Attention Lakers fans: Andrew Wiggins’ first game for Kansas is Oct. 29 against Pittsburg State. A couple weeks later, he goes up against Mike Krzyzewski and Duke at the Champions Classic in Chicago.
He could be all yours, Lakers Nation, if the ping-pong balls drop correctly. And pick your own theory about which superstar free agent is going to come running to play alongside him and Kobe Bryant. We have heard all the speculation – everyone from LeBron James (ain’t happening) to Carmelo Anthony (“I’m not going nowhere.”).
As Mark Heisler pointed out in his most recent column, the LeBron talk is Lakers’ management’s way of selling false hopes for the future. You know what this season is about? Two things: Clearing every salary except Steve Nash’s off the cap to get under the luxury repeater tax that would otherwise take effect in 2014-15, and trading Pau Gasol to someone is willing to pony up a package of young players, picks and Eurostash assets. The guess here is it will be Chicago, which has in its trade arsenal Taj Gibson, the rights to Nikola Mirotic and the rights to a future No. 1 pick of the Bobcats.
In the meantime, the Clippers will own El Lay even more than they did before. They will surprise nobody if they flame out in the playoffs against a clearly superior team, as they did the past two postseasons.
But will the Clippers own the division? The thought here is no.
When all is said and done, the Golden State Warriors will be atop the Pacific looking down at their pursuers. Are they championship material? With Andre Iguodala aboard, maybe. With Andrew Bogut 100 percent healthy (OK, stop laughing), maybe even more so. With Harrison Barnes thriving in a sixth man role, something he has never done at any level? That could be the biggest factor of them all. (OK, pardon the mistake. Steph Curry’s ankles are always the primary make-or-break factor).
But we are on the ‘Dubs bandwagon, and we will cure insomnia throughout the winter months by turning on Kings and Suns games. Those will be the West Coast cure for the Sixers, who can make you nod off by 7:26 p.m. ET.
Ladies and gentlemen, the previews:
LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS
By Steve Perrin
The Clippers had the third most efficient offense in the NBA last season despite its utter predictability and average 3-point shooting. It is all but certain that offseason changes will improve an already very good offense that will now rival the Heat and Thunder for the league’s best.
The real question is whether Doc Rivers can have success with his strong side defensive pressure schemes with a team of mostly below average individual defenders. But there are tools with which to work.
Perimeter players Chris Paul, J.J. Redick and Jared Dudley all have physical limitations on the defensive end, but have basketball IQs off the charts; they won’t be beaten because they blew an assignment or missed a rotation. Meanwhile, Rivers seems sincerely enthused about the possibility of turning Griffin and Jordan into an interior defensive force with their combination of quickness, activity and motor.
The Clippers will score, but whether they stop foes from scoring will ultimately determine how good they can be.
GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS
By Jim Park
When the Golden State Warriors made it to the 2013 NBA playoffs for the first time in six years – and just the second time in 19 dreadful years – it appeared the team was finally headed in the right direction. From ownership, management, coaching and the talent level, you could sense that what the Warriors were building was legitimate and lasting. This was going to be more than just another short-lived “We Believe” season.
The Warriors continued in that direction in the offseason by surprisingly making a real run at Dwight Howard. It never came to fruition, but think about that for a second: Dwight Howard actually considered Golden State as a desirable location. In the last two decades, no superstar has ever considered the idea of settling down with the Warriors, and the ones already on the team with the potential to be superstars all wanted to leave.
So how did the Warriors build this suddenly respectable reputation and become a desirable destination for superstars and veterans? A lot of it has to do with what happened in the playoffs, and partly due to the charisma of coach Mark Jackson.
LOS ANGELES LAKERS
By Daniel Buerge
After a season in which they struggled to simply reach the playoffs, things might be even more frustrating for the Lakers in 2014. So before we dive into the upcoming season, a quick look at all the turmoil from a season ago should help make the picture a little clearer.
In 2012-13 the Lakers had some issues. They fired a coach, had half their team miss serious time due to injuries, saw their longtime owner pass away and ultimately got swept in four blowout games against the eventual Western Conference champions in the first round.
Then, to top it all off, they lost their future cornerstone, Dwight Howard, to the Houston Rockets. Needless to say, it wasn’t a very good season.
Now things are even more uncertain. Will the Lakers even manage to reach the seventh or eighth seed this time around without Howard and with a recovering Kobe Bryant (torn Achilles)? Will Mike D’Antoni manage to stick around for the entire season? Will they actually be able to win a game against the Clippers?
By Tony Xypteras
An organization that was once led by the Maloof family, Geoff Petrie and Keith Smart is now in the hands of Vivek Ranadive, GM Pete D’Alessandro, and coach Mike Malone. Thus far, I would say the new regime is off to a somewhat shaky start with plenty of time to improve.
I am lukewarm on the Carl Landry signing. I thought bringing in Luc Richard Mbah a Moute was a nice move. Taking control of the Reno Bighorns was an exciting development. Then there was the strange offer to Andre Iguodala that they reportedly pulled off the table about 24 hours later. I’m sure they would agree that situation could have been handled better.
The one move that really could come back to bite the Kings was allowing Tyreke Evans to leave via restricted free agency to the New Orleans Pelicans. I don’t think we have seen the best Evans has to offer, and I blame the old front office and coaching staff for that. Evans had a sneaky good 2012-13 season, shooting a career-high 47.8 percent on a career-low 11.8 shots per game. He was being more selective. He made real progress as a jump shooter. He was finally improving as a player.
By Dave King
The upcoming season is an evaluation campaign for the Phoenix Suns in every respect. They will introduce a new offense designed by former Sun Jeff Hornacek, a new defense spearheaded by Mike Longabardi and at least six new rotation players acquired via the draft and trades by new general manager Ryan McDonough.
With the recent trade of Caron Butler – who never played a game for the team – the Suns have only one player in his 30s: Channing Frye, who is all of 30 and trying to return from a heart ailment.
The only bit of continuity is the vaunted training staff, whose job continues to focus on injury prevention, and the relatively low talent level.
Coming off the second-worst season in franchise history, the rebuilding Suns are projected to be the worst team in the Western Conference. Again.