As the NBA season fast approaches, Right Down Euclid will be previewing all 30 NBA teams, breaking down the strengths and weaknesses of each franchise. This preview will focusing on the Los Angeles Clippers, who last year had a record of 56–26 and made the playoffs.
Team: Los Angeles Clippers
Coach: Doc Rivers
General Manager: Gary Sacks
2012-2013 Record: 56–26 (.683)
Place in Conference: 1st in Pacific, 4th in Western Conference.
Leading Scorer: Blake Griffin 18.0 points per game
Key Additions: Coach Doc Rivers, drafted 6’7” G/F Reggie Bullock from North Carolina with the 25th overall selection, Signed free agents Antawn Jamison, Byron Mullens and Darren Collison. Acquired J.J. Reddick in a trade with the Milwaukee Bucks and Jared Dudley in a deal with the Phoenix Suns.
Key Losses: Coach Vinny Del Negro, Traded Eric Bledsoe and Caron Butler to the Phoenix Suns. Grant Hill retired. Lost free agents Chauncy Billups and Ronnie Turiaf. Waived Dajuan Summers. Free agent Lamar Odoms is still unsigned.
For nearly twenty years, the Clippers have played in the shadow of the Los Angeles Lakers, watching them win eight championships since they moved to the city in 1984. The Clippers finally have their best opportunity to win the hearts of local fans, who usually bleed Laker purple.
Slowly, the Clippers have been poaching the Laker fan base, offering an exciting brand of basketball, reminiscent of the “show time” era of the Lakers of old. With Point Guard Chris Paul masterminding the fast break and Power Forward Blake Griffin finishing alley-oop passes with thunderous dunks, Clipper games have not only been exciting, but the team itself has become a big time winner. The Lakers undermanned roster and aging stars are by contrast a stark comparison. Laker fans may be ripe for the plucking as the team drops into the lottery for the first time in years.
Last season, after placing first in the Pacific Division, the Clippers were eliminated 4-2 by the Memphis Grizzlies. It became apparent that they needed more than “Dunk City” to win at the playoff level. New coach Doc Rivers will install the defensive component that is necessary to win championships. Rivers came at the hefty cost of a 2015 first round draft choice, in order to pry him away from the Boston Celtics.
Strengths: The Clippers are loaded with talent. They resigned free agent guard Chris Paul, and return top forward Blake Griffin, center DeAndre Jordan, and the instant offense of guard Jamal Crawford. Some nice pieces were added to support them, such as center Byron Mullens, sharp shooter J.J. Reddick, guards Jared Dudley and Darren Collison, and the experience of Antawn Jamison off the bench. First round draft pick Reggie Bullock was a steal at #25 and has loads of potential for the future.
Weaknesses: The primary question mark for this team is how well they transition from Vinnie Del Negro’s “full speed ahead” attack to the deliberate half court sets which new coach Doc Rivers favors. Another important question is if the current personnel is capable of playing quality defense? Rivers may have the defensive knowledge, but does he have the horses required to make it work?
Finally, Rivers is putting a lot of faith in the maturation and development of Jordan. The third key question is if Jordan has the confidence level and focus to step up his game on both ends of the floor? He certainly has the physical talent, but can he put it all together to reward River’s faith in him? If he does, the Clippers will be a force to be reckoned with for several years to come.
2013-2014 Season Prediction: The Golden State Warriors are capable of giving the Clippers a strong run for the Pacific Division crown, but I see things going Los Angeles’ way. I look for the team to struggle while learning Rivers’ new system, but sometime around the holidays, they will hit their stride and take over the western conference.
A handful of teams will be able to keep up with them, such as Oklahoma City, San Antonio, Denver and Minnesota. However, if River’s can win the hearts and minds of the Clipper’s players, and they play defense for him, I can see this team winning the west and possibly hanging the first non-Laker championship banner in the Forum rafters. God rest the soul of Dr. Jerry Buss.