Golden State Warriors:
Steve Kerr – The biggest change for the Warriors this season is on the bench. Kerr won’t be hitting crucial jump shots deep into a championship run like he did with the Chicago Bulls and San Antonio Spurs during his playing days. Instead, he’ll get his first chance to coach at a professional level, replacing the departed Mark Jackson. While Jackson’s emphasis was on the defensive end, the Warriors hope Kerr brings a greater balance between offense and defense. Kerr comes in having played for Phil Jackson and Gregg Popovich, the top two coaches of the last 20 years. It’s an important year for Golden State, after two straight playoff appearances. The team is looking to do more than just qualify or win a series – this is a franchise hoping to be a contender in the Western Conference.
Shaun Livingston – The Warriors struggled last season to find a replacement for backup point guard Jarrett Jack, who was a vital part of the team’s 2012-13 playoff run. None of Toney Douglas, Jordan Crawford and Steve Blake were able to make a big enough impact. The team signed Livingston to a three-year, $16.6 million contract this summer after a strong season in Brooklyn with the Nets. Livingston is currently sidelined with a toe injury, but when healthy, he may be an interesting fit playing alongside Curry. Livingston is a strong defender at multiple positions, which can help offset his All-Star teammate’s most glaring deficiency.
Los Angeles Clippers:
Spencer Hawes – The Clippers struggled most of last season to find frontcourt players who could successfully spell Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. By and large, the team was less effective when either sat. After moving both Byron Mullens and Antawn Jamison, the Clippers did the best they could with Glen Davis, Hedo Turkoglu and Ryan Hollins. While both Davis and Turkoglu are back, the Clippers have a true seven-footer in Hawes, who can shoot, pass and rebound. Coach Doc Rivers said he expects to play Hawes in rotation with either Griffin or Jordan, at either power forward or center. The Clippers needed depth up front, and they got it in Hawes.
Jordan Farmar – In getting Hawes, the team didn’t have the resources to re-sign point guard Darren Collison — who left to join the Sacramento Kings. The Clippers struck a deal with another UCLA product and two-time NBA champion (with the Lakers) in Farmar. Collison might be a feistier defender but Farmar is the better outside shooter. The Clippers need a strong year out of Farmar, who struggled to stay healthy last year with hamstring issues.
Los Angeles Lakers:
Julius Randle – After their worst season since moving to Los Angeles (27-55), the Lakers landed the lefty Randle with the seventh overall pick in the 2014 NBA Draft. Randle comes into the NBA-level strength, along with a surprisingly good handle that wasn’t often on display at Kentucky. The Lakers need Randle to grow into a franchise-level player. Kobe Bryant may make a spectacular return from injury (Achilles tendon and knee), but ultimately he’s in the last few years of his career. Coach Byron Scott will initially play Randle off the bench a he learns the NBA game. Eventually, even if it’s not this season, Randle needs to own the power forward position for the Lakers over the next five to 10 years.
Carlos Boozer – While Randle grows into his game, the Lakers will rely on the veteran Boozer to start at the four. Boozer isn’t the All-Star he was a handful of years ago, but he’s a capable scorer, rebounder and playmaker. Defense may not be Boozer’s strongest suit, but he’s adequate — and right now that will have to do for the Lakers as they restructure.
Jeremy Lin – As long as 40-year old Steve Nash is healthy, Lin will serve as the floor leader for the Lakers’ second unit. Lin, acquired in a trade from the Houston Rockets, is capable of major scoring jags. If he can keep his assists up and turnovers down, he’ll help the Lakers this season. Of course, Nash hasn’t been able to stay on the court through most of his two seasons with the Lakers. An injury could bump Lin to the starting lineup, alongside Bryant.
Ed Davis – Davis is an under-the-radar minimum signing for the Lakers. While his true position is power forward, the team may need him most as a backup center who can defend, block shots and use his athleticism to score on the pick and roll. Davis has struggled with consistency over his career, but playing behind Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol in Memphis, with the Grizzlies, didn’t exactly give Davis a lot of time to develop on the court. Consider Davis the Lakers’ wild card this season — a break out year could help push the Lakers above the .500 mark.
Isaiah Thomas – The Suns spent most of the summer unsure if Eric Bledsoe would return. Now that Bledsoe has re-signed, the Suns are just loaded in the backcourt. Last season Thomas was an elite scorer, but he’ll need to settle into a bench role with the Suns. While he’s not much of a defensive force, Thomas can be extremely difficult to guard. The Suns love their playmakers and Thomas should flourish in Phoenix – but fantasy basketball aficionados should note his individual production is going to drop off from what he was able to achieve as a primary scorer with the Sacramento Kings.
Zoran Dragic – It’s unclear how much of a role Dragic will play with the Suns this season, given how packed the team’s backcourt is. That said, Dragic just being with the organization may make the difference when brother Goran Dragic hits free agency next summer. Just as the Morris twins (Markieff and Morris) treasure playing together –Zoran and Goran may be together for some time in Phoenix as well.
Darren Collison – The Kings wanted more of a pass-first point guard, letting Isaiah Thomas go in a sign and trade with the Suns. Collison isn’t Chris Paul, but he’ll look to get others involved before looking for his shot and is a solid defender. The Clippers weren’t thrilled that they lost Collison in free agency. The Kings offense should flow more naturally to players like DeMarcus Cousins and Rudy Gay with Collison at the point.
Ramon Sessions – Sessions is one of the NBA’s top backup point guards. While he’s not as strong a defender as Collison, Sessions can rack up assists in little time. The seven-year veteran has averaged 4.7 assists a through 25.8 minutes a game. Sessions has struggled to hit the three-point shot for most of his career, but has some strong seasons well above the 40.0 percent range — and some as low as 6.7 to 20.0 percent.
Nik Stauskas – The Kings added Michigan shooting guard with the eight overall pick in the 2014 NBA Draft. Stauskas is a tremendous shooter and while he’s not a point guard, he has enough of a basketball IQ and handle to run the pick-and-roll. Even as a rookie, Stauskas may step right into the Kings’ starting lineup. He needs to prove he can defend at the NBA level, but if he can hold his own, Stauskas may very quickly prove to be an important acquisition by the Kings.
Make sure to check back as the series continues throughout the next week with a look at the Atlanta and Southwest Divisions!
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