Changes are plenty in the Pacific, but which team will end up on top?
Fittingly for an area that encompasses the San Andreas Fault, the Pacific Division experienced a series of jarring tremors this past summer. Baron Davis left the Warriors. Elton Brand bolted the Clippers. Ron Artest was dispatched from the Kings.
But when the chandeliers stopped shaking, the old house pretty much looked the same as before. The Lakers were still living in the penthouse. The Suns were on the main floor, peeking up around the stairs. And the Warriors, Clippers and Kings were still rearranging the decor in the basement.
GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS
What went right:
They didn't lose everybody
It might have seemed that way to those outside the Bay Area, but GM Chris Mullin did manage to re-sign restricted free agents Monta Ellis, Andris Biedrins and Kelenna Azubuike. Ellis, in particular, was crucial. The fourth-year combo guard continued his development into a star last year and will be counted on to help replace Davis as Golden State's main playmaker. However, Ellis injured his ankle last week and will be out the next three months (see below).
They added Corey Maggette
Striking back at the Clippers for stealing Davis, GM Chris Mullin lured Maggette away from L.A. with a five-year, $50 million offer. While the price tag was a bit high, the 6-6 Maggette is a proven scorer entering his prime who averaged 22.1 points and 5.6 rebounds a year ago for the Clippers. He should join with Ellis, Stephen Jackson and Al Harrington to give Nelson some serious firepower on the wings.
They netted a PG prospect
In a little-heralded move, Mullin acquired backup point guard Marcus Williams from the Nets in exchange for a conditional future first-round draft pick. Williams, a former first-round pick in '06 (No. 22 overall), showed signs of being a quality set-up man while stuck behind Jason Kidd (and then Devin Harris) in New Jersey. With Ellis still learning the point guard position, Williams could turn out to be a valuable pickup.
What went wrong:
They lost their QB
No matter how the Warriors try to spin it, Davis' defection was a huge blow -- at least for the immediate future. The 6-3 point guard was an All-Star caliber player whose rare ability to get in the lane at will and also shoot from outside made him a perfect catalyst for coach Don Nelson's Small Ball system. Ellis can pick up some of the scoring slack, but he's not a true point guard like Davis.
Barnes and Pietrus also walked
Davis was not the only Warrior free agent to walk away with nothing in return. Matt Barnes (Suns) and Mickael Pietrus (Magic) also left for greener pastures. While the two players had seen their roles reduced last year, they were experienced veterans familiar with Nellie's system. It remains to be seen how well, and how quickly, their replacements will fit into the Warriors scheme.
Ellis injured his ankle
Ellis had ankle surgery last week after suffering a severe sprain while working out in his home state of Mississippi. The 6-3 guard is expected to make a full recovery, but he likely will be out until December at the earliest. His absence from training camp and the first month of the season could be a serious setback as he tries to make the transition to lead playmaker for the Warriors.
Synopsis: Davis' departure and Ellis' injury spell trouble for the Warriors. It might be time to start thinking about the post-Nellie Era in the Bay Area.
LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS
What went right:
They welcomed home Baron
In the first blockbuster of the summer, Davis opted out of the last year of his contract in Golden State and signed a five-year, $65 million free agent contract with his hometown Clippers. While his plans to pair up with Brand fell by the wayside (see below), the two-time All-Star nonetheless brings careers averages of 17.1 points and 7.2 assists per game over nine NBA seasons. Perhaps just as important, Davis gives L.A.'s "other team" a much-needed new face to the organization and a jolt of excitement.
They stole Camby
Seeking a replacement for Brand, Clippers GM Elgin Baylor acquired veteran center Marcus Camby from the Nuggets in exchange for a jug of Gatorade and a sack of balls (actually, it was for the right to swap second-round picks in 2010, but what's the difference?). The 6-11 Camby, a former Defensive Player of the Year, won't score like Brand, but he should join with Chris Kaman to form a solid frontcourt tandem. Given the price tag, it has to be considered a steal.
