The Los Angeles Clippers won 57 games last season, but their campaign came to a disappointing end when they lost in the Western Conference Semifinals. The drama surrounding Donald Sterling’s racist comments made national headlines and the Clippers couldn’t get past the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Now, Sterling is out as the team’s owner, with former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer purchasing the team. The Clippers have brought back many of the same faces from last year along with several additions and they enter the season as one of the NBA’s elite teams.
Basketball Insiders previews the 2014-15 Los Angeles Clippers.
Five Guys Think
The Los Angeles Clippers continue to rack up regular season wins at a record level for the franchise, but ultimately this team will be judged by its postseason success – or lack thereof. Despite possessing one of the best duos in the league, Blake Griffin and Chris Paul, the Clippers have failed to get to the Western Conference Finals the past three seasons. Last season’s second-round elimination at the hands of the Oklahoma City Thunder left an especially bitter taste in the mouths of the Clippers. On paper, the team should be competing for a title or at the very least earning a sport in the Western Conference Finals. It is time to get it done this season or some more intrusive roster tweaking may be required.
1st Place – Pacific Division
– Lang Greene
Quietly, Steve Ballmer is somewhere hoping that his $2 billion can buy him an NBA Championship. Mikhail Prokhorov can tell you, though, it has to all come together on the court. Fortunately for Chris Paul, his Clippers are one of maybe five or six teams that will have a legitimate chance at winning the ultimate prize this season. Jordan Farmar and Spencer Hawes will replace the departed Darren Collison and Ryan Hollins. It can be argued that each is an upgrade over their predecessor. It is easy to forget that the Clippers were just a few bounces of the ball away from toppling the Oklahoma City Thunder last spring. If that pain fuels their internal progression and if Blake Griffin continues to fulfill his potential as one of the more well-rounded power forwards in the league, the Clippers will find themselves in the final four with an opportunity to compete for a NBA Championship. Ousting the San Antonio Spurs or Thunder will be a tall task, but these Clippers aren’t that far away, especially with their upgrades this offseason.
1st place – Pacific Division
– Moke Hamilton
The Clippers are one of the most talented teams in the NBA and I believe they’re a legitimate contender entering the 2014-15 season. Chris Paul is the best point guard in the NBA. Blake Griffin was exceptional last year and will soon be in the Most Valuable Player discussion. DeAndre Jordan had a breakout campaign last year, averaging career-highs across the board and anchoring the Clippers’ defense. Doc Rivers is one of the best head coaches in the NBA (who deserves credit for the improvement of Griffin and Jordan), and he knows what it takes to hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy. J.J. Redick and Matt Barnes are solid role players to fill out the starting lineup and L.A. also has an impressive bench with Jamal Crawford, Glen Davis, Jordan Farmar, Reggie Bullock, Ekpe Udoh and Hedo Turkoglu among others. The West is obviously loaded with contending teams, but one could make the argument that the Clippers are the most talented squad and have a real shot at representing the conference in the Finals.
1st Place – Pacific Division
– Alex Kennedy
After an unfortunately eventful offseason, the Clippers are moving forward with a new owner who’s clearly ready to supervise the winning of a significant number of basketball games. Obviously, the talent here is plentiful and they are well-coached, so even if they bump into a major injury or two there’s still more than enough good players here to step up and keep L.A. among the league’s elite teams. At full strength, though, they’re the biggest threat to dethrone San Antonio as the best there is in the Western Conference this year, and they should be viewed as one of the most serious title contenders in the NBA this season.
1st Place – Pacific Division
– Joel Brigham
It would have been very interesting to see if the Los Angeles Clippers were more active participants in free agency this offseason if they weren’t dealing with all of the ownership issues. They had the pieces to get involved for LeBron James or Carmelo Anthony, but things in the front office weren’t stable enough to make those kind of wholesale changes. Still, they have a championship contender as assembled and Steve Ballmer replacing Donald Sterling as the owner is the biggest upgrade of any made in the NBA this offseason. This is a deep, well-rounded and extremely talented team that is poised to contend for years to come. Aside from having some guys who have a concerning injury history, this team really has no weakness. They’ve gone through a lot together and should benefit a lot from a chemistry standpoint. If the San Antonio Spurs show any sign of aging this season, the Clippers could be the team to take their throne.
1st Place – Pacific Division
– Yannis Koutroupis
Top of the List
Top Offensive Player: Blake Griffin. Anyone who thinks that Griffin’s offensive arsenal is limited to dunking clearly hasn’t watched a Clippers game in quite awhile. The 25-year-old can still put your favorite player on a poster, but he has also significantly expanded his game. Last season, Griffin led the Clippers in scoring with a career-high 24.1 points per game and he shot 52.8 percent from the field. He had the sixth-highest scoring average in the NBA, averaging more points than offensive juggernauts like Stephen Curry and LaMarcus Aldridge. The Clippers have a lot of players who can score the ball, but Griffin is clearly their top option and go-to guy.
