SACRAMENTO: (1st in Pacific, 4th in West, 6th in NBA)
The thing I’ve noticed doing these previews: a lot of teams expected to maintain their past level of accomplishment could be bad this year. Sacramento, for example, has shaved their margin of error to the point of extinction. Chris Webber has played 54, 67, and 23 games the last three years. Bobby Jackson has missed 55 games over the past two years. The Bench Mob has long since departed making it a steep drop after the first six in Rick Adelman’s rotation.
Darius Songaila and Greg Ostertag are decent backups. Kevin Martin, Matt Barnes, and Maurice Evans might yet prove to be the same but none are capable of stepping in to key roles for extended periods of time. David Bluthenthal was an interesting acquisition but has struggled mightily in the pre-season.
With the Rockets adding Tracy McGrady to partner the still-developing Yao Ming and the Jazz and Nuggets stockpiling young talent, the Kings descent toward mediocrity could begin this year; their only consolation being that it will occur more gradually than for the rival Lakers.
PHOENIX: (2nd in Pacific, 9th in West, 13th in NBA)
Should they desire, they could play fast. Quentin Richardson, Shawn Marion, Joe Johnson, Zarko Cabarkapa and Amare Stoudemire were made to play alongside Steve Nash. They’ll run and he’ll find them. Leandro Barbosa will earn enough minutes to save Nash’s legs for the post-season push.
A dangerous team that would contend in the East, but will likely be stuck playing spoiler in the West, the Suns, should they sneak into the playoffs, could give the Spurs fits in the first round.
LAKERS: (3rd in Pacific, 10th in West, 14th in NBA)
Kobe got his wish. It’s his team, down to the coach who doesn’t like calling too many plays (a trait I admire in Rudy T). I’m hoping for a disaster.
Kobe’s the most talented player in the league. Unfortunately, he doesn’t care about winning. Not like Magic and Bird and Jordan cared or like his contemporaries Duncan and Garnett care. I know Kobe says he wants to win more than anything, but his actions prove that he just wants to the show he’s the best player. It’s a waste and sad to watch.
The best possible five here is Bryant, Caron Butler, Lamar Odom, Luke Walton, and Brian Grant. Should they play that unit as much as is reasonably possible, they could flirt with five hundred. Chucky Atkins, Kareem Rush, Devean George and Vlade might have their useful moments, but all three risk having their limitations exposed in extended minutes. One to twelve this is not much a defensive team. The less Southern California sees of Chris Mihm, Slava Medvedenko, and Brian Cook the better.
GOLDEN STATE: (4th in Pacific, 14th in West, 23rd in NBA)
Mike Montgomery seems like a good guy and Stanford’s a tough job. He was doing it so well he started losing guys early to the NBA, an unfortunate side effect to the team’s success. The money will be nice in Oakland and getting in on the ground floor of this Chris Mullin (Front Office) Era should be worth some executive patience, but it’s tough to see how Coach Montgomery’s going to succeed in this particular challenge.
Building around Jason Richardson and Mike Dunleavy, Jr. is not a recipe for success. The poor man’s Detlef Schrempf will never be more than a role player on a quality team. Richardson came into the league raw and has arguably regressed. His assist-to-turnover ratio has been worse in both his second and third seasons than it was his rookie year, he still has no consistent jump shot, and struggles to make 70 percent of his free throws. Richardson’s about to get expensive and his production could presumably be replaced quite easily and cheaply by Mikael Pietrus.
Everybody liked Troy Murphy coming off his double-double season in 02-03. Injuries kept him out most of last season, but he seems to be healthy in the pre-season and should help. He’s not someone to build around, but could provide some stability through the necessary roster changes.
The rest of the bench is a collection of useful role players. Speedy Claxton should beat out Derek Fisher for the point guard job at some point this year while Adonal Foyle, Clifford Robinson, Eduardo Najera, Dale Davis, and Calbert Cheaney will chip in as needed.
CLIPPERS: (5th in Pacific, 15th in West, 28th in NBA)
Oh, dear. I pity Mike Dunleavy, Sr. No one (not even George Karl) should have to suffer the helpless empty feeling Dunleavy will experience on November 3rd when he looks at his team and recognizes that Rick Brunson is the best point guard available to him. Marko Jaric will likely get another season to prove he is not an NBA point guard and Shaun Livingston will begin his arduous attempt to develop as a point guard after skipping a level of competition. The difficulty of this task is evident in his near 1:2 assist-to-turnover ratio this pre-season.
At the other four positions, Kerry Kittles is out until Thanksgiving, creating a puddle of drool at Corey Maggette’s feet. Mmmm, shots. Elton Brand will again be the best player on a bad team, provide the only significant road block to Maggette chucking the ball towards the basket 25 times a night, and continue to block the progress of the franchise’s most promising young player, Chris Wilcox. Bobby Simmons, continuing his evolution from collegiate disappointment to anonymous, yet securely employed, professional will likely get the bulk of the minutes at the wing until Kittles returns. In the post, Chris Kaman looks like he’ll develop into the solid professional Chris Mihm once hoped to be while Zeljko Rebraca adequately covers for him those nights that bring foul trouble.