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Pacific preview: Lakers and four others
What we have here is one team that won’t be satisfied with anything less than a championship, along with four teams who would be satisfied just to make the playoffs.
With Nellie’s monstrous, all-consuming ego banished to Hawaii, the Warriors will be more disciplined, more spirited and more harmonious.
Andris Biedrins is the only defensive-minded big man, but he can’t shoot himself in the foot.
The main scoring burden falls on Stephen Curry and Monta Ellis, two guys who can shoot ’em up and in. However, with Keith Smart now in the power seat, Ellis can no longer shoot at will and will be required to broaden his court vision.
What else does this team have?
Not enough well-balanced scoring and still cursed with pitiful team defense, this is a young ball club that will need most of the season (and beyond?) to establish an identity.
Vinny Del Negro has an abundance of talent at his disposal.
Eric Gordon can shoot, scoot and score. All he needs is consistency.
Chris Kaman is somewhat mechanical, but more than adequate in the middle.
Rasual Butler is an experienced point-maker who can do little else.
DeAndre Jordan is wildly talented and just plain wild.
Baron Davis is one key to the Clippers’ season. Will he be inspired at both ends of the court, or will he be on cruise control too often?
The other X-factor is Blake Griffin. Yes, he’s quick, fast and supremely athletic. But in order for him to be the savior, he’ll have to hit his jumpers and play better man-to-man defense than he ever did in college.
Del Negro will have to temper his over-the-top intensity and be extremely patient with this group. If everything breaks right, the Clippers could approach 40 wins.
The Lakers are stronger, deeper, healthier and more confident than they were last season.
Steve Blake is long, smart and surprisingly athletic. He’ll play more efficient defense against high screen/rolls than the departed Jordan Farmar, run the triangle like he’s been studying it for his entire career and even hit an occasional trey.
Matt Barnes plays super-aggressive defense, runs and finishes and can knock down 3-pointers. He’ll take some of the defensive pressure off Kobe Bryant. If Barnes can stay out of trouble off the court, he can be an impact player.
Theo Ratliff may be long in the tooth, but he knows how to play the game and is a decided upgrade over Josh Powell.
Pau Gasol is at the top of his considerable game and will greatly benefit from not playing international ball during the summer.
Lamar Odom is happy to do whatever he has to do to make this team click. Presumably, winning a championship will keep him focused.
Derek Fisher can’t do anything but hit clutch shots, draw charges and win.
Perhaps this is the season when Andrew Bynum’s body parts stay healthy.
Kobe is Kobe, and he’ll undoubtedly get sharper as the season progresses and his surgically repaired knee gets stronger.
The Lakers will have the added incentive of trying to honor Phil Jackson’s swan song with another gold ring.
The Lakers are easily the best team in the league.
The Suns won’t miss Amar’e Stoudemire’s selfish pouting, low basketball IQ and reluctance to either rebound or defend.
Look for Hakim Warrick to thrive in Alvin Gentry’s quick-hitting offense and fill the scoring vacuum left by Stoudemire.
If Grant Hill at 38 will play minimal minutes, his shot-making and maturity will still be a plus. But Jared Dudley deserves, and will undoubtedly get, increasing daylight as the season progresses. This young man is the real thing.
Jason Richardson must be more consistent for the running Suns to make a real run at the playoffs.
Channing Frye’s lightweight defense requires him to shoot at least 45 percent from beyond the arc to justify his playing time.
Robin Lopez is a klutzy but strong and willing backup center who will be forced into starter’s minutes.
Hedo Turkoglu is a solid half-court scorer who will trail virtually all of the Suns' fast breaks.
Overall, the Suns lack rebounding and defense, yet will still light up the scoreboard as long as Nash has his finger on the trigger of the offense.
The roster is divided between guys who are too old and guys who are too young. At this point, the future belongs to Lopez, Dragic, Warrick, Dudley and whichever rookies prove they can play. Everybody else (including Nash) is a stopgap.
Not much here for Paul Westphal to mastermind.
Jason Thompson is a banger who lacks dominating skills.
Omri Casspi must get tougher.
Tyreke Evans is the future, but needs to defend, improve his shooting and develop his left hand.
Carl Landry has the goods to be the featured player on offense.
Francisco Garcia is a speedster who is infinitely better on the run than in half-court sets.
Beno Udrih can’t handle or defend but knows how to score.
Sam Dalembert will mope if he doesn’t get sufficient touches, will block shots and rebound and be in constant foul trouble. At best, he’s a good backup center.
DeMarcus Cousins will get a chance to play beaucoup minutes and therefore hasten his development.
On the bright side, the Kings will have still another lottery pick next June.