Fantasy & Free Agent Fest: Pacific Division

In the days leading up to the start of free agency on Dec. 9, Damn Lies & Statistics will be taking a look at each team’s potential moves, top fantasy players and more. In the final installment, Greg Fox examines the Pacific Division.

GOLDEN STATE
Fantasy-Worthy Players Under Contract (H2H Draft Round in Parentheses): G Stephen Curry (1/2), G Monta Ellis (2), F Dorell Wright (4), F/C David Lee (4)
Key Unrestricted Free Agents: F Al Thornton
Key Restricted Free Agents: G Reggie Williams
What to Look For: The Warriors remain the most exciting group of fantasy players since the salad days of the Pittsburgh Pisces. New head coach Mark Jackson is already preaching defense, but those who remember the 6-3 turnstile can’t take that too seriously. What Jackson was was a terrific lead guard, who controlled the flow of a game and made everyone around him better. If his wisdom can rub off on Stephen Curry, then the third-year point guard will deliver first-round value. Hell, I felt he was brutal last year, and he still finished as a borderline first-rounder. His backcourt mate, Monta Ellis, if he can stay out of the emergency room following his nightly 48-minute high-wire acts, can also return silly dividends. Always a big-time scorer with strong percentages, Ellis has added a 3-point shot to his repertoire in recent years. Small forward Dorell Wright was arguably fantasy’s MVP last season, coming out of nowhere to produce terrific across-the-board numbers. Don’t go spending a third-round pick on the guy as he is bound to disappoint this time around, but keep him on the radar in the fourth or fifth round. As for disappointments, Warrior big men David Lee and Andris Biedrins impaled their owners a year ago. Lee was a second-round choice for many, but a Wilson Chandler incisor to Lee’s forearm contributed to his derailment and he should bounce back nicely in 2011-12. Biedrins may have to look for work elsewhere as Golden State brass seems to be tiring of his Claude Rains impression. Keep a close eye on power forward Ekpe Udoh, who could steal some minutes in the middle and provide decent rebounds and blocks.
The Damn Lies Bold Recipe: Nothing against Biedrins, but it is not going to work for him in the Bay area. The unfortunate thing is that the Warriors are stuck as they would have to sell him at 10 cents on the dollar and they may be better off using the amnesty clause on him. This team is in need of some hard-nosed players, willing to take a charge, as well as a big man who can change some shots. Tyson Chandler comes to mind, but the Warriors can’t afford him. DeAndre Jordan, Tayshaun Prince, Carl Landry, Chuck Hayes and Luch Richard Mbah a Moute all seem to fit this team’s needs. Time to take the plunge.

LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS
Fantasy-Worthy Players Under Contract (H2H Draft Round in Parentheses): F Blake Griffin (2/3), G Eric Gordon (4/5), G Mo Williams (6), F/C DeAndre Jordan (9), C Chris Kaman (9)
Key Unrestricted Free Agents: F Jamario Moon
Key Restricted Free Agents: F/C DeAndre Jordan
What to Look For: The fact that Blake Griffin made it through the 2010-11 season with his spleen still intact is the first positive sign to come out of Clipperland since Billy Crystal purchased a season package. By no means am I suggesting that Griffin will be injury prone, but simply that Schleprock has finally left the building. Griffin’s ascent, both literally and figuratively, should have a positive effect on Mo Williams’ psyche, who looked like his dog had died 82 different times last season. Mo should be in for a pretty strong year as he has spent the offseason working on his alley-oop toss. At shooting guard, let’s not forget what Eric Gordon was doing last season (22.3 ppg, 4.4 apg, 1.9 3-pt fg) before he got injured. The sharpshooter could be primed for the best season of his career. The center position is a bit muddled with the uncertain futures of the oft-injured Chris Kaman and of restricted free agent DeAndre Jordan. The one left standing could be in for a big year, but if they are both rostered they will again cancel each other out. Look for Jordan to re-sign and for Kaman to bid adieu via trade.
The Damn Lies Bold Recipe: Dare I say the playoffs are a distinct possibility? But other than Randy Foye, this team doesn’t have enough depth. The addition of a Landry, Mbah a Moute or best-of-all Tayshaun Prince would be subtle but effective and any of them would fill the gaping hole at small forward. Griffin, whose blocks per game (0.6) were abysmally low last year, is going to go higher than he should. His swats should double and it could take a second-round selection to own him. If Kaman is dealt prior to your draft, move Jordan up a round or two.

LOS ANGELES LAKERS
Fantasy-Worthy Players Under Contract (H2H Draft Round in Parentheses): C Pau Gasol (1), G Kobe Bryant (1/2), C Andrew Bynum (5), F Lamar Odom (10)
Key Unrestricted Free Agents: G Shannon Brown
Key Restricted Free Agents: None
What to Look For: It did my heart good to see Kobe and the Kobettes fall flat in last year’s playoffs. What annoyed me to no end was that uber-talented big man Paul Gaol became the fall guy. So let’s get this straight; when the Lakers win and Gasol is the most valuable player on the floor Bryant gets all the credit, but when they lose and underachieve it’s all on Gasol. Interesting philosophy. Bryant turned 33 this past summer, but will be primed for another year of forcing jumpers and putting up delectable fantasy numbers. He is not what he once was and back-to-back-to-backs will have those knees barking, but 24-5-4 with outstanding peripherals are still within reach. Gasol also seemed to take a bit of a step back in ’10-11, but how many centers can post 18.8 points, 10.2 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 1.6 blocks and shoot 82 percent from the line? He’s still arguably the first center off the board. New head coach Mike Brown promises to have an even split of minutes between Gasol and Andrew Bynum. There aren’t too many centers as strong and as talented as Bynum, and as long as he doesn’t shatter his patellars before the season tips off he could offer great value. If Bynum gets traded to the Magic in a deal that would land Dwight Howard, then Bynum’s stock improves significantly. Lamar Odom is also being promised additional minutes, despite still serving as sixth man. He’s a sneaky pick this year and could be a steal in the ninth round or so. After the big four, this team has nothing to offer from a fantasy perspective as Metta World Peace has the ugliest offensive game since Mark Landsberger roamed the Laker pivot.
The Damn Lies Bold Recipe: Kobe will do everything in his power to bring Howard to LA even if it means alienating Gasol, Bynum and their immediate families. If it stands pat and Gasol and Bynum stay relatively healthy, this team could win a championship. It needs an upgrade at small forward as MWP is quickly becoming a punch line. Use the amnesty clause on him and figure out a way to corral Prince or Caron Butler.

