Even though there is still a month left in the summer, the 2022-23 NBA season is just around the corner. NBA training camps open at the end of September, and the regular season is slated to tip off on October 18. The feature game of the opening day is the Golden State Warriors hosting the Los Angeles Lakers for the Dubs ring ceremony.
So, I figured I would start looking at how the NBA teams did this off-season thus far. This week the Pacific division is up with the Los Angeles Clippers and Phoenix Suns making the biggest splashes with the signing of John Wall and re-signing of Deandre Ayton, respectively.
The Pacific division should be exciting and, once again, be the best division in the NBA. The Suns, Warriors, and Clippers are considered title contenders. Meanwhile, the Lakers are also expected to make the playoffs – at least the play-in game, and the Sacramento Kings could improve their win total under new coach Mike Brown.
Los Angeles Lakers – Grade B-
Los Angeles is coming off an extremely disappointing 2021-22 campaign as the Lakers finished in 11th place in the Western Conference with a 33-49 – their worst record since 2016-17. This year’s edition of the “Lake Show” will feature soon-to-be 38-year-old LeBron James, Russell Westbrook – although the Lakers are still trying to unload him – and a healthy Anthony Davis. They will also be under the direction of first-year head coach Darvin Ham, an NBA assistant coach since 2011, with the last four seasons being with Milwaukee.
Signings: LeBron James (extension), Damian Jones, Thomas Bryant, Troy Brown Jr., Juan Toscano-Anderson, Lonnie Walker Jr., Max Christie (draft pick), Cole Swider (2-way), and Scotty Pippen Jr. (2-way).
What went right in 2021-22: James continued to show that age is just a number as he put up 30.2 points along with 8.6 boards and 6.2 assists last season. The Lakers also shot the ball well, scored in transition, and got to the free throw line a lot.
What went wrong: Injuries to AD and LBJ. Russell Westbrook was a chemistry disaster, and his inefficient shooting was much more problematic than the Lakers probably thought it would be. Defense, free throw shooting, and turnovers were also an issue.
The Lakers haven’t made a big splash this offseason though they still have time and Westbrook on the roster. The Lakers also have considerable roster space with just 12 players on fully guaranteed contracts.
But my reaction to what the Lakers did do this offseason is nondescript. I am glad Ham got an opportunity to be a head coach after being an assistant coach, but let’s wait and see if it was a good choice.
The one thing that the Lakers did do was get younger and more athletic. Christie, Brown, Jones, and Toscano-Anderson all play hard and should help the Lakers defensively.
Phoenix Suns – Grade A+
Phoenix set a franchise record with 64 victories and was the favorite to win the Larry O’Brien trophy last year. But the Suns ended up falling to Dallas in the semifinals.
Signings: Jock Landale (trade), Damian Lee, Josh Okogie, Duane Washington (2-way), Deandre Ayton (re-signed), Bismarck Biyombo (signed), Devin Booker (re-signed, extension), and Ish Wainwright (re-signed, 2-way)
What went right in 2021-22: Devin Booker, Cam Johnson, Mikal Bridges, and Ayton continued to grow their games. They won 64 games, had a top-five offensive and defensive squad, and scored in the paint.
What went wrong in 2021-22: Getting upset by Dallas after leading the series 3-1. Offensive and defensive rebounding. Fouling and failing to get to the foul line.
Really not much to say. Re-signing Ayton was huge, and keeping Booker in the Valley of the Sun with a multi-year extension was the right decision. The Suns have an open roster spot, and Landale is on a non-guaranteed deal.
Golden State Warriors – Grade C
The Warriors are the defending champions. The Dubs are 429-200 with four NBA championships and six Finals appearances under head coach Steve Kerr.
Signings: Patrick Baldwin Jr. (draft pick), Donte DiVincenzo, JaMychal Green, Mac McClung, Quandary Weatherspoon (2-way), and Ryan Rollins.
What went right in 2021-22: Won NBA Championship, defense, 3-point shooting, and Klay Thompson returned after a two-year absence.