Top Defensive Player: DeAndre Jordan. Last season, head coach Doc Rivers made Jordan the captain of the team’s defense and told him he wanted to see the athletic big man dominate on that end of the floor. Jordan responded by having the best year of his career, averaging 13.6 rebounds, 2.5 blocks and a steal. He was a monster on the defensive end, ranking first in the NBA in rebounds, second in blocks, third in defensive win shares and fourth in block percentage. It also seemed that Jordan’s confidence increased, and he delivered a breakout season on the offensive end too as a result (averaging 10.4 points and shooting a league-leading 67.6 percent from the field). Rivers has done an excellent job in Los Angeles, and he has really helped Jordan with his development. Look for Jordan to be one of the best defenders in the league once again this season.
Top Playmaker: Chris Paul. Not only is Paul the best playmaker on the Clippers, he’s the best in the league. He led the NBA in assists and it wasn’t even close, as he averaged 10.7 dimes per game and no other player averaged double-digit assists. Paul also led the league in points created by assists per game (24.5) and secondary assists per game (2.2). The 29-year-old is a terrific floor general and he runs the Clippers’ offense to perfection, thriving in the open court and halfcourt. The NBA is loaded with talented point guards these days, but the numbers show that Paul is the best and that shouldn’t change anytime soon.
Top Clutch Player: Chris Paul. The Clippers have three players with impressive clutch statistics – Paul, Jamal Crawford and Blake Griffin. However, Paul gets the nod as the team’s top clutch player since he’s the one who often has the ball in his hands late in games, either to create for himself or others. Paul leads the Clippers in points, assists and steals in clutch situations. Paul could improve his shooting percentages in clutch time, but it’s clear that he’s the Clippers’ go-to guy when the game is on the line. Fortunately for Los Angeles, though, they also have Crawford and Griffin who have thrived in these situations. Having too many clutch players is a good problem for the Clippers.
The Unheralded Player: Jamal Crawford. Crawford is entering his 15th season of his NBA career, but you’d never know it watching him play. The 34-year-old hasn’t shown any signs of decline and he’s a very important player for this team. Last season, Crawford averaged 18.6 points and was named the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year (for the second time in his career). He’s arguably the best reserve in the league and the Clippers count on him to create his own shot and provide an offensive spark off of the bench. As long as Crawford is healthy, he’ll continue to put up points and be in the mix for Sixth Man of the Year. He’s also a strong leader and locker room presence for this team.
Best New Addition: Spencer Hawes. Steve Ballmer may be the best new addition because it means that Donald Sterling is finally out as the team’s owner. However, if we’re just focusing on the roster, Hawes was the Clippers’ big summer acquisition. Hawes gives the Clippers a talented reserve big who can stretch the floor. Last season, he averaged 13.2 points, 8.3 rebounds and 1.2 blocks. He’s an excellent shooter and he adds another weapon to this Clippers offense. Hawes was a starter last season, but he’ll be a reserve in L.A. and add another talented piece to the Clippers’ second unit. Signing Hawes to a very reasonable four-year, $23 million contract was a great move for L.A.
– Alex Kennedy
Who We Like
1. Chris Paul: Not only is Paul the league’s best floor general, as we stated above, he’s also arguably the best leader in the NBA. Paul’s teammates rave about his leadership skills. Not only is he very vocal (he can often be heard on broadcasts barking at his teammates), he also leads by example. He gets the most out of his teammates by pushing them on and off the court. Paul has the respect of just about every player in the NBA, which is why he was a perfect pick to be the National Basketball Players Association’s new president.
2. Doc Rivers: Rivers is one of the best coaches in the NBA and he deserves a lot of credit for the work he did last season in his first year with the Clippers. Rivers did a terrific job managing all of the talented players on his roster and the entire team bought in and had confidence in their head coach (which wasn’t always the case under previous head coach Vinny Del Negro). It’s no coincidence that Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan took significant steps forward last year, as Rivers worked extensively with them throughout the season. Also, Rivers helped the Clippers stay focused on basketball as the Donald Sterling drama played out during the playoffs. Despite the enormous distraction, the Clippers were able to defeat the Golden State Warriors in the first round and navigate through the situation. Rivers is a championship-caliber coach and he’ll ensure that this team plays to their full potential. The Clippers are in good hands with Rivers.
3. J.J. Redick: Redick was limited by injuries last season, but he’s a very productive shooting guard when healthy. He averaged a career-high 15.2 points last season, shooting 45.5 percent from the field, 39.5 percent from three-point range and 91.5 percent from the free throw line. Redick has expanded his game so much since he entered the league and he’ll really be an important piece for the Clippers if he can remain healthy for the entire season. He spreads the floor with his shooting, but he also has an extremely high basketball IQ as evidenced by his excellent decision-making and ball movement. He’s also a strong leader and terrific teammate.
