NBA PM: West Teams Facing The Most Pressure
Senior NBA Writer & College Basketball Editor
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In yesterday’s NBA PM, we took a look at the teams in the Eastern Conference facing the most pressure. The West is no different, as there are five teams who have to achieve high levels of success in order to fulfill expectations and avoid significant changes. Here’s an in-depth look at who those teams are and why 2012-13 is so big for them:
Los Angeles Lakers
There isn’t much debate over which team had the best offseason. It’s almost unanimously regarded as the Lakers, who acquired Steve Nash and Dwight Howard while only giving up draft picks, Andrew Bynum, Josh McRoberts, and Christian Eyenga. A lot of people (including Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban) are comparing this offseason to the summer of 2003, when the Lakers signed Gary Payton and Karl Malone, but they couldn’t be any more different.
Howard has the best years of his career ahead of him and he’s set to take over as the face of the Lakers within the next two seasons. While Nash is near the end of his career like Payton was, he’s coming in at a time where he can fit in seamlessly. Payton was forced into trying to run Phil Jackson’s triangle offense and struggled mightily.
With Howard and Nash the Lakers have the league’s highest payroll at just under $100 million. As a team, they don’t exactly exemplify youth, meaning their championship window as assembled won’t be open for long. Plus, Howard is an unrestricted free agent at season’s end.
Championships have always defined success for the Lakers and that is always the goal, but this year they may be under more pressure than ever. Typically that pressure brings out the best in Kobe Bryant; we’ll see if his teammates can respond in a similar way.
Los Angeles Clippers
Just when the Clippers thought they were going to establish themselves as the kings of L.A., the Lakers pull off two monster trades for the ages and throw the Clippers back into the shadows. Still, the Clippers had a very good offseason in their own right. The additions of Lamar Odom, Jamal Crawford, and Grant Hill should go a long way in helping them climb up the Western Conference standings. Of course, they need a healthy Blake Griffin, but according to reports he’s already back to 100 percent.
The Clippers’ success this offseason is even more impressive when you consider they’ve been without a general manager for most of it. They kind of got things done by committee and it worked out well for them. Now it’s up to head coach Vinny Del Negro, the biggest question mark on the team, to prove he can get the job done. The Clippers extended his contract through this upcoming season, but that’s not much security.
The major concern for the Clippers is keeping point guard Chris Paul. They became legitimate upon his arrival; to lose him to free agency next summer would be devastating. They’ve put a formidable supporting cast around him, but we won’t know how much faith he has in the organization until he puts his name on the dotted line. Until he does, it’s a storyline that will likely dominate the talk about the Clippers as much as their record.
San Antonio Spurs
The Spurs’ demise has been overstated for each of the last five years, but they have not won a championship since 2007, so there has been a drop off. They were close last year, holding a 2-0 lead over the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Western Conference Finals. However, the young Thunder stormed back to sweep the next four and keep the Spurs’ championship drought ongoing.
The Spurs really had their hands tied with what they could do this summer. With no opportunities to make major improvements in a favorable manner, they opted to just keep the band together. It makes sense; after all, last year’s group had some young talent on it that should improve, and guys like Stephen Jackson, Boris Diaw, and Patty Mills had very little time to get acclimated to the team’s system.
With things back to normal, the Spurs can reasonably expect to improve this year. Whether it’s enough to compete with the Lakers and Thunder remains to be seen. There’s always urgency in San Antonio because Duncan, while still more than serviceable, is not getting better with age. He signed on for another two years with a player option for a third, but Manu Ginobili is a free agent at season’s end. This could be the last year we see the Spurs led by the big three of Duncan, Ginobili, and Tony Parker. They’re very well aware of that, as well, and they will undoubtedly want to make the most of what could be their last season together.
Stuck in the lottery for the last eight seasons, this is finally the year the Timberwolves and their fans can have realistic expectations of making the playoffs. David Kahn, the team’s president of basketball operations, has been in charge since 2009, and while he’s often the subject of lots of criticism, he hasn’t done as bad a job as many would like you to think.
