The NBA season gets underway on Tuesday night and the nightcap will be a battle of two divisional rivals that went in very different directions a year ago — the Golden State Warriors will play host to the Los Angeles Lakers for championship ring night in San Francisco.
As a whole, the Pacific Division figures to dominate headlines in the West, as it is home to many of the league’s biggest stars and top contenders. However, while at least three of the teams figure to be legit contenders to win the West — Warriors, Clippers, Suns — with the Lakers hopeful to bounce back into that realm and the Kings looking to snap their playoff drought, there are questions abound for each as we come into the 2022-23 season. Here we will highlight the biggest (non-injury related question) for all five teams as the year begins.
Golden State Warriors: Can they move on from Draymond Green punching Jordan Poole?
A couple weeks ago, this would’ve been about the young guys stepping into bigger roles and how that looks, which is still a question for Jonathan Kuminga, Moses Moody, and James Wiseman as they figure to be more important to the Golden State rotation this season. However, that got pushed to the periphery a bit once Draymond Green dropped Jordan Poole with a right cross at practice, earning a brief suspension and causing the once elite vibes in the Warriors facility coming off a championship to erode quickly.
They do have experience navigating a Draymond spat with a teammate, as they made it to the Finals and were the favorites before getting derailed by injuries against the Raptors in the season after Green and Kevin Durant had their much publicized bench altercation. That, however, didn’t involve any punches being thrown, and while Green and Poole are saying the right things about moving forward as professionals, their dynamic will be scrutinized all year, as will Green’s play as he was the odd man out when it came to extensions this offseason, while Poole and Andrew Wiggins got nine-figure deals.
Los Angeles Clippers: Is there such a thing as too much depth?
The Clippers have an embarrassment of riches with their roster, and while the most important thing for them is the health of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George — provided they are able to play — their biggest hurdle will be figuring out what their rotation should be, particularly as they near the postseason. Steve Ballmer is the biggest ownership advantage in American sports because he truly doesn’t care about the luxury tax, as evidenced by last year’s trade for Norman Powell and Robert Covington in the midst of an otherwise lost year, but Tyronn Lue will have to navigate a delicate situation of getting guys minutes on a team that truly goes 12 or 13 deep with legit rotation guys.
There will not be 20 minutes a night for everyone and while there will be plenty of rest going around, figuring out the right combinations will be a season-long process for Lue to know what the rotation becomes in the postseason depending on what matchups they face. It’s a good problem to have, but it is a genuine hurdle to clear with a talented roster of guys who believe they belong in a postseason rotation.
Los Angeles Lakers: What does their rotation look like?
The team across the hall at Staples Center has a very different problem from the Clippers, as the Lakers enter the season trying to figure out what a good rotation even looks like with this roster. Like the Clippers, the health of their two top stars is the biggest factor in any hopes of being a contender, but even if LeBron James and Anthony Davis can stay on the floor, they’re going to need at least some help. The backcourt got completely remade this offseason, with the very notable exception of Russell Westbrook remaining on the roster, with Patrick Beverley and Dennis Schröder being added and Kendrick Nunn finally being healthy and able to play. With little to work with in terms of cap space, the Lakers filled the roster out as best as they could with Lonnie Walker IV, Damian Jones, Thomas Bryant, Troy Brown Jr., and Juan Toscano-Anderson, all of whom are effectively mystery boxes in terms of how they’ll fit with James and Davis.
For new head coach Darvin Ham, it’s going to be a lot of trial and error early this season to figure out who fits with what combination of stars, with the particularly difficult task of figuring out lineup combinations to get the most out of Westbrook, who has struggled when sharing the floor with LeBron and will try out coming off the bench. There’s always the potential of the Lakers being dangerous if James and Davis are out there, but they’ll need some help and it’s not abundantly clear who is going to provide that on this roster right now.
Phoenix Suns: Can they recapture the magic after a dreadful summer?
The Suns are a bizarre case in that they were so dominant last regular season — like, heads and shoulders above the rest of the league — and then flamed out late in the Mavs series with a Game 7 performance that is an all-time catastrophe, which just continued all offseason.
To recap: That loss was so bad that it saw a rift form between the coach and their young star center, Deandre Ayton, pushing them to try and find a sign-and-trade, fail, and just bring him back after not speaking with the coach all summer. The owner is selling the team for fostering a hostile work environment and saying racist and misogynistic things to employees. Jae Crowder isn’t with the team as they try to trade him because they told him he wasn’t going to start and he wanted out. They guy they’re starting over Crowder, Cam Johnson, somehow didn’t get an extension on Monday at the rookie extension deadline. Everyone seemed miserable at media day. They lost a preseason game to an Australian team.
And now, they arrive at the start of the season with a lot of talent and a core we know can pile up wins in the regular season, but an awful lot of bad vibes — and a few roster questions, like Cam Payne still being their backup point guard and still needing to replace Crowder with any more depth in the frontcourt beyond Dario Saric’s return from an ACL tear. It’s not great, but this is also a team we know is really good and just generally they are confounding to try and figure out.
Sacramento Kings: Can they play enough defense?
The good news for the Kings is they might have the least amount of drama surrounding them coming into the season compared to their counterparts. The bad news is they just aren’t as good of a team (at least on paper). Sacramento exists almost in a tier of their own if you look at the win total projections in Las Vegas, as they are at 34.5, five games behind the Blazers and 11 games ahead of the 4-headed monster at the bottom of the West. That makes for an interesting spot as their goal is clear — snap the postseason drought — but it comes with the problem of not having a clear path to doing so.
They do have the makings of an elite offense, as De’Aaron Fox and Domantas Sabonis lead a group that could be explosive on that end of the floor. The additions of Kevin Huerter and Malik Monk only give them more firepower from three-point range, and there’s a world where the Kings are a top-10 offense in the league. The problem is, there’s just not a lot of defensive talent on the roster and they are banking heavily on Mike Brown’s expertise to cobble together something respectable on that end if they’re to have a chance of reaching the play-in.
They are going to play small and fast, and that’s great offensively but leaves them without much in the way of rim protection. Without an elite rim protector, the work has to get done earlier by the perimeter defenders, and they do not have a lot of plus-defenders in the backcourt, which means points will be scored aplenty by both teams in most Kings games this year. That said, we saw last year in Dallas what a great defensive coach can do with a limited roster, as Jason Kidd made the Mavs a much better defensive team than anyone anticipated. The Kings aren’t the Mavs, of course, but if Brown can make them respectable, they certainly have the offensive firepower to be fun and maybe claw their way into that play-in discussion.