2013-14 record: 57-25
Key Additions: Jared Cunningham, Chris Douglas-Roberts, Jordan Farmar, Spencer Hawes, Joe Ingles, Ekpe Udoh, C.J. Wilcox
Key Departures: Darren Collison, Jared Dudley, Danny Granger, Willie Green, Ryan Hollins
Projected 2014-15 Lineup: PG Chris Paul SG JJ Redick SF Matt Barnes PF Blake Griffin C DeAndre Jordan
The Los Angeles Clippers had as tumultuous an offseason as anyone, and I’m sure they’re even happier than I am that it’s nearly time to focus on basketball instead of tabloids once again. Despite the distraction of a scumbag former owner, they found a way to get even better this offseason, which is saying something considering their 57-win season in 2013-14.
Where this team’s strength really lies is in the fact they have the best duo in the NBA with Chris Paul and Blake Griffin. That’s right, I think that combination is better than Durant/Westbrook, Harden/Howard, Rose/Noah, or even LeBron/Love or Kyrie. This is the only pair where a legitimate argument could be made for either being a top-five player in the league. Blake has improved all aspects of his game over the last year, and (spoiler alert) he’s my official pick to win MVP this year. I think the biggest reason why he wouldn’t win is if CP3 is stealing votes from him, which would actually be a great thing for the team, because that means he’s healthy and as effective as ever. Those two are just so good individually and together, they’d be enough to get a team into the playoffs alone. But the Clippers also have a solid roster throughout.
You’ve got DeAndre Jordan, who should be top-five for defensive player of the year, J.J. Redick, whose shooting always inspires confidence, and a perennial Sixth Man of the Year candidate in Jamal Crawford. They added a ton of depth to the bench through free agent signings, and the only players they lost were guys who were relative disappointments in LA. This team is going to be scary good.
As is true with any team, they aren’t totally without weak spots. Even with Redick, this team was just 22nd in three-point percentage last season. That should be helped by the addition of Spencer Hawes more than anyone. He shot 42% from beyond the arc last year, which is remarkable for any player, but especially great for a seven footer. Not only will he be able to hit shots from downtown, but his presence outside is going to help this team’s offense so much. Jordan is far from an outside threat, and Griffin is no sharpshooter himself. When those two are on the floor together, the inside can get a bit clogged. Hawes is going to play with both those guys, and he’s going to provide an opening inside. I think simply by the addition of Hawes, Griffin’s shooting percentage is going to increase a few ticks.
The weakness in that starting lineup is clearly on the wing, as Matt Barnes isn’t nearly on the offensive level of the other three. Then again, I don’t really know if his offensive struggles will have that much of an effect. He’s such a good on-ball defender that he’ll be able to mark plenty of top scorers, leaving Reddick or Crawford free to focus in on lesser threats. And he isn’t terrible on offense. 43% from the field isn’t anything to write home about, but it gets the job done. They problem is really in the comparison, as he’s at a position with guys like LeBron James, Kevin Durant, and Carmelo Anthony. And if having Matt Barnes in the rotation is the most of your problems, then you’re going to be alright.
This Clippers team is good. Really good. They’ve got the best superstar combination in basketball, and they’re my pick to ultimately win the NBA title. LA should prep for another championship parade, but with no gold or purple to be seen.
X-Factor: Reggie Bullock
Reggie Bullock didn’t see the floor much last year, as he was a rookie behind an array of options on the wing. But now that Danny Granger and Jared Dudley are gone, Bullock really is the next best option behind Barnes. He really is a good shooter, even though his numbers last year didn’t show it. It’s hard to really judge anything off as small of a sample size as we saw from Bullock, so I’m sticking to the assumption that his college play is a better indicator of his real ability. He’s also a good, physical defender, able of hassling some of the better scorers in the league enough to disrupt production.
Who Has The Most To Prove: Steve Ballmer
I hate to have to bring up Sterling when this is a basketball preview, but regardless of who he bought the team from, new owner Steve Ballmer was going to have a heap to prove. And it’s mostly because he spent $2 billion for the team. But then we’ve seen that he’s already an excitable sideline owner, meaning that his presence could help or hurt the Clippers this year. Perhaps he just ones to be one of the “OHHH Brothers.”
And as much as I hate to focus on this, Ballmer’s ownership is going to be compared to Sterling’s in every way. While I think there’s zero chance Ballmer makes any of the mistakes that Sterling does, he’s still got some work to do to reclaim the franchise’s image. When you had a team nearly not play in a playoff game, that’s a franchise in a bad state. Ballmer needs to be sure to do nothing remotely controversial in the foreseeable future.
Why They’re Worth Watching:
Best Case: The team stays healthy, Griffin wins MVP, and Doc wins COY. 63 wins.
Worst Case: Chris Paul is on the court for less than 50 games, Spencer Hawes can’t hit his outside shot, and teams implement hack-a-DeAndre constantly. 51 wins.
Projected Record: 60-22