This has to be the year they take a big leap forward, though, because the patience in Minnesota is undoubtedly wearing thin. Everyone there is hungry for a return to the playoffs. Luckily for Kahn, he hired a reliable coach in Rick Adelman who is known for getting the most out of his teams.
The presence of proven veterans like Andrei Kirilenko and Brandon Roy is something the team has desperately needed in recent years. Their contributions off the court should go a long way in helping this team grow, but they have to be sizable contributors on it, as well. Roy, who prematurely retired due to troublesome knees last year, especially needs to have a good year. He’s filling in at the shooting guard position, which has been a weakness of the Timberwolves for years.
Despite how promising this Timberwolves team is, the fact remains that making the playoffs in the West is very difficult. That’s the standard, though, and if they fall short some significant changes could follow on and off the court.
The Mavericks aren’t on this list because of championship expectations since they’re a dark horse at best right now. What puts them on this list is that there are 11 players on the roster who could be free agents next summer. Of course, the Mavericks are always expected to succeed and play at a high level, but the pressure from an individual standpoint may exceed those from a team perspective this season.
Mavericks owner Mark Cuban has become enthralled with salary cap space since the new Collective Bargaining Agreement was implemented. Having cap room didn’t exactly pay off for him this summer as he missed out on his top target Deron Williams, who stayed with the Brooklyn Nets instead. So, he’s going to potentially try his luck again next offseason and hope that in the meantime a team full of expiring contracts can bind together and win at the rate he’s grown accustomed to.
The talent level of the Mavericks is certainly high, but problems have surfaced in the past with teams who has a couple of guys playing for new deals. A team full of them could spell trouble, but Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle is a very player-friendly; he’s one of the best coaches in the league to take on a challenge like this.
News And Notes: Like Monday, there was a fair amount of activity around the league. Here’s a quick look at what’s gone down:
- Former Orlando Magic assistant coach Patrick Ewing, one of the greatest centers to ever play the game, turned down the head coaching job for the Erie BayHawks in the D-League. Ewing has been campaigning for a head coaching job in the NBA for years, most recently interviewing for the Charlotte Bobcats’ opening. However, he’s never really been seriously considered. He’s currently without a job, so turning down the chance to prove himself as a head coach, even if it’s at the D-League level, could end up being something Ewing regrets.
- According to Chris Daniels of KING 5 the Seattle City Council and the Chris Hansen investor group have come to an agreement on the financial terms for a new sports arena near Safeco Field. The city of Seattle is eager for the NBA to return and this new arena may be what seals the deal. Look for them to be associated with the Sacramento Kings in relocation rumors more and more as the season progresses.
- The Miami HEAT is continuing to fill out their training camp roster, recently adding Terrel Harris and Robert Dozier. Harris played 22 games with the HEAT last season, while Dozier was a second-round pick of theirs in 2009. Both deals are non-guaranteed.
- The Dallas Mavericks also made a training camp signing, bringing in veteran big man DJ Mbenga, who spent the first three years of his career with the franchise. Mbenga most recently played for the New Orleans Hornets.
- Free agent center Hassan Whiteside worked out recently for the Miami HEAT, his second team in two weeks. Whiteside auditioned in front of the Timberwolves’ brass last week. His agent says that there are other teams outside of those two interested as well.
- Former Brooklyn Nets forward Damion James is set to sign a one-year contract with the Atlanta Hawks.
- Oscar Bellfield, John Shurna, Henry Sims, and Mychel Thompson accepted invites to the New York Knicks’ training camp. The Knicks have 14 guaranteed contracts, so there is a chance that one of them could stick as the 15th man.
- Center Earl Barron will attend the Washington Wizards training camp on a non-guaranteed deal.
NBA Chats: Chat wraps from earlier today are available from Eric Pincus and Anthony Macri. Tomorrow’s chat schedule features Lang Greene. As always you can also checkout our entire upcoming chat schedule and previous chat schedule.