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Offseason Team Grades: Lakers, Clippers, Suns, Kings, Warriors

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NBA training camps start on Tuesday, and after a fairly turbulent and rumor-filled summer, many squads are looking different or wishing they did. Here’s a breakdown of the offseason each Pacific Division franchise had and how good it was with consideration for what could be expected and how it sets up the future success of the team.

Divisions previously covered:

Golden State Warriors

First things first: they finally fired head coach Don Nelson, which immediately improves the chances that their young talent will be developed correctly. By promoting assistant Keith Smart to the lead position, I particularly liked the San Francisco Chronicle’s online headline of “From Nellieball to Smartball.” The Warriors changed a large chunk of their roster this offseason, and instead of breaking down every single free agent pick-up and loss, trade, and whatnot, let’s first just examine what they gained and lost. Players lost: Anthony Morrow (trade), Anthony Tolliver (free agency), C.J. Watson (free agency), Anthony Randolph (trade), Kelenna Azubuike (trade), Ronny Turiaf (trade), Corey Maggette (trade), Devean George (free agency), Chris Hunter (free agency). Wow – that’s a lot of young talent people were starting to enjoy. Players gained: Ekpe Udoh (draft), David Lee (trade), Louis Amundson (free agency), Dan Gadzuric (trade), Charlie Bell (trade), Rodney Carney (free agency), Dorell Wright (free agency), Jeremy Lin (free agency). It looks like they were trying to pick up players this summer who either provide defense or energy, and I can respect that. A couple clear problems emerged, though. Doing a sign-and-trade to get Lee for six years seems excessive and financially irresponsible. Also, the club still hasn’t figured out what it’s trying to do with Monta Ellis. Is he a team leader? Are they trying to trade him? Is it his team or Stephen Curry’s? None of that was solved this summer. I like that it appears they had a plan and went out and did it, particularly when it came to the future of Nelson. They gave away tons of exciting young talent to do it, but they now have a roster with more established guys on it, albeit with far lower ceilings than the crew that’s gone. Grade: B

Los Angeles Clippers

The curse of Donald Sterling continues. The picked up new coach Vinny Del Negro which is as unexciting as it sounds. Their drafting of Al-Farouq Aminu, Eric Bledsoe, and Willie Warren was graded an A by everyone except me; I actually called it the worst draft of the night back in June. Well the trio collectively had the worst summer league performances of any team’s draft picks, so for now I’ll say I was right. They re-signed PF Craig Smith and G/F Rasual Butler, plus they signed free agents G Randy Foye and PF Ryan Gomes, which is an OK haul at best and too-much-Randy-Foye at worst. If none of the above makes you think LAC is finally becoming a playoff team (and it shouldn’t), maybe the signing of Brian Cook (3 different teams and only 96 games over the past 3 seasons) to a two-year deal will. It’s hard to talk about the happenings within Sterling’s club without getting sarcastic at some point. Grade: D

Los Angeles Lakers

It’s embarrassing what a willing check signer for an owner like Jerry Buss and a smart GM like Mitch Kupchak are able to do together. For starters, the Lakers re-signed the super clutch Derek Fisher and the super athletic Shannon Brown: good moves. Then they diversified their already amazing frontline (back-up Lamar Odom was a starter on Team USA’s gold-winning squad) by signing veteran shot blocker Theo Ratliff and the energetic and versatile Matt Barnes: good moves. LA only had two second round picks in the draft, yet they came away with Devin Ebanks and Derrick Caracter, which immediately looked like an amazing pair to snag that late in the draft; Caracter went on to do great things in the summer league. Again, good moves. They also signed perfect-for-the-triangle-offense PG Steve Blake (heady, great perimeter passer, great 3-point shooter): good move. When a franchise has this much money and this much intelligence using it, this is what happens. Grade: A

Phoenix Suns

I know the big news is the departure of Amar’e Stoudemire, but I’m thinking it won’t take fans very long to realize he was more a product of the system when it’s run by Steve Nash than anyone wants to admit. That being said, Hakim Warrick and Josh Childress are perfect fits for the Suns’ up-tempo style, so they were both great pick-ups. They traded speedster Leandro Barbosa for the plodding Hedo Turkoglu, but I have a funny feeling that the big Turk’s passing and long-range shooting will do alright in Phoenix, although it’s still a tough trade to totally wrap your head around. Re-signing Channing Frye was obviously the right thing to do, and the pick-up of little known big man Dwayne Jones was a good one, as was the drafting of F Gani Lawal in the second round. Extending head coach Alvin Gentry’s contract was a shrood move. All in all, they covered up the loss of Stoudemire with a bunch of big men who should do well in this system, although the absurd length of many of those contracts (Hedo, 4 years; Frye, 5 years; Warrick, 4 years; Childress, 5 years) definitely provides the possibility for some bad news down the road if an aging Nash and the backcourt as a whole ever goes south. Grade: B+

Sacramento Kings

Everyone raved about their drafting of big men DeMarcus Cousins and Hassan Whiteside, but everyone seems to forget that they are both humongous head cases. Cousins only got worse and worse during the summer league when things started getting tough, and his body language continued to be terrible like it was in college. They also signed summer sensation Pooh Jeter, which was a great pick-up to provide depth at the PG spot. Sacramento traded rebound machine Jon Brockman for Darnell Jackson and a second-round pick, a puzzling-bordering-on-completely-stupid decision. They also picked up efficient shot blocker/rebounder Samuel Dalembert (who only has one more year on his contract) in a trade that cost them Andres Nocioni and Spencer Hawes: not too bad. The Kings should be better this year (as should any team that’s won only 42 games over the past two seasons), but there’s still no long-term talent that counts as a core other than Tyreke Evans and Omri Casspi (immature nuts who’ve put on 40 pounds in the past year like Cousins don’t count as building blocks). Grade: C-


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