LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS:
Ah yes, LA’s ‘Other’ team. The perennial losers of the battle of LA and the Pacific Division, and little brother to the Lakers. Until now… The Clippers are primed and ready to take the division, conference and perhaps even the title in 2013/14. They were given a hand up when the league vetoed the Lakers deal for Chris Paul, and they were able to sign him off the back and since then have not looked back. Creating a deep, offensively charged roster of young guns (and a few vets) to lead them to the next era of Clipper basketball, there’s no telling exactly where this team will wind up at the culmination of this season. My guess? It’ll be right up there. As a Laker fan myself, it’s strange seeing the roles reversed, and the Clippers being the team to beat in LA and I have my own beef with them, but it doesn’t change the fact that this is a team that is going to contend. Not only did the team re-sign CP3 to a multi year deal, the Clips also resigned Matt Barnes and made moves for JJ Redick, Darren Collison, Jared Dudley, Byron Mullens and Antawn Jamison to round out their stacked roster. It’s unknown what will happen with Lamar Odom in light of recent events, but it’s a possibility he returns as well. Their core of Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan and Jamal Crawford should gel nicely with this group and the Clippers will continue their dominant form and continue to be the team to beat in LA, and along the West Coast. Can they beat OKC, and eventually Miami or Indiana to win a title further down the track? It’s a tough ask for mine, but they’ll be right there at the end nonetheless.
JJ Reddick, Jared Dudley, Darren Collison, Byron Mullens, Antawn Jamison
Caron Butler, Ronnie Turiaf, Chauncey Billups
Prediction: 4th in the West
LOS ANGELES LAKERS
Who the hell knows what’s going to happen with this team. The Lakers just lost someone they wanted to keep for the first time in their history, and they’re hurting after a tumultuous season of indecision, bad chemistry, coaching troubles, communication breakdowns, locker room drama and on court struggles. But, as is the normality in Laker land, it wouldn’t be the same without all the drama and the Lakers will get back up, but whether or not it’s this season remains to be seen. They’ve made some great signings considering their struggles financially, and as they’ve only been able to offer potential signees veterans minimums, they’ve done surprisingly well. There is no money to spend right now, but the Lakers still have a solid core, with good role players and, if they remain healthy, should be able to compete this year. A huge amount of their success rests on their wounded warrior Kobe Bryant, and if he’ll be able to make it back in time and at full speed. Should he return to be the dominant player he always was then it’s massive for the Lakers. Pau Gasol will likely head back to his natural spot at the 5, with new recruit Chris Kaman able to double the power forward position if need be. They also have Jordan Hill coming back, who Mike D’Antoni is already talking about using as a stretch 4. They lack depth at the 3, and amnestying Metta World Peace only worsened that situation. Nick Young, while a natural shooting guard, can play the three so it’s possible that once Bryant returns, Young will occupy some time down low. The Lakers are stronger in the back court than they were in recent years with Bryant, Nash, Meeks, Young, Blake and the returning Jordan Farmar all providing plenty of fire power. It won’t be a season to remember for LA, and all eyes are on free agency in 2014 where they’re expected to make a big splash, but it won’t be a complete disappointment either.
Chris Kaman, Jordan Farmar, Nick Young, Wes Johnson, Shawne Williams
Dwight Howard, Metta World Peace, Antawn Jamison, Earl Clark, Chris Duhon, Devin Ebanks, Andrew Goudelock, Darius Morris
Prediction: 8th in the West
It should be an interesting season for the Grizzlies, who didn’t make a huge splash over the summer in terms of signings or trades, but they did retain a solid core of players who will continue to gel together as they tackle season 2013/14. The re-signing of Tony Allen to continue to play a versatile role in the back court alongside Mike Conley and Jerryd Bayless coupled with Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol down low rounds out their core, and should give a lot of teams a pretty severe headache. They also have some good depth with Quincey Pondexter and Tayshaun Prince able to occupy the 3, and new recruit Kosta Koufos relieving Gasol at the 5. They gain plenty from solid perimeter defender and sharp shooter Mike Miller who will help improve their relatively lackluster outside scoring after returning from Miami. The Grizzlies have copped some criticism for not making any big moves, but considering their position they’ve done everything that was available to them and they’ve gotten marginally better without doing very much. Watch them grind out big defensive games and scrape their way to the upper echelons of the standings in the new season!
Mike Miller, Kosta Koufos, Josh Akognon, Nick Calathes, Jamaal Franklin
Darrell Arthur, Austin Daye, Keyon Dooling
Prediction: 5th in the West
Will the Heat and LeBron three-peat? Plenty are saying yes, and that they’re still the team to beat in the NBA and for the most part, that’s exactly right. The East has been completely dominated by LeBron James the last two years and while all credit is due to King James, the conference as a whole has been underwhelming with some usually hard to beat teams falling by the wayside. LeBron, by right, has owned the East and until now there has been very little competition. But with the Pacers rising, and the return of Derrick Rose amongst other things, the East is now tougher than it’s been for some time and the Heat won’t have the easy ride to the finals that they’ve enjoyed recently. All credit to them, they’ve been by far the best team in the league for two years, but now there are challengers and it’s not going to be easy. An aging Dwyane Wade will need to step up this year as last season wasn’t his strongest offensively and was (aside from some select incredible Wade moments) largely carried by his team. Add Chris Bosh into that little sentiment as well, but with the addition of Greg Oden he should get some help presuming he stays healthy. The signing if Chris Andersen is huge for Miami as his defensive effort last season was second to none and he came through when needed right to the end. His form in the new season as a role player will be paramount to the Heat’s success. Of course, LeBron will need to continue to perform and will likely need another MVP season if they Heat are going to three-peat. At the culmination of this season, the East will be more than a one horse race, and Miami are going to have to be a step ahead if they want to win it.
Prediction: 2nd in the East (Indiana 1st)