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2013 Division Previews: Pacific is contenders and tankers

Clippers and Warriors should contend to lead the Western Conference while the rest of the division looks to the lottery.

Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Los Angeles Clippers

Key moves: Resigned Chris Paul for 5 years at $107 million, Matt Barnes for 3 years at $10 million, signed Darren Collison for 2 years at $4 million with a third year player option, traded Eric Bledsoe and Caron Butler for Jared Dudley and J.J. Redick (via sign and trade with $27 million for 4 years), drafted Reggie Bullock.
Projected lineup: Chris Paul, Redick, Dudley, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan
Key reserves: Collison, Crawford, Barnes, Willie Green, Bullock

The Clippers are weird.

No mistake, they went out and won 56 games then managed to get better this offseason. They brought back Matt Barnes for a reasonable deal, added super-efficient wings Redick, Dudley, and Collison while also replacing Vinny Del Negro with Doc Rivers. Most importantly, they convinced Chris Paul to stick around.

With so much weaponry around Paul, this could be the season that he finally breaks through to win his first MVP after a handful of top-5 finishes. With nearly every player on their roster capable of scoring with 55% true shooting, the Clippers will be nearly impossible to defend - watching Paul facilitate an offense like that should be a hell of a lot of fun.

But how about addressing the reason they've been knocked out of the playoffs the past two years?

While continuing to improve their fantastic depth on the wings, they once again neglected to add depth or toughness to their frontcourt. Their only big man depth come from minimum contracts with Antwan Jamison, Byron Mullens, Ryan Hollins, all offense-first players who offer little help defensively or on the boards.

The team certainly recalls Memphis running away with four straight wins on a beat up Blake Griffin. With so many moves to address an already loaded backcourt, why completely neglect the post? Plenty of big men moved around this offseason who could have provided some legitimate depth, insurance in case of injury, and toughness - and they wouldn't have cost much. Or instead of adding Bullock in the draft, who they have little playing time to offer, Rudy Gobert, Tony Mitchell, and Jeff Withey each would have been much better fits and had previously been discussed as lottery-level talents.

The Clippers should once again contend for the top spot in the Western Conference. But unless they shore up their weak interior as the season progresses, they'll once again have a hard time running the gauntlet through the playoffs.

Golden State Warriors
Key moves: Signed Andre Iguodala for 4 years at $48 million, Marreese Speights for 3 years at $11 million, Jermaine O'Neal for 1 year at $2 million, and Toney Douglas for 1 year at $1.6 million.
Projected lineup: Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala, David Lee, Andrew Bogut
Key reserves: Harrison Barnes, Toney Douglas, Festus Ezeli, Marreese Speights, Nemanja Nedovic, Jermaine O'Neal

Stephen Curry was really freaking good last year. Without a whole lot from his supporting cast, he carried the Warriors from the equivalent to a 28 win season (adjusted for the lockout) to a 47 win season. It seemed like he was talked about quite a bit, but revisiting his numbers last year indicate just how incredible of a performance it was - he may have been underrated, finishing 11th in MVP voting.

He managed to lead the league in three pointers by a huge margin (272 to Ryan Anderson's 213) while also finishing third in percentage. In addition to his 7.7 three point attempts per game, he also took 4.8 shots from 16-23 feet. That means out of the 17.8 shots per game from last season, 12.5 were from beyond 16 feet. And he shot 45% from the field. One other nifty number - he went from around 75% of his three pointers being assisted in his first three seasons to 53% being assisted without a change in the percentage. Really, Stephen Curry's great. By the time he's done, he may very well be the best shooter in the history of the game. Out of all players who have shot more than 1,000 three pointers, Curry is second in career percentage behind Steve Kerr. Still, I'm not calling him Steph. That's weird.

Klay Thompson also took a nice step forward, keeping his per minute numbers relatively intact even with a big jump in minutes. Harrison Barnes was certainly overrated in the regular season, winding up first team All-Rookie while Andre Drummond was regulated to the second team. But he was legitimately fantastic in the playoffs, putting up 16 points and 6 rebounds.

The playoffs tantalized with just how good the team could be with a healthy Bogut. They send the third seeded Nuggets home in the first round before giving the Spurs all they wanted. Coming off the run, they let mid-tier free agents Jarrett Jack and Carl Landry walk then made a major three team trade that brought Iguodala in with a sign and trade. Golden State also sent Utah two first round picks as a thank you for facilitating the deal and taking on about $24 million in expiring contracts. Iggy was an all-in move.

Bogut and Lee are supposed to be back to health, providing strong post presences on either end of the court. The Warriors also made some nice under-the-radar signings with a nice combo guard in Douglas, another strong scorer in Speights, and O'Neal, who showed signs of life in Phoenix last year. Of course, there's plenty to point at and be skeptical - but also plenty of reason for hope in Oakland.

Their floor is essentially where they were last year, a low seed in the Western Conference - which isn't something to sneeze at. But their ceiling? Well, if things go right they could be looking at a win total in the upper 50s and contending toward the top of the conference.