PHOENIX SUNS
Fantasy-Worthy Players Under Contract (H2H Draft Round in Parentheses): G Steve Nash (2), C Marcin Gortat (6), F/C Channing Frye (8), G Jared Dudley (12)
Key Unrestricted Free Agents: F Grant Hill
Key Restricted Free Agents: G Aaron Brooks
What to Look For: The fact that this Phoenix team nearly played .500 ball and was in the hunt for the final playoff spot in the West last season speaks to the  other-worldly ability of its 37-year old point guard. And Mr. Nash shows no signs of slowing down, despite a back issue that has bothered him for as long as I can remember. He will remain one of the league leaders in assists and free throw percentage, while flirting with 50 percent shooting from the field and you can’t go wrong with him in the second round. He is hurting for support, but at least Alvin Gentry had the good sense to use newly-acquired Marcin Gortat correctly in the second half of last season, rendering Robin Lopez a fantasy afterthought. The Polish Hammer averaged 15.3 points, 10.6 rebounds and 1.5 blocks after the all-star break, and although he’ll probably have a hard time duplicating those totals, he should still be one of the 12 best centers when all is said and done. Channing Frye is proving to be a better fantasy player than a real-life one. He may qualify at center in some leagues and is the only big in the league capable of knocking down more than 2.0 threes per game while also blocking a shot. The best news to come out of the valley is that management is preparing to waive Vince Carter so that his paltry $18 million contract does not become guaranteed. This will free Carter to sign with any team in need of a mid-30s ball hog who can’t defend. This will leave Jared Dudley at shooting guard and the timeless Grant Hill at small forward. The underrated Dudley could event flirt with starting value if given 30+ minutes a night.
The Damn Lies Bold Recipe: The Suns are going nowhere fast. They would be best served by trading Nash while his vertebrae still has him upright. This team needs draft picks and young, NBA-ready bodies for the future. Trade him to the Knicks for Chauncey Billups and his expiring contract, Toney Douglas, Landry Fields and two first-round picks. New York may be holding out for Chris Paul, but with the new agreement, it is going to be tough to pull that off. The Suns could then flip Billups to a contender (Miami/LAL?) for a pick.

SACRAMENTO KINGS
Fantasy-Worthy Players Under Contract (H2H Draft Round in Parentheses): G Tyreke Evans (3), C DeMarcus Cousins (8), F J.J. Hickson (9), F John Salmons (9/10), G Marcus Thornton (10/11)
Key Unrestricted Free Agents: C Samuel Dalembert
Key Restricted Free Agents: G Marcus Thornton
What to Look For: The Kings haven’t been relevant in awhile and I don’t see this changing anytime soon. As they head to training camp, this squad has about 37 shooting guards and small forwards who are expecting significant daylight, so expect them to swing a deal or at least use the amnesty clause on someone. Regardless, third-year man Tyreke Evans will be the focal point of the offense and will likely serve as point guard. It was simply excruciating to be an Evans owner a year ago as he was constantly on the verge of surgery for plantar fasciitis and playing horribly all the while. He’s got to be better this year and might end up a steal if he lasts until the fourth round. With Sammy Dalembert an unrestricted free agent and just about out of town, the middle will be DeMarcus Cousins’ to do with what he pleases. The big fella has a strong rookie year, but he’s got inconsistency written all over him, both on the court and in life. It will be interesting to see if the Kings re-sign restricted free agent Marcus Thornton. A terrific long-range shooter and strong athlete, he could be a solid fantasy choice in the middle rounds. Sacramento used the seventh pick in the draft on Jimmer Fredette and he will be someone to keep a close eye on through training camp. I happen to think he has a bright future, but with Paul Westphal changing rotations like most change socks, it is going to be tough for Jimmer to find consistency. Inexplicably, the Kings brought John Salmons back to a horrified fan base. In all fairness, Salmons did perform well in his final year in Sacramento (18.3 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 3.7 apg, 1.5 3-pt fg) in ’08-09, but he’ll soon be 32-years old and doesn’t seem to be aging gracefully. J.J. Hickson arrives following an offseason trade with Cleveland, and although he doesn’t block shots, could give them 14 and 8 nightly.
The Damn Lies Bold Recipe: Years of bad drafting have left the Kings with first-round disasters too numerous to name. They need to admit the Salmons mistake early and use the amnesty clause on him or Francisco Garcia, who is making an unsightly $5,800,000 this year. If I ran this team I would prove to my fellow owners that Evans was completely healthy and package him, Cousins and Donte Greene for winning players and picks. Yup, basically start all over with Jimmer running the point. This, of course, will not happen and the Kings will be mired near last for the next few years.

ATLANTIC DIVISION PREVIEW | CENTRAL DIVISION PREVIEW | SOUTHEAST DIVISION PREVIEW | SOUTHWEST DIVISION PREVIEW | NORTHWEST DIVISION

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