From MOP Squad Sports

2007-08 NBA Preview: The Pacific Division
By Raul Smith, MOP Squad Sports Staff Writer
Oct 16, 2007 - 2:33:31 AM

It’s that time of year once again, sports fans.   Baseball’s NLCS and ALCS are underway, football is very much in full throttle, and the NHL has kicked off, leaving one major sports league left to get started…the NBA!


And much like last year, I will once again take a stab at predicting how the NBA season will go in 2007-08.   So with that said, here is a look at the NBA, division-by-division, team-by-team, courtesy of MOP Squad Sports columnist Raul Smith.


Yesterday was a look at the Southeast Division.   Today, I head west over to the Pacific Division.   Surf’s up, baby!


Golden State Warriors

Head coach : the all-time NBA leader in career wins, Don Nelson is in his ninth season as head coach of the Warriors, his second season this stint, and his twenty-ninth season as a head coach in the NBA.

Last year’s record : 42-40, which was good enough for a tie for second place in the Pacific Division and the 8th seed in the Western Conference Playoffs.   The Warriors would stun the 1st-seeded Dallas Mavericks in the first round 4-2, but lose in the second round to the Utah Jazz 4-2.

MVP Candidate : point guard Baron Davis is clearly the team captain and MVP of the Warriors.   He earned this role by being the tough and gritty, yet soft-spoken and understanding leader of this team.

Here’s the lowdown : although I haven’t been getting any emails yet on this, I will go ahead and admit that I did say this time last year, for lack of a better term, that the Warriors were screwed.   Little did I know that this team would show more heart, guts, and determination than I gave them credit for.   They battled and defeated Dallas in the first round, then battled their way to two wins in their series with Utah before falling.   The question now stands, “With the off-court distraction involving Don Nelson and the contract negotiations that almost went sour, coupled with the trade that sent Jason Richardson to Charlotte for the eighth pick overall in the draft Brandan Wright from North Carolina, as well as losing Adonal Foyle and Sarunas Jasikevicius but gaining Austin Croshere and Troy Hudson, will this team have a repeat season similar to last season?”   If they do, it will be most entertaining to watch.

Player to watch this season : with J-Rich now in Charlotte, it is now officially the Mickael Pietrus show at the 2-guard.   How he responds to the elevated level of responsibility and playing time will remain to be seen.


Los Angeles Clippers

Head coach : Mike Dunleavy is in his fifth season as head coach of the Clippers and his fifteenth season as a head coach in the NBA.

Last year’s record : 40-42, which was good enough for fourth place in the Pacific Division, but not good enough for a playoff berth.

MVP Candidate : with Elton Brand on the shelf for the better part of the season until the All-Star Break, it will be up to Sam Cassell to right this sinking ship and fast.

Here’s the lowdown : I know I had to eat crow just now about saying this last year about the Warriors, but I’ll say it about the Clippers anyway…what’s a more polite way of saying “You’re screwed”?   And it all starts with the big man in the low post, Elton Brand, who will have to miss the first four months of the season due to a devastating ruptured Achilles’ tendon in his left leg.   As Dominique Wilkins and Isiah Thomas will reluctantly tell you, a ruptured Achilles’ tendon is not necessarily a career-killer, but if you were to suffer one, you’re never the same again.   Knowing that they had to get somebody, anybody, to replace Brand, the Clippers went for free agent power forward Ruben “The Nanny-Stopper” Patterson.   Memo to all nannies in the Los Angeles/Orange County area: do not answer the phone for this guy.   Let it go straight to voicemail.   He’s a registered sex offender…nuff said.   And while the Clippers did lose Jason Hart and Daniel Ewing, they did acquire Brevin Knight and Gonzaga grad Dan Dickau.   And it’s a good thing the Clippers did that, because the more mileage early on that Sam Cassell has to go, the more worn down and beaten down he becomes in March and April, when they really need his services.   And it’s a good thing the Clippers drafted Al Thornton from Florida State with the fourteenth overall pick in the draft, because with his size, he too can go down in the low post; something the Clippers will need from him during the first half of the season.

Player to watch this season : with Brand injured for the better part of the season, there will be more pressure on Chris Kaman to perform.   If he continues his success, the Clippers might have a chance this season to hang in there until the big guy comes back; if not, they may not stand a chance at all this season.


Los Angeles Lakers

Head coach : recent Hall-of-Fame inductee Phil Jackson is in his eighth season as head coach of the Lakers and his seventeenth season as a head coach in the NBA.   Oh, and he has nine championship rings, too.

Last year’s record : 42-40, which was good enough for a tie for second place in the Pacific Division and the 7th seed in the Western Conference Playoffs.   The Lakers’ postseason was pretty much a repeat performance from 2005-06, as they lost in the first round to the Phoenix Suns 4-1.

MVP Candidate : although he may or may not want to admit it, the MVP for the Lakers is still, until further notice, Kobe Bryant.   Need I say more?

