Since acquiring the Point God Chris Paul back in 2011, the Los Angeles Clippers have had the talent to make a championship push. Even with 3 All-NBA Players, a supporting cast of veterans, and a future hall of fame coach, the Clippers have always shown to be “pretenders” rather than contenders come playoff time. Heading into the upcoming season has raised a lot of questions and concerns if this core of players can ever win that ever elusive championship.
Okay, last season is a write off. Chris Paul suffered a wrist injury while Blake Griffin was sidelined with a left quad injury and the Clippers were eventually eliminated in the first round by the Portland Trail Blazers. With Steph Curry missing significant time in the first few rounds of the playoffs, it would have been very possible for a healthy Clippers squad to go deeper in the playoffs. Rewind to the season before that, the Clippers held a 3-1 lead in the Conference Semi-Finals only to have the Houston Rockets climb back up and take the series. The season before that, well, Donald Sterling just caused pure distractions during the playoffs and it eventually led to a first round exit. Reaching the Western Conference Finals has been a road block that the Clippers (especially Chris Paul) just can’t seem to get over. CP3 isn’t the issue though, as his leadership and competitive play still makes him one of the best players in the league. When the Clippers rewarded him with a 5 year, $107 million contract 3 years ago, it was clear that he is the heart and soul of the franchise. Just like LeBron on the Cavaliers, he also gets a big say in every and all roster transactions. For Chris Paul, he needs to remain healthy.
Last off-season was also a crazy one for the Los Angeles Clippers. With DeAndre Jordan emerging as one of the league’s best rebounders and shot blockers, he entered free agency as one of the biggest names. Initially agreeing to a deal with the Dallas Mavericks, the Clippers were then able to persuade him to change his mind and stay with the franchise that drafted him back in 2008. This came at a price of 4 years, $88 million making him the highest average paid player on the team. The question is, was this worth the money? Well okay, DeAndre was coming off an All-NBA season where he averaged 11.5 points, 15 rebounds, and 2.2 blocked shots on 71% Field Goal shooting. However, perhaps his most historical stat is the 39.7% from the charity stripe. The Hack-A-Jordan strategy has absolutely killed the Clippers’ offensive flow and ability to maintain leads in crunch time. DeAndre’s offensive game is also limited to dunks and lay-ups from dump offs and put-backs. So can the Clippers win a championship with DeAndre Jordan? The answer is simple, he must improve his free throw shooting and become a more versatile scorer.
Next let’s talk about the 2009 #1 overall pick. Since coming into the league, Blake Griffin has put up stellar numbers averaging 21.5 points and 9.6 rebounds shooting over 52% from the field. Last season, however, he battled multiple injuries and was also suspended for punching a member of the equipment staff. Management and fans were highly critical of the incident and his behavior has put him as the primary topic in the discussion of trade rumours. However, the Clippers would not be willing to deal him for a cheap price. The 5x All-Star remains one of the top big men and best finishers in the league. It’s contract season for Blake, who will likely earn one of the NBA’s top salaries next season.
Let’s look at the projected remaining players in the rotation: JJ Reddick (Starting SG, sharpshooter), Paul Pierce (Starting SF, Veteran Champion presence), Jamaal Crawford (6th Man), Austin Rivers (back-up PG), Wesley Johnson (back-up SF), Brandon Bass (back-up PF), and Mareese Speights (back-up C). Alan Anderson, Jeff Ayres, Raymond Felton, Brice Johnson, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, and Diamond Stone will also be fighting for roster spots and minutes. So the supporting cast has the experience to contribute and win games. What’s the biggest weakness? None of these men are all-stars capable of taking over games to reduce the pressure off Chris Paul and Blake Griffin. This is why the Clippers were aggressive in attempting to sign an all-star wing player like DeMar DeRozan or Kevin Durant. In today’s NBA, you need solid wing players on both ends of the floor. This is not a knock against the current players in the rotation, but this has clearly been the soft spot for the Clippers over the past few seasons. The trade rumours have generally surrounded trading one of the all-star big men for a wing player capable of carrying an offensive load. Rudy Gay was even in the discussion but the Clippers fear he could be an issue both on the court and in the locker room.
The L.A. Clippers have been an exciting team to watch over the years. When Chris Paul and Blake Griffin arrived, the team got the nickname “Lob City” with one of the best passing guards and two of the best dunkers in the league. The Clippers also want to be respected as THE team in Los Angeles. The Lakers have not had a winning season in 3 years and the retirement of Kobe Bryant has made the team even less exciting to watch. Unfortunately, if you want be THE team, you have to win championships. The Lakers have 15 championship banners, which is 15 more than the Clippers. When Doc Rivers arrived, he not only made it a priority to change the Clippers from just a “Lob City” to a championship contender but to create a distinct separation between the two franchises playing in the same arena. This action was taken by covering up the Lakers’ Banners with Clippers players on Clippers home game nights.
The Golden State Warriors and San Antonio Spurs are the heavy favourites to meet in the Western Conference Finals. However, the L.A. Clippers may be the only team with enough talent to potentially challenge either powerhouse. This might require a few roster moves and big improvements in the players but as of now, the Clippers are sticking with what they have. They will tip off the season on October 27th, as they look for vengeance when they visit Damian Lillard and the Portland Trail Blazers.