NBA Season Preview Series – Part 12

As we mentioned in Part 1 of this series, we will be previewing the NBA season by ranking the clubs in reverse order and revealing those clubs two at a time. Here’s what those rankings look like at this point:
30. Atlanta Hawks
29. Sacramento Kings
28. Orlando Magic
27. Phoenix Suns
26. Chicago Bulls
25. New York Knicks
24. Brooklyn Nets
23. Charlotte Hornets
22. Memphis Grizzlies
21. Dallas Mavericks
20. Cleveland Cavaliers
19. Los Angeles Clippers
18. Detroit Pistons
17. Miami Heat
16. Washington Wizards
15. Minnesota Timberwolves
14. Portland Trail Blazers
13. San Antonio Spurs
12. Denver Nuggets
11. Milwaukee Bucks
10. Indiana Pacers
9. New Orleans Pelicans

Here are the next two clubs:

8. Los Angeles Lakers

Last Season: 35-47 (0.427) (3rd in Pacific Division, 11th in Western Conference)
Head Coach: Luke Walton (3rd season with team, 61-103 team; 61-103 overall)
Major Off-season Acquisitions: Moritz Wagner (25th pick), Rajon Rondo, Lance Stephenson, JaVale McGee, Michael Beasley… oh, and LEBRON JAMES
Major Off-season Departures: Tyler Ennis, Julius Randle, Isaiah Thomas, Brook Lopez, Channing Frye, Luol Deng
Salary Cap Info: $102.8 million ($1.0M over cap, $20.9M luxury tax room)
Narrative: The Lakers did relatively well last season, all things considered. The Lakers haven’t made the playoffs since the 2012-2013 season, where they entered as the 7th seed and were swept out of the playoffs by the San Antonio Spurs, the eventual Western Conference champions. In the five seasons since, the Lakers have averaged a mere 25 wins per season, with a low of 17 wins in 2016. That 2016 season resulted in the arrival of coaching wunderkind Luke Walton, so maybe all was not loss.
A nine game improvement from 2016-17 to last season (26 wins to 35 wins) should be more than doable this season, if only because LeBron James, the greatest player of his generation – if not in the history of the NBA – finally made his long-rumored move to the West after bringing a title to Cleveland a few seasons ago. But will 44 wins be enough to make the playoffs in the West? Last season’s 8th seed, the Minnesota won 47 games, and there were 8 teams in the conference with between 42 and 49 wins. It seems to me that winning 50 might guarantee the playoffs, and if any player can do it it’s LBJ, but a 15 game improvement might be a bit too much unless they can find some trade or buyout options down the backstretch. But a return to the playoffs should be enough for Lakers’ fans after a five season absence, and I think that they’ll at least get there.

7. Oklahoma City Thunder

Last Season: 48-34 (0.585) (2nd in Northwest Division, 4th in Western Conference)
Head Coach: Billy Donovan (4th season with team, 150-96 team; 150-96 overall)
Major Off-season Acquisitions: Dennis Schroeder (trade with Atlanta), Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot (trade with 76ers), Nerlens Noel
Major Off-season Departures: (The Corpse of) Carmelo Anthony
Salary Cap Info: $144.6 million ($43.7M over cap, $21.8M over luxury tax)
Narrative: It’s ironic that the front office that didn’t want to go into the luxury tax to retain reigning MVP James Harden six years ago now has the highest payroll in the league. Granted, they had their own MVPs along the way (Kevin Durant in 2014, Russell Westbrook in 2017), but they destroyed the core of a team that made an NBA Finals and could have been a mini dynasty in their own right. Instead, they traded Harden for what amounts to Steven Adams (a fine player), lost Durant as a free agent to the Warriors, and have turned the team over to the hyper-kinetic play of Russell Westbrook.
His style of play has served them well enough during the regular season, and he has that MVP trophy to show for filling up the stat sheet and averaging a triple double, but postseason success has yet to find the Westbrook-led Thunder; two first round losses the past two seasons with Russ looking worn out by the end. Maybe resigning Paul George and going WAY into the luxury tax will lead to some improvement this season, but I don’t see them as a playoff lock at this point in the loaded West.
Until next time… 
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