Ranking The NBA’s Pacific Division

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By the amount of attention certain teams have garnered since the end of last month’s Finals, it’s almost as though the Golden State Warriors didn’t just complete one of the more impressive seasons a relatively young core has enjoyed in recent NBA history.

With everyone ready to prematurely crown the San Antonio Spurs and perhaps a returning Cleveland Cavaliers squad as the early and outright favorites to meet for next year’s NBA crown, we kick off our ranking of the divisions by reminding everyone the Pacific Division still boasts the current owners of the Larry O’Brien trophy as well as several other teams that may produce a fairly competitive product on a nightly basis.

Put simply, as is the case with the Western Conference in general, there aren’t likely to be many easy games teams can simply count on winning throughout the Pacific Division in 2015-16.

#5 – Los Angeles Lakers (21-61 last season)

Key Additions: D’Angelo Russell, Larry Nance Jr., Anthony Brown, Roy Hibbert, Lou Williams, Brandon Bass, Robert Upshaw

Key Subtractions: Ed Davis, Jordan Hill, Jeremy Lin, Wesley Johnson, Wayne Ellington, Carlos Boozer, Ronnie Price

With all of the hope and promise that comes along with unproven talent, which the Los Angeles Lakers currently have in spades, it should come as no surprise that this storied franchise is still considered to be in flux at this stage of their rebuild. That isn’t to say you shouldn’t feel very optimistic about the future of the Lakers given the fact they are essentially adding two lottery picks in D’Angelo Russell and Julius Randle (since last season was a total wash for the seventh overall pick of 2014’s NBA Draft).

With second-year players Jordan Clarkson and Tarik Black also looking impressive in their limited Summer League action and the fact that Los Angeles managed to also bring in the reigning Sixth Man of the Year in Lou Williams, a hard-nosed veteran in Brandon Bass and a rim protector in Roy Hibbert that happens to be on the final year of his current deal, the Lakers have actually given their fan base something to look forward to watching develop.

They may still find themselves in the sub-.500 club by the end of the year, but watch out for this team putting forth the second half push similar to that of the Utah Jazz (21-11) of this past season if health permits. If relatively healthy in February and March, these Lakers could definitely find their way out of the cellar and on their way back toward success at a somewhat accelerated pace.

#4 – Sacramento Kings (29-53 last season)

Key Additions: Willie Cauley-Stein, Rajon Rondo, Kosta Koufos, Marco Belinelli, Caron Butler, Omri Casspi

Key Subtractions: Ray McCallum, Nik Stauskas, Derrick Williams, Carl Landry

The past few months have not been the greatest for the Sacramento Kings. Although it certainly appears the organization is standing firmly behind their 24-year-old All-Star center DeMarcus Cousins (as they should), that doesn’t quite solve the obvious rift with head coach George Karl.

In fairness to Cousins, neither his attitude nor his professionalism appear to be the cause of these issues, as it truly seems like Karl just prefers to play a style of basketball that isn’t conducive to having a low-post option as the main scoring weapon. On paper and in theory, the addition of Rajon Rondo would definitely appear to be an upgrade, especially when you consider the fact that Cousins and Rondo have been reportedly in favor of the idea of playing together for several seasons. They’ve also made some other quality additions as well (even though they missed on a number of targets early on in free agency such as Wes Matthews, Tobias Harris and Monta Ellis).

Until the Kings solve the issue surrounding their best player and the head coach, it seems difficult to see them building upon where they left things at the end of last season. With so many head-strong individuals within the mix, including owner Vivek Ranadive, it will be interesting to see how this team responds to the adversity they are guaranteed to face along the way.

#3 – Phoenix Suns (39-43 last season)

Key Additions: Devin Booker, Tyson Chandler

Key Subtractions: Marcus Morris, Gerald Green, Danny Granger, Reggie Bullock

In addition to acquiring Booker and Chandler, the Suns were also able to re-sign Brandon Knight with the hopes that a backcourt pairing of he and Eric Bledsoe will continue the current run of relative success they’ve enjoyed over the past couple seasons. Although they Suns shocked the league by winning 48 games in coach Jeff Hornacek’s rookie season at the reins as well as staying within striking distance of the postseason for the better part of 2015 in an ever-competitive Western Conference, fans in the ‘Valley of the Sun’ remain eager to see this team take the next step and at least qualify for postseason action.

The jury is out on whether splitting the Morris twins will have an adverse impact upon team chemistry, but the additions of Chandler (who will provide strong defense and veteran leadership) and Booker (who has the ability to stretch the floor, shooting 41.1 percent from deep last year for Kentucky) should help the Suns offset any losses suffered this summer.

#2 – Los Angeles Clippers (56-26 last season)

Key Additions: Paul Pierce, Lance Stephenson, Wesley Johnson, Cole Aldrich

Key Subtractions: Spencer Hawes, Matt Barnes

Not only did the Clippers manage to salvage what could have been an absolutely dismal offseason with the potential losses of major contributors, Doc Rivers and the recruiting party that convinced DeAndre Jordan to return to L.A. should actually be credited with keeping this team’s championship window open for at least another season.

Whether you agree with the way it went down or not, the fact remains the Clippers have put together what can only be judged as a quality summer of transactions having rid themselves of Hawes’ deal, adding the leadership of Pierce and improving their depth with Johnson and Stephenson (even if he’s somewhat of a question mark at this point in his career). These can only be seen as positive moves for the front office.

How will the Stephenson move (in particular) turn out? We shall certainly see just what type of overall influence Rivers has with not only shaping the roster on paper, but in his ability to also mold the talent they’ve been able to acquire.

#1 – Golden State Warriors (65-17 last season)

Key Additions: Kevon Looney, Gerald Wallace

Key Subtractions: David Lee, Justin Holiday

The Warriors may have had the least amount of player movement of all five teams, but let’s face it, even though they appear to be somewhat of an afterthought by some, they are the hunted ones in this scenario. It’s up to the 29 other teams to figure out how to dethrone such a talented, young core, while the Warriors figure out whether they can find a way to repeat their recent success.

At 32, Wallace may have seen his better days in the league in the past, but that doesn’t mean the combo-forward won’t fit perfectly into the interchangeable mix of players Golden State likes to throw at opponents. Retaining Draymond Green and reserve Leandro Barbosa should only strengthen what already appeared to be one of the closest cores in the league.

Simply put, even though the Warriors will face the league in a very unfamiliar position of having a target on their backs, this is one of those rare groups that you might expect to grow even stronger the longer they are together rather than suffering from some of the pitfalls that generally end up shortening a team’s ‘championship window’ in the long run.

We’ll continue ranking the divisions throughout the week, but we remind you overall team chemistry and composition will ultimately determine how these teams come together.