4. Jordan Farmar: Paul has dealt with some injuries, so it’s important that the Clippers have a solid backup point guard. Eric Bledsoe and Darren Collison held down that spot in the past, but now both of those guys are starters and Farmar was signed to be the team’s reserve floor general. Last year, Farmar returned to the NBA after a year playing in Turkey to sign with the L.A. Lakers. He averaged 10.1 points and 4.9 assists off of the Lakers’ bench and shot an impressive 43.8 percent from three-point range on nearly four attempts per game. In late February, Farmar dropped a career-high 30 points against the Sacramento Kings, hitting eight of 10 threes in the game. Farmar’s numbers were similar to the ones Collison put up last year, so he should be a serviceable reserve behind Paul.
– Alex Kennedy
With so many offensive weapons, it’s no surprise that the Clippers led the NBA in points per game (107.9) last season. They were also second in point differential (+6.9) behind only the San Antonio Spurs. The Clippers are also excellent at moving the ball (ranking third in assists per game with 24.6) and protecting the ball (averaging the sixth-fewest turnovers per game with 13.3). The Clippers’ athleticism is a huge strength, as they can be very difficult to match up with. Having the league’s best point guard in Chris Paul, and one of the top power forwards in the game in Blake Griffin, also separates L.A. from other teams. This is an incredibly talented team with many strengths.
– Alex Kennedy
The Clippers could stand to improve their rebounding, as last season they averaged just 43 boards per game (ranked 14th in the NBA) with a -.7 rebounding differential (ranked 20th in the NBA). This is somewhat of a surprise since DeAndre Jordan averaged 13.6 rebounds last season and led the league in total rebounds, but he needs to get some help on the glass. Last season, frontcourt depth was an issue for L.A. (hence the rebounding issues), but that’s something the Clippers tried to fix this offseason by adding Spencer Hawes and Ekpe Udoh. Injuries also were an issue last season, with Chris Paul, J.J. Redick, Jamal Crawford and Matt Barnes all missed significant time.
– Alex Kennedy
The Salary Cap
The Clippers were hampered by a hard cap ($80.8 million) after signing Spencer Hawes to the team’s $5.3 million Mid-Level Exception, and Jordan Farmar at the $2.1 million Bi-Annual Exception. To shed salary, the franchise dealt Jared Dudley to the Milwaukee Bucks for Carlos Delfino and Miroslav Raduljica. Both were waived via the stretch provision, owed a combined $950k per year for the next five seasons. The move opened up some breathing room for team to sign Ekpe Udoh, Chris Douglas-Roberts and Hedo Turkoglu. Now the Clippers are nearing the hard cap again, at $79.1 million in guaranteed salaries for 14 players, leaving about $1.7 million in spending power – enough to add on a 15th player at the minimum. The Clippers also have two small traded player exceptions (947k and 884k), but the hard cap continues to limit their options.
– Eric Pincus
Lost in all of the hubbub around the Donald Sterling situation and a second-round loss to the Thunder is the fact that the Clippers were probably the third best team in basketball a year ago. In fact, they ranked second in the league in net rating (the difference between their points scored and allowed per 100 possessions), with the league’s top-ranked offense and seventh-ranked defense (although they were closer to 11th than sixth.
Yet the Clippers still have some very discernible weaknesses that were barely addressed in the offseason. While they addressed the long-standing open sore at backup center with Spencer Hawes, he has never been known as a great defender and it is unclear at best if he can effectively defend with DeAndre Jordan if Blake Griffin is out of the game. Meanwhile, the only established above-average defender on the wing is 34-year-old Matt Barnes. At that age it is unclear how much longer he will remain a solid defender–or how long before his offense renders him unplayable despite his defense. For a team that will likely need to beat both Kevin Durant and LeBron James to win a title, that is a very major concern.
Everyone stays healthy all year, including Chris Paul and J.J. Redick. After another season in Doc Rivers’ system, DeAndre Jordan becomes a legitimate Defensive Player of the Year candidate in the eyes of observers other than Rivers. Blake Griffin also continues to make strides on that end and continues to improve his shooting from the perimeter and the line. Paul staves off aging for another year and remains a top-five player. Hawes keeps the offense humming with his shooting off the bench, and the Clippers eclipse Cleveland for the best offense in the league. They get the number one seed and avoid having to play both San Antonio and Oklahoma City. Paul does not attempt to shoot any threes from the backcourt while getting fouled all year.
Injuries strike the wing rotation, Barnes loses effectiveness, and Reggie Bullock is unready to take on the role of defensive stopper. Paul misses 15 games with a variety of ailments, and Jordan Farmar cannot stay healthy either at backup point. Meanwhile, the lack of perimeter defense puts too much pressure on the frontcourt, and the defense falls into the teens. The Clips’ offense “struggles” to a fourth place finish.
The Burning Question
Can the Clippers win it all this season?
The Clippers are one of the most talented teams in the NBA and they seem to have all of the pieces to hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy. However, they have yet to advance past the Western Conference Semifinals. They played in a stacked conference, but at some point the Clippers need to take that next step. Is this the year that the Clippers will go deep in the postseason, perhaps even representing the West in the Finals? It’s certainly possible. But they need to bring their A-game, especially in the postseason, in order to get by fellow contenders like the San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder.
– Alex Kennedy
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