Following the final minute of this year’s NBA Finals, the league underwent a serious landscape change. Nearly every notable free agent, and marquee player on the trading block — sans Gordon Hayward — wound up relocating to a home based in the Western Conference.
As a result, the conference that was already widely regarded as a more difficult road to the game’s biggest stage subsequently became more difficult. However, despite the added depth to the team’s littered throughout the West, everyone is still left looking up at the Golden State Warriors.
Even in the vastly different — and improved in most cases — Pacific Division, all teams not located in Oakland, Ca., will ultimately be left fighting among themselves for second place. So, after diving into the Atlantic and Southeast divisions at Basketball Insiders, it’s time to take a look into the reigning champs’ division for the upcoming 2017-18 season (last season’s record next to team name).
Golden State Warriors — 67-15
Even after walking away with the NBA’s most coveted hardware at season’s end, the Warriors actually took a step back in the win column from their record setting 73-win season in 2015-16, despite adding Kevin Durant into the mix. But considering how history played out, the guys in the Bay Area probably didn’t mind trading off a few regular season wins for a ring.
After winning their second championship in three years, all Golden State has done this offseason is improve. The Warriors were able to retain the core of their group, with Durant agreeing to take less than market value on his contract, and even went ahead and added some depth help by signing guys like Omri Casspi and Nick Young (yes, Swaggy P really is a Warrior).
For the foreseeable future, Golden State has a stranglehold on the Pacific Division and the entire NBA for that matter. Don’t expect that to change next season.
Projected Wins: 65-70
Los Angeles Clippers — 51-31
The days of Lob City may not be over completely, but they’re certainly modified going into next season.
After trading franchise point guard Chris Paul to the Houston Rockets in a package centered around Patrick Beverley and Lou Williams, the Clippers retooled their roster to ensure that they wouldn’t be one of the teams missing the playoffs next season in the loaded Western Conference.
After re-signing Blake Griffin to a max deal, the Clippers allowed J.J. Redick to find a new home in Philadelphia and then used Jamal Crawford in a three-team sign-and-trade deal to land themselves Danilo Gallinari.
The Clippers then went ahead and inked arguably the best point guard in the world who wasn’t playing in the NBA, Milos Teodosic, to a two-year deal. Teodosic has long been coveted by NBA clubs for his uncanny passing ability, and Los Angeles needed to fill the void left by Paul best they could.
While the Clippers definitely have a new look to them, the team did a nice job of replacing talent lost in a manner that shouldn’t drop them out of playoff contention. However, winning 50 games in their conference may be a bit of a stretch, and a sign that all of the newcomers gelled from the jump.
Projected wins: 45-50
Sacramento Kings — 32-50
The franchise that has quietly had one of the best offseasons in the entire NBA is the team that is usually the butt of everyone’s jokes. The Kings have put together a nice couple of months since the end of last season, and for the first time in a long time have a bright future.
After drafting point guard De’Aaron Fox fifth overall in June’s draft, the Kings made savvy selections at picks No. 15 and 20 to take Justin Jackson and Harry Giles, respectively. The Kings also grabbed college star Frank Mason in the second round, adding to their group of young players with promise.
Along with this year’s draft class, the Kings also have Buddy Hield, Skal Labissière, and Willie Cauley-Stein in the fold. At a quick glance, Sacramento has five or six players 23 years old or younger with legitimate skill.
What the Kings did, however, to really win their offseason was use their abundance of cap space to sign veterans that are not only going to help Sacramento win games next season, but help shape their handful of malleable, young players. Enter George Hill, Zach Randolph, and Vince Carter to the California franchise with the worst reputation for the last decade.
By adding those players, Kings management sent a message that they’re taking the necessary precautions with their young guys to ensure the best possible environment for growth and success.
While all the additions are well and good for Sacramento, the West is just too deep next year, and will likely leave the Kings on the outside looking in of the playoff picture.
Projected Wins: 37-42
Los Angeles Lakers — 26-56
The Lakers are back. Just ask new president of basketball operations, Magic Johnson.
The Purple and Gold regained identity this summer when they used the No. 2 overall pick in the draft on Lonzo Ball, officially completing the next phase of LaVar Ball’s prophecy. But success this summer didn’t stop there for the Lakers. Later in the first round, Los Angeles selected Kyle Kuzma with the 27th pick and Josh Hart with the 30th pick.
All of these young additions led the Lakers to a championship… in the Las Vegas Summer League. But hey, the rebuild has to start somewhere, right?
Along with their trio of 2017 first round picks, Los Angeles got a 26-point performance from last year’s second overall pick Brandon Ingram to kick things off in Vegas. Unfortunately, he cramped up at the end of the game and Johnson shut him down for the remainder of the summer session. But that showing alone was enough to suggest that Ingram could be in line for a big jump in production heading into his sophomore year.
Los Angeles didn’t stop at just adding players organically, though. After the Detroit Pistons traded for Avery Bradley, they renounced their rights to Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, making him an unrestricted free agent. KCP’s agent, Rich Paul, reached out to Lakers’ new general manager Rob Pelinka (a former agent in his own right) about a potential Caldwell-Pope-LA marriage. The two sides reached an agreement on a one-year deal, giving the Lakers an unexpected splash signing this summer.
After shipping D’Angelo Russell off to Brooklyn in exchange for Brook Lopez, the core of young players in the fold have the approval of Johnson and Pelinka.
As with most improving teams in the Pacific division, and West in general, the positive tinkerings of their roster probably won’t be good enough to land the Lakers a playoff spot. But it does lend a ray of light for the future.
Projected Wins: 32-37
Phoenix Suns — 24-58
Out in the desert, Phoenix was one of three teams in this division to hold a top-five pick in the draft. With their selection, fourth overall, they drafted highly-touted wing Josh Jackson.
The Suns now have a core that includes Jackson, Devin Booker, Marquese Chriss, Dragan Bender, and Tyler Ulis. Much of the same can be said about the Suns as it can about the Lakers and Kings regarding how loaded the team is with young players full of potential.
Out in the Las Vegas Summer League, the trio of Jackson-Chriss-Bender put together more than their fair share of impressive performances, effectively hitting the ground running for chemistry building heading into next year.
Next season for Phoenix will be about continuing to find out which players should be with the franchise long-term, for their next run at the playoffs, and which guys are expendable at the moment. Along with that level of evaluation, it will be up to Earl Watson and the Suns’ coaching staff to continue building Booker into star player that his potential can allow him to be.
Phoenix will more than likely find themselves in the draft lottery next season with a chance to add another potential young stud to the core they already possess.
On top of that, the Suns just hired newly-retired James Jones as their vice president of basketball operations. And everyone knows Jones is super close with that guy up in Cleveland.
Could LeBron James consider leaving The Land for the desert next summer? Unlikely.
But crazier things have happened in the NBA.
Projected Wins: 25-30
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