What went wrong in 2021-22: Fouling, getting to the foul line, and turnovers.
The Warriors have 14 players with guaranteed contracts, and I doubt they will fill the final spot until at least the start of the regular season. JaMychal Green gives the Dubs a quality veteran big off the bench, while DiVincenzo gives them someone to replace Porter Jr.’s production.
Baldwin, McClung, and Rollins will likely not see much time with the big-league club this year, as all three could use some G-League seasoning. McClung, the 2021-22 G-League Rookie of the Year, is the most likely of the three players to make an impact with the Warriors this year due to his shooting prowess.
Los Angeles Clippers – Grade A
Los Angeles finished above .500 for the 11th straight year. However, the Clippers missed the playoffs just the third time during this stretch as they lost to the Timberwolves in the 7-10 matchup.
Signings: John Wall, Nic Batum (re-signed), Isaiah Hartenstein (re-signed), Jason Preston (draft), Ivica Zubac (contract extension), Robert Covington (contract extension), Moussa Diabate (2-way), and Amir Coffey (resigned).
What went right in 2021-22: Won 42 games despite all the injuries they suffered. Defense, rim protection, and 3-point shooting. Continued development of Zubac, Hartenstein, and Terrance Mann, as well as trading for Norm Powell from Portland.
What went wrong in 2021-22: Injuries to Powell, Paul George, Kawhi Leonard, Marcus Morris, and Nic Batum. Reggie Jackson’s erratic play. Rebounding, offensive efficiency, and getting to the free throw line.
Los Angeles is over the 15-player limit though only 14 contracts are fully guaranteed. Despite there being a boatload of questions surrounding Wall, I like his fit with the Clippers as he could potentially be the franchise’s best point guard since the Chris Paul days. Wall is a low-cost, high-reward signing though he has only played 40 games over the last three seasons.
I also love that Zubac got a contract extension, as he does all the little things and is an excellent rebounder and very efficient scorer. I also have no issue with their re-upping with quality veterans Covington and Batum.
Sacramento Kings – Grade C-
Sacramento continues to be the worst franchise in the NBA. The Kings hired former Warriors’ assistant Mike Brown this summer, making him their 12th head coach since 2006.
Signings: Malik Monk, KZ Okpola, Kevin Huerter (trade), Matthew Dellavdova, Chima Moneka, Keegan Murray (draft), Sam Merrill, Kent Bazemore, Quinn Cook, Jeriah Horne, Keon Ellis (2-way), Neemis Queta (2-way) and Mike Brown (head coach)
What went right in 2021-22: Not much. The Kings did show they could score with everyone healthy. Getting to the free throw line and not fouling. Acquiring Domantas Sabonis in a trade.
What went wrong in 2021-22: Injury to De’Aaron Fox. Defense, offensive efficiency, and turnovers.
Sacramento appears to be over the roster limit with all their moves (10) this offseason though some of the deals for the newcomers are reportedly non-guaranteed or partially guaranteed. Still, I don’t expect any major transactions.
The Kings have potentially hit a home run by selecting Murray with the No. 4 pick. The 6-8 forward knows how to put the ball in the hoop and is very athletic and active on the offensive end. Murray had an excellent NBA Summer League campaign, earning MVP honors in Las Vegas.
Monk and Huerter give the Kings floor spacers on the perimeter, and they should get open looks off of Fox’s penetration and from Sabonis’ playmaking ability. Meanwhile, Dellavdova, Cook, and Bazemore add leadership and grit – which the Kings’ desperately needed – and a little 3-point shooting. Overall, they did improve their athleticism and depth.
However, Sacramento didn’t address any of its defensive deficiencies. Neither Monk, Huerter, nor Murray are known for their defense, with Monk and Huerter being liabilities.
I also have questions about Brown as a head coach, although he is superb. Brown couldn’t win a championship with LeBron or Kobe leading his squad, and the Cavaliers struggled in his lone season with the franchise without James.