1. Phoenix Suns (*Playoff Team)
Key Additions: Grant Hill (Magic)
Key Losses: Kurt Thomas (Sonics), James Jones (Blazers)
Thoughts: The Suns added a terrific piece to the puzzle this offseason with the signing of Grant Hill. He’s exactly the type of team-first player that thrives in Phoenix. A starting five of Nash, Amare, Marion, Hill and Raja Bell is probably the best of any team in the NBA. With Sixth Man of the Year Leandro Barbosa coming off the bench, its the best rotation in basketball. The depth behind those guys took a hit with the loss of Jones and Thomas but it should still be sufficient. Boris Diaw can fill in anywhere and when it gets to the playoffs, its likely that only those seven and Jalen Rose will play. Mike D’Antoni is as good a coach as you’ll find in the game so there are no worries in Phoenix about the playoffs this year.
2. Sacramento Kings (*Playoff Team)
Key Additions: Mikki Moore (Nets), Spencer Hawes (Draft)
Key Losses: Ronnie Price (Jazz)
Thoughts: This is another prediction that I’m probably alone on. Every other place I have looked has the Warriors in this position after their stunning postseason run last year. I just can’t see that team staying completely healthy and motivated this year. The Kings however have all the pieces to make a run to the playoffs, they just have to get them on the same page. I don’t really like Reggie Theus as a coach but thats okay because there are a lot of veterans on this team who are yearning to win again. Kevin Martin has been a revelation at SG and might be their MVP. Ron Artest is a head case but the most talented head case in the NBA. I think Brad Miller and Shareef Abdur-Rahim will have bounce back years. Mike Bibby is the engine that makes everything click however. He needs to distribute the ball and then take over games at the end, like he did in all of the Kings playoff runs. This team is going to do some things and take advantage of the weaknesses in this division.
3. Golden State Warriors
Key Additions: Austin Croshere (Mavs), Brandon Wright (Draft)
Key Losses: Sarunas Jascevicious (Overseas), Josh Powell (Clippers), Jason Richardson (Bobcats)
Thoughts: Last year, absolutely everything went right for the Warriors. They played better than they actually were. Baron Davis is a big reason for that but he’s never shown the ability to stay healthy and I don’t think he will this year. Monta Ellis will probably take a step back also, whereas Andris Biedrins is going to be focused on by other teams for his defensive deficiencies. Stephen Jackson and Al Harrington need to stay out of trouble to be effective and with Jackson already suspended for the first 7 games of the year, thats another possible problem. All of these factors combined make it difficult for me to expect that the Warriors will repeat last year’s success.
4. Los Angeles Lakers
Key Additions: Derek Fisher (Jazz), Javaris Crittenton (Draft)
Key Losses: Smush Parker (Heat)
Thoughts: The Lakers are an absolute mess. Kobe wants out. Odom can’t stay healthy. Andrew Bynum is years away from being a difference maker. Derek Fisher is only in LA because of his daughter’s health problems and his head will likely be in other places. Luke Walton is horrifically slow for a SF. And to top it all off, there is minimal depth. I think the Lakers will be lucky to win 35 games this year. They will not be in the playoffs.
5. Los Angeles Clippers
Key Additions: Josh Powell (Mavs), Brevin Knight (Bobcats), Ruben Patterson (Nuggets), Al Thornton (Draft)
Key Losses: Jason Hart (Jazz)
Thoughts: The Clippers look better on paper than last year but they will be playing without Shaun Livingston and Elton Brand for the majority of the year. With that news, they don’t even have a chance. Sam Cassell is a shadow of the player he used to be. I love the Brevin Knight addition for this year but he’s another PG without much of a future. Corey Maggette, Cuttino Mobley and Quentin Ross form a decent trio on the wing. Inside the Clips are an absolute mess without Elton Brand. Chris Kaman took a huge step back last year and Tim Thomas is going to start at PF. Tim Thomas is not an NBA starter at SF, let alone PF. Between both LA teams this year, 100 losses isn’t only possible, its probable.