They shuffled the deck
In addition to getting Davis and Camby, the Clippers signed free agents Ricky Davis and Jason Williams to one-year deals while adding point guard Jason Hart in a trade with the Jazz (for Brevin Knight). The three veterans bring loads of experience and they are all in the last year of their contracts, so they should be motivated to play well. Along with Cuttino Mobley and rookie Eric Gordon, the Clippers at least appear to be well-stocked on the perimeter.
What went wrong:
They got Brand-ed
Or should that be Falk-ed? Whether it was Brand himself, or agent David Falk, that engineered it, Brand's controversial departure stung the Clippers. By opting out of his contract and signing a free agent deal with the Sixers, Brand left L.A. without its best low-post threat, its hardest-working two-way performer and its most popular player. Just as important, it brought back all those old jokes and doubts around the NBA about the Clippers organization.
Corey walked, too.
Though not as painful as Brand's defection, and not at all unexpected, Maggette's departure did not come without a cost. Even if L.A. did not want to pay the defensively-challenged swingman the money he was seeking, it hurts to see your leading scorer walk away with nothing in return. The Clippers can only hope that Tim Thomas, Ricky Davis and young Al Thornton can combine to replace Maggette's production at the small forward spot.
They said "So Long" to Shaun.
In a perfect world, the Clippers would have been able to keep young point guard Shaun Livingston. But Davis' arrival meant the end of the line in Clipperdom for the former first-round pick (No. 4 overall in '04), who is attempting a comeback from a horrific knee injury in 2007. Livingston is now a free agent, and if Clippers luck holds true, he will someday come back to haunt them like so many other former stars.
Synopsis: Give them credit for landing Davis and bringing in new blood, but the re-branding won't make up for the loss of the old Brand.
LOS ANGELES LAKERS
What went right:
They re-signed Sasha
Seeking continuity for his defending Western Conference champs, GM Mitch Kupchak re-signed sharp-shooting reserve guard Sasha Vujacic to a three-year, $15 million contract. Vujacic proved a key contributor off the bench a year ago, averaging 8.8 points (on 43.7 percent shooting from downtown) in just 17.8 minutes. With so few other long-range threats who can also defend, the Lakers could not afford to let Vujacic get away.
Bynum made progress
In news that had Lakers Nation breathing a sigh of relief, third-year center Andrew Bynum continued to make progress in his rehabilitation from offseason knee surgery. The 7-foot, 280-pounder, who blossomed into a star a year ago, was reported to be bigger and stronger, and showing no ill effects from the knee injury that wiped out his season last January. Bynum was expected to be 100 percent healthy for the start of training camp.
They imported some Sun
It probably won't pay big dividends this season, but Kupchak added a piece for the future by signing Chinese guard Sun Yue to a two-year contract. The 6-9 Sun, the Lakers' second-round pick (No. 40) in '07, started for China's national team at the Olympics and is considered a solid prospect. For the short term he will compete for playing time with Jordan Farmar as backup in the L.A. backcourt.
What went wrong:
They didn't trade Odom
Maybe it will turn out to be the right move, but hanging on to Lamar Odom (at least for now) appears to be a big risk. The 6-10 forward is talented, but his lackluster showing in last year's Finals was a bad sign. Odom's height, meanwhile, is less of a factor now that the Lakers will have Bynum and Pau Gasol in the frontcourt. Ideally, L.A. would have been able to move him for a better defender/outside shooter on the perimeter.
They struck out on Posey and Barry
Kupchak tried to land free agents James Posey (Hornets) and Brent Barry (Rockets), but both veteran forwards opted to sign elsewhere. Due to financial constraints, Kupchak then decided not to match Golden State's offer sheet for reserve forward Ronny Turiaf (four years, $17 million). The loss of Turiaf, without the addition of any other proven veteran, leaves L.A.'s Bench Mob a bit thin in the frontcourt.
Kobe didn't get any rest
After carrying the Lakers through a long season that stretched into June, Kobe Bryant spent the summer helping lead Team USA to the gold medal at the Beijing Olympics. Due to those commitments, the reigning MVP also put off surgery to repair ligament damage in his right pinky. Bryant insists he's feeling spry as ever at age 30, but it remains to be seen how the long season affects him down the stretch next spring.
Synopsis: The defending conference champs seem to be in good shape with a healthy Kobe and Bynum. But will they make a move with Odom?