Los Angeles Lakers
Key moves: Amnestied Ron Artest, signed Jordan Farmar, Wes Johnson, Chris Kaman
Projected lineup: Steve Nash, ___, ___, Pau Gasol, ___
Key reserves: Steve Blake, Jordan Farmar, Jodie Meeks, Nick Young, Jordan Hill, Chris Kaman, and Wes Johnson
With Kobe Bryant down on a bum Achilles, the Lakers are punting for 2014's touted draft and free agency. With only Nash as the only player signed on for next year at more than a minimum contract, the Lakers will have well over $40 million to play with next year - and that's if LA doesn't move Nash first.

The reloading effort is well-timed after alternate attempts to transition the franchise past Kobe have failed, first with the physically fragile Andrew Bynum and then with egotistically fragile Dwight Howard. There are free agent options at every position who would jump at the chance to join the storied franchise. They can take a swing at stars like LeBron James or Carmelo Anthony while still also taking a shot at a superstar through the draft. But in the meantime, the 2013-14 season will be ugly.

Nash and Gasol are shells of their former selves at this point, and their colleagues certainly don't fit well with their abilities - when your best skill is as a passer and there's no one on your team worth passing to...

Jordan Hill has emerged as a reasonably solid big man, the type who will usually have a job in the league. And Steve Blake has solidified himself as a reasonably reliable three point specialist point guard. But outside of these guys, there's no one else that really belongs in the NBA. The Lakers should be strong contenders in the Andrew Wiggins sweepstakes and could put up a strong challenge for the worst record in franchise history - their contenders are the 1957-58 Minneapolis team that went 19-53.

In 1947 Ben Berger and Morris Chalfen bought the Detroit Gems and brought the team back to life as the Minneapolis Lakers. Since then, the franchise has missed the playoffs only five times. Enjoy the chance to watch this team stink while you can. Chances are it won't last long.

Sacramento Kings
Key moves: Signed Carl Landry for $26 million, traded for a future second round pick for Luc Mbah a Moute, traded Tyreke Evans in a sign and trade for Greivis Vasquez, drafted Ben McLemore and Ray McCallum.
Projected lineup: Vasquez, McLemore, Patrick Patterson, Landry, DeMarcus Cousins
Key reserves: Marcus Thornton, John Salmons, Chuck Hayes, Jason Thompson, Mbah a Moute, Isaiah Thomas

The Kings made several nice moves over the offseason. The biggest was a statement: DeMarcus Cousins will be the face of the franchise.

Former Rookie of the Year Tyreke Evans departed via a sign and trade with seemingly little effort by the Kings to keep him around, while investing in excess of $60 million to Cousins - an interesting start for the franchise's new owner Vivek Ranadive.

The team did a nice job during the offseason building on its rather impressive young core and filling the roster with efficient players who should serve as nice complements to Cousins. Some considered McLemore the best player in the draft, making his fall to the seventh pick with his shooting and athleticism an excellent bargain for the Kings. They also were able to collect some value out of Evans, taking advantage of the Pelicans' trade for Jrue Holiday that left Greivis Vasquez expendable despite leading the league in assists last year.

There's a strong collection of depth as well, led by youngsters Patterson and Thomas. Both head into contract years this year, looking to establish their role as part of the future of the team. The Landry and Mbah a Moute further strengthened the depth.

But despite the nice parts, there's just not enough talent on the team to make a serious run at ending its seven-year playoff drought. Unless Cousins makes some big strides, even surpassing last year's 28 win total may be a challenge.

Phoenix Suns
Key moves: Traded Jared Dudley and a second round pick for Caron Butler and Eric Bledsoe, Luis Scola for Gerald Green, Miles Plumlee, and a future first round pick, drafted Alex Len and Archie Goodwin, waived Michael Beasley
Projected lineup: Goran Dragic, Bledsoe, Butler, ___, Marcin Gortat
Key reserves: Goodwin, Len, Plumlee, Kendall Marshall

The Suns look to be one of several teams more focused on competing for the 2014 draft lottery than the playoffs. They've filled their roster with a collection of interesting young players...although, most look like they're not particularly good.

Their prize acquisition was Bledsoe, a key offseason target for a number of teams. That being the case, escaping for the cost of only Dudley and absorbing Butler's salary so that the Clippers could sign J.J. Redick was quite a reasonable value.

But he looks like fool's gold. His 40% three point shooting was an increase from 26% over his first two seasons, and his 51% true shooting was still below the league average. He's also been extremely turnover prone over his first three seasons, averaging 3.5 per 36 for his career which has been good for 1.56 assist/turnover. He was an excellent defensive playmaker though, finishing third in the league in steal percentage and the best block percentage among guards.

It's a recurring theme among Phoenix's other young players - some decent traits, but overall ineffective. Alex Len put up decent big man numbers, but looks like a stiff with all the makings of a lottery bust. Marshall's passing ability translated to the pros as a rookie, but lousy shooting diminished his prospect status. Goodwin is very young and athetlic, but unfortunately he's not actually good at a single thing on the court. The Morris twins do a little bit of a lot, but nothing very well. Miles Plumlee has remarkable athleticism for his size and could be a great energy big, but is a liability on the offensive end.

Marcin Gortat regressed some last year, but Goran Dragic is a solid point guard. But they won't matter much this year. This season for the Suns will be about 1) losing for next year's lottery 2) a few young players proving to be pieces for the future.