Has the Little Brother Finally Grown Up? – Los Angeles Clippers Season Preview

Can’t believe they got Dwight too.

Starting Five: PG Chris Paul, G Eric Bledsoe, SF Caron Butler, PF Blake Griffin, C DeAndre Jordan

Key Bench Players: G Chauncey Billups, SG Jamal Crawford, SG Willie Green, SF Matt Barnes, SF Grant Hill, PF Lamar Odom, C Ryan Hollins, C Ronnie Turiaf

Key Additions: SG Jamal Crawford, SF Grant Hill, PF Lamar Odom

Key Departures: G Mo Williams, SG Nick Young, G Randy Foye, PF Kenyon Martin, PF Reggie Evans

Despite having Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, the poor Clippers can’t catch a break in Los Angeles or in the Pacific Division. Perhaps they were expecting the Lakers to slowly decline while trying to ride Kobe off into the sunset? Unfortunately, that’s not how the Lakers roll and they managed to completely retool on the fly, retaining all their core assets except Bynum and adding two superstars. That’s gotta hurt for the Clippers, who were probably planning on flipping the switch this year and triumphing over their cross-town rivals to win their FIRST Pacific Division crown.

The continued relevance of the Purple and Gold aside, this team has a lot of pieces, but there is an equal number of question marks here. Although they have several young superstars surrounded by a tantalizing combination of young talent and veteran leadership, this roster doesn’t scream title contender in an increasingly top-heavy NBA. Forget the Heat. Would this team even be favored against the aging Spurs?

If there is ever a roster that will be defined by injuries and its intangibles, it’s this one. My first concern is health with this Clippers squad. Chauncey Billups will almost certainly miss the beginning of the season, while Paul and Griffin both have had checkered injury histories themselves. All of their new additions are on the downside of their careers and it’s totally unclear how much they are going to get from an ancient Grant Hill, a  wounded Lamar Odom on the rebound, and Jamal Crawford, who fell off quite a bit last year and should continue to decline. Nick Young and Randy Foye weren’t the answer on the bench, but they did provide fresh legs and some energy. They also knew their role on the team– something that Jamal Crawford has complained about at just about every stop on his NBA career.

Beyond that, I’ve listed 14 players as the starting five and key bench players. What’s the 10 man rotation? Lots of coaches struggle with rotations, but Vinnie Del Negro may be the worst. Although he did a much better job in the playoffs last year, he’s still a liability and prone to distractions (like squirrels). Clippers fans should not be confident that VDN can get the most of this deep and versatile roster, and that’s troubling. There are guys with defined roles and career bench players, but how do they have enough minutes to play Billups, Paul, and Crawford while continuing to develop Bledsoe and Willie Green? They also have 3 guys who’d like to play 30 minutes at SF and a logjam in the front court. Reggie Evans, who bailed out Blake Griffin in the playoffs with his toughness and rebounding last year, has been put out to pasture.

Really though, this roster comes to the development of their young talent in the frontcourt. Most of these guys are known quantities, but what DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin provide will determine if this is an up-and-coming contender or a middling playoff team. Blake Griffin’s appalling inability to shoot free throws or make anything where his hand wasn’t actually inside the rim really hurt this team last year. It also kept him off the court at the end of close games. DeAndre Jordan completely fell apart to end the season – he watched his incredible shot blocking numbers decline and averaged an anemic 5 points/rebounds per game in less than 23 minutes during the playoffs. He can forget scoring if need be, but the Clippers need him to become a defensive force if they want to take a big leap forward as a team.

“Free throws?! Can’t we just take it out of bounds?”
Best Case Scenario: With this many questions to answer and a mediocre coach, it’s tough to believe this team could make it out of the West, but they still could have an impressive run in the playoffs. We know that CP3 will shine if healthy. If Blake Griffin takes the leap, DeAndre Jordan wakes up, and the rest of the roster plays their part, this team could take advantage of any slides by the Lakers/Thunder/Spurs. If injuries and match-ups play out in their favor, I could see the Clippers sneaking into the Western Conference Finals, going down with a valiant effort against their Big Brother in a Freeway Series, and building momentum for 2013-14.

Absolute Apocalypse: Chauncey Billups isn’t the same and they sustain injuries to a few of their key role players. As Blake Griffin goes down with a season-ending knee injury, the Clippers are forced to evaluate their options and future. They aren’t bad enough to tank and just miss the playoffs. Although they get a lottery pick, it isn’t a high one and this team attempts to reload and make another run at building towards the future next season.

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