss: Steve Nash
The Age of Nash is over in Phoenix and it will be impossible to replicate, though the Suns are going to try. They signed Goran Dragic, once a Nash apprentice in Phoenix, to return as his successor. Dragic will attempt to do everything Nash did, spacing the floor with Jared Dudley and running the pick-and-roll with Marcin Gortat. But Nash made everybody better and none of the Suns will be quite as effective as they were. Phoenix did land a bargain this summer in Luis Scola and a finisher in Michael Beasley, giving Dragic some weapons Nash didn't have. But this is Beasley's third NBA team and he is running out of time to show why he was the second overall pick just four years ago.
Sacramento Kings
2011-12 Record: 22-44
Top Addition: Thomas Robinson | Biggest Loss: None
Two seasons ago, Tyreke Evans was Rookie of the Year, and the bedrock of the rebuilding process in Sacramento. Now, he is a man without a position, playing for his future with the Kings. This team belongs to DeMarcus Cousins and its success hinges on his development, a familiar refrain for anyone who has followed the tantalizing and at times frustrating center. Cousins is by no means alone in Sacramento, with vaunted rookie Thomas Robinson joining him in the low post to form a promising frontcourt for the future. Despite all the Kings' problems, they have drafted fairly well recently, snagging Robinson and point guard Isaiah Thomas in the past two years. The Kings will compete regularly but still won't win enough.
Players To Watch
Steve Nash
2011-12 Season Stats: 12.5 PPG, 10.7 APG, 3.0 RPG
Career Stats: 14.5 PPG, 8.6 APG, 3.0 RPG
Mike Brown is the Lakers' coach, but Nash is the one who will make this star-studded experiment fly. The ball will be in his hands and therefore the onus is on his shoulders to satisfy Bryant, Howard and Gasol, keeping all of them involved and engaged. Nash is the best Lakers point guard since Magic Johnson and they will lean on him almost as much as the Suns did. The 38-year-old has never played with another lead guard like Bryant or two low-post scorers like Howard and Gasol. He must get used to a different offense and different personnel, but Nash has proved throughout his career that no one is better in transition.
Lamar Odom
2011-12 Stats: 6.6 PPG, 4.2 RPG, 1.7 APG
Career Stats: 14.2 PPG, 8.6 RPG, 3.9 APG
Eighteen months ago, Odom was named Sixth Man Award winner. That was before the vetoed trade to New Orleans, the exile to Dallas and the catastrophic season that ensued. From the blow-up with Mark Cuban to the leave of absence to the request for a D-League demotion, Odom staggered through the worst winter of his career and longed for a return to Los Angeles. He is back where he is most comfortable, now with the Clippers, the team that drafted him. Odom is in position to recapture his past, but after all that has happened in the past year, no one can be confident that he will.
Stephen Curry
2011-12 Stats: 14.7 PPG, 5.3 APG, 1.5 SPG
Career Stats: 17.5 PPG, 5.8 APG, 1.7 SPG
Technically, the Warriors traded Monta Ellis to Milwaukee last season for Bogut, but they also did it for Curry. No longer will Curry have to share the ball with another high-scoring lead guard. The Warriors will now see just how effective he can be in control of an offense. Today's NBA is filled with electric young point guards who have cultivated their own styles. Curry does not pass like Rajon Rondo or drive like Derrick Rose or explode like Russell Westbrook. His outside shot will set him apart. Every year, a couple of new points seem to emerge, and Curry's time has arrived.
Burning Questions
Will the Lakers win the championship? They've never played a game together, but they have the experience, the firepower and the motivation, with Nash trying to win his first title and Howard trying to rehab his reputation. They aren't without flaws. Their perimeter defense is suspect and they will rely on Howard to wipe out all mistakes at the rim. Their bench, while improved, still lags behind the West's elite. But at the end of games, it will be hard for anyone to match up with the Lakers, given all the places they can go for clutch baskets. These Lakers will require an acclimation period, but it can't take long, because on Opening Night the chase begins with Oklahoma City and others for home-court advantage.
Will the Clippers progress enough to keep Chris Paul? Since Paul arrived, the Clippers have done just about everything he could have asked, with the exception of retaining GM Neil Olshey. They added key veterans in each of the past two offseasons and are dramatically deeper than they were a year ago. They bear no resemblance to the Clippers of the past three decades. Because the West is so brutal, they may not see much of an improvement in terms of their playoff finish, but their record will be better and Paul will see that there's no better way to spend his prime than throwing passes to Griffin. The Clips have proved that they are worthy of Paul's signature on a long-term contract.
Will the Warriors make the playoffs? If they can get 70 games from Bogut and Curry, they will be on the verge, scrapping with Minnesota and Utah for one of the final spots. But Bogut and Curry played only 35 games combined last season, and if they miss extended periods again (as they have in the preseason), Golden State will be right back in the lottery. The Warriors are banking on two players with ragged histories but major upsides. The new front office has at least provided legitimate hope, gambling on Bogut and handing the reins to Curry while grooming Thompson and Barnes.
Did You Know?
Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash were picked 13th and 15th, respectively, in the 1996 draft.
The Suns traded Goran Dragic and a first-round pick to Houston for Aaron Brooks in February 2011, before signing Dragic this summer from the Rockets to a four-year, $34 million contract.
Odom isn't the only new Clipper coming off a down year. Last season, Jamal Crawford posted his worst shooting percentage since he was a rookie and his lowest scoring average in nine years.
Bold Prediction
Given A-list teammates, and relieved of ball-handling duties, Kobe Bryant will post his most efficient season and earn consideration for a second MVP award, which he should have won long ago.
Pacific Video Preview
Chris Mannix's Fast Breaks: Los Angeles Clippers
Source: SI's Chris Mannix previews the 2012-13 NBA season for the Los Angeles Clippers.

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