Here’s the lowdown : the Lakers head into this season a team under turmoil.   The offseason was plagued by failed trade attempts for Kevin Garnett, Jermaine O’Neal, and Jason Kidd, among others; questions about the center position, as it is still being held hostage by Kwame Brown, Andrew Bynum, and Chris Mihm; and, of course, the soap opera that was “Kobe’s General Inhospitality”, where Kobe Bryant repeatedly stated how dissatisfied he is with the organization as a whole and wants out.   And somewhere amidst all of this, the Lakers were still able to have a halfway-decent offseason.   They drafted Javaris Crittenton from Georgia Tech with the nineteenth overall pick in the draft, along with Marc “I’m Pau’s Little Brother” Gasol in the second round, sign undrafted rookie Coby “I’m George’s Son” Karl, and bring back a familiar face from the glory days of old: point guard Derek Fisher.   Another plus is, unlike the Allan Houston project in New York, Derek Fisher returning to Los Angeles is a good play for Mitch Kupchick because, as evidenced in the playoffs last season while he was with the Jazz, Fisher still has the ability to shoot lights-out from downtown and single-handedly win close basketball games.   Will all of this make Kobe happy in the long run?   Only if the Lakers advance past the first round of the playoffs, something they haven’t done since 2004, with the supposed “Dream Team” of Shaq, Kobe, Karl Malone, and Gary Payton.

Player to watch this season : it will be very interesting to see if Ronny Turiaf has yet to fully recover from his open-heart surgery.   Believe me, if this guy is even half as good as I think he can be his services will be much needed in the front court.


Phoenix Suns

Head coach : Mike D’Antoni is in his fifth season as head coach of the Suns and his sixth season as a head coach in the NBA.

Last year’s record : 61-21, which was good enough to earn this team the Pacific Division crown and the 2nd seed in the Western Conference Playoffs.   They would easily dispose of the Los Angeles Lakers in the first round 4-1, but would fall in controversial fashion to the San Antonio Spurs 4-2.

MVP Candidate : it’s still Steve Nash’s team no matter how you package it.   He’s a former two-time NBA MVP and the heart and soul of the Suns’ offense.

Here’s the lowdown : Suns fans were getting pumped up last season during the playoffs because of the Suns’ chances of getting over the hump and finally delivering a championship to the desert…until one controversial moment changed everything.   I’m sure the last two words Suns fans want to hear or read right now are Robert Horry, so I’ll leave it at that.   This season will be a major test for this team.   Already, obstacles are being thrown in their way.   There were the trade rumors regarding Shawn Marion, Jalen Rose retiring, Kurt Thomas leaving to go to Seattle, and Nash not getting any younger.   The team did try to replace the missing parts by signing Brian Skinner and former Detroit and Orlando forward Grant Hill.   Hill is looking for one final push to a championship ring.   Suns fans are hoping he made the right decision.

Player to watch this season : although it’s Steve Nash’s team, Leandro Barbosa will need to provide quality minutes as the backup point guard for this team to repeat last year’s success.


Sacramento Kings

Head coach : Reggie Theus is in his first season as head coach of the Kings.   He has no prior coaching experience, head coach or otherwise, in the NBA.

Last year’s record : 33-49, which earned this team fifth and last place in the Pacific Division and, obviously, a trip to the lottery.

MVP Candidate : say what you want about his behavior patterns, but when he’s focused and healthy, Ron Artest is the best defensive player on this team, and perhaps one of the top three defensive players in the league.

Here’s the lowdown : if there’s one team in the Pacific Division that’s screwed worse than the Clippers, it’s the Sacramento Kings.   First, their roster is still recovering from losing both Chris Webber and Peja Stojakovic.   Yes, Mike Bibby has been nails as the point guard, Ron Artest is the outright defensive MVP of the Kings, and Brad Miller has put in some quality minutes as the center.   However, beyond that, there’s not much to this team, aside from Kevin Martin.   And while the Kings drafted another center with the tenth overall pick (Spencer Hawes from Washington), that just shows how little faith the Maloof Brothers have in Brad Miller.   And in years past, at least Mike Bibby had Bobby Jackson to back him up.   He doesn’t even have that anymore.   Ronnie Price and Corliss Williamson are gone, and you replace them with Mikki Moore and Orien Greene?   Good luck with that.   Then, you have the head coach; an unproven college coach in Reggie Theus.   Granted, he does know how the NBA player works, since he played in the association for a decent number of years.   But, he’s still a college coach trying to make a name for himself as an NBA head coach.   Go ask John Calipari, Rick Pitino, Jerry Tarkanian, or even Tim Floyd how well college coaches translate into NBA head coaches.

Player to watch this season : wait a minute…there’s a player on the preseason roster from Arizona named Mustafa Shakur?   Who’s that, Tupac’s brother?   Anyway…Mike Bibby is the guy to really keep an eye on here.   He also went to Arizona, much like Mustafa Shakur.


Overall, here’s a look at where I think each team will rank at the end of the season:


1.) Phoenix Suns: with the Warriors still learning to gel and the two L.A. teams in so much turmoil that leaves the reigning division champs by process of elimination.

2.) Golden State Warriors: the only place a team full of gritty guys like this one can go is up.   They could be the team nobody wants to face come playoff time…certainly not Dallas.

3.) Los Angeles Lakers: the Kobe soap opera will prove to be more than the rest of the team can handle, prompting Jerry Buss to look into moving him on draft day.

4.) Los Angeles Clippers: the injury to Elton Brand will prove to be far too much for the Clips to overcome.   What’s worse is Sam Cassell is gone after this season.   Hope you enjoyed your short stay near the top of the division, Billy Crystal.

5.) Sacramento Kings: welcome back to the cellar of the Pacific Division, Kings fans.   Hope you enjoy your stay, because it looks to be a long one.


That’s a look at the Pacific Division.   Tomorrow, perhaps the weakest division in all of basketball, the Northwest Division, will be my target.


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