Who's New?: F Josh Smith (free agent), F Paul Pierce (free agent), G Lance Stephenson (trade), F Wesley Johnson (free agent), C Cole Aldrich (free agent), G Pablo Prigioni (free agent), F Luc Mbah a Moute (free agent), F Chuck Hayes (free agent)
Who's Gone?: F Matt Barnes (trade), F Glen Davis (free agent), C Spencer Hawes (trade), F Hedo Turkoglu (free agent)
Off-season Grade: B+. Not only did the Clippers manage to retain DeAndre Jordan, but they acquired a whole bench despite having no cap room. Practically every guy signed for the veteran's minimum. Also, they stuck to the Charles Barkley dictum of "You can get away with having one crazy guy on your team but not two," by flipping Barnes for Stephenson. Heck, they even got rid of Big Baby just in case.
2015-16 Slogan: "Wait until you hear our excuses for this postseason."
What else is new?: Well, the Jordan saga was certainly the highlight of the off-season, though in the end the Clips spent more energy congratulating themselves for keeping their big-man than the Spurs did in acquiring a superior new one. Then Doc Rivers had an interview with Grantland's Zach Lowe where he basically accused the Warriors of being a Daft Punk song.
"You need luck in the West," he says. "Look at Golden State. They didn't have to play us or the Spurs."
The Warriors naturally fired back --these teams HATE one another-- and of course Rivers rebutted their rebuttal (so many butts!).
Doc Rivers on tiff with GS: "I’m surprised how sensitive they are about it. They are the champions, so they should just be the champions."— Ben Bolch (@latbbolch) October 19, 2015
Look, technically Rivers is correct. The Warriors' Draymond Green even admitted as much during a recent interview on the Dan Le Batard Show, but it's not his place and certainly bad form for anyone on an also-ran, much less the head coach, to publicly take credit away from the champions.
If a representative from a winning team wants to say they were fortunate with health and match-ups or whatnot, it's all good. When somebody from a losing team does it (and remember the Clippers didn't even face the Warriors) it looks like sour grapes. And considering the source --Rivers also spent the interview whining about calls in their series loss to the Rockets-- he really doesn't deserve a pass for this.
Can you imagine Gregg Popovich ever saying "well the Warriors sure were lucky they didn't have to face us"?
Rivers spent his summer beefing with Mark Cuban, then the Dubs, and now he has to coach a team whose new uniforms are the DeAndre Jordan free throws of uniforms in that you'd only make somebody wear those when you want to embarrass them in front of millions of people on purpose. Also the new logo is the Chris Paul of logos in that Jordan almost joined the Mavericks to get away from something so twisted.
Your Likely Starters:
C DeAndre Jordan
F Blake Griffin
F Wesley Johnson
G J.J. Redick
G Chris Paul
I've got nothing for you on Griffin and Paul. It feels like I wrote about them just last week and here we are, a new season's about to start. They're both fantastic, multi-faceted, other-worldly freakazoids. Both have certain annoying traits to bother partisan and neutral fans alike, but they're just so darn good that it looks awfully petty to even care at this point. I'm not sure there's anyone in the league who gives the Spurs as much problems defensively as those two guys. (The Spurs literally signed the dude who might've been No. 3 on that list.)
Redick enjoyed a career-year in his first full season in L.A., and had a surprisingly easy time shaking free of Danny Green or even Kawhi Leonard in the playoffs. He's never been a very good postseason performer, and slumped once more against the Rockets in round two, but his presence is vital for a club that has surprisingly few good shooters for its offensive reputation.
Jordan inched his way to being a star-level player last season, especially during a month-long stretch where Griffin was injured, and earned a max contract. He's led the league in rebounding the past two seasons and obviously is one of the league's premiere shot blockers. However, I don't think I'm exactly blowing the lid on a conspiracy here to suggest he's one of the more overrated players in the league. "Limited" doesn't begin to adequately describe his offensive game. All he can do is slam home oops. He doesn't pass well, doesn't have any post moves, and he shot below 40 percent from the line last season. Defensively he can be had in isolation post-ups, he gives it up on the pick-and-roll and he's foul prone.
Aside from his rebounding Jordan's greatest asset as a player may be that he suckers opposing coaches --not naming names-- into fouling him on purpose and subsequently taking their own offenses out of rhythm. Maybe that's why he got strong Defensive Player of the Year consideration?
Newcomer Johnson will fill the thankless fifth Beatle role in the staring lineup, primarily to save Pierce's legs for the playoffs. He'll be guarding everybody's best perimeter guy --though not well, one suspects-- and get left wide open all night. Johnson will play roughly as many crunch-time minutes as you or I will for the Clips and could lose the gig to Mbah a Moute, Pierce or Stephenson if he struggles.
Your Likely Bench:
G Jamal Crawford
F Josh Smith
F Paul Pierce
G Lance Stephenson
C Cole Aldrich
G Austin Rivers
G Pablo Prigioni
F Chuck Hayes
So... many... guys.
Crawford is as streaky as anyone and can win games singlehandedly, but he's also 35 now and just about washed. He still averages a lot for a reserve, but it's only because he plays a ton of minutes and isn't gun-shy about jacking. He could definitely lose minutes if Stephenson rejuvenates his career and a trade here wouldn't surprise me. "Born Ready," Crawford's would-be usurper, is the superior defender and far springier athlete, but he absolutely bombed playing for his idol Michael Jordan at Charlotte and shot all of 17 percent from downtown. There's been some speculation that Stephenson will take Redick's starting role, but that would be a mistake. Redick isn't a "microwave" type scorer, he needs to get into the flow and work within the context of a structured half-court offense that only a starting point guard can choreograph. Off the bench you're asking him to fill the same role Crawford does, and that's a bad fit. Add Mbah a Moute, an all defense/no offense type, and there will be chafing and griping for minutes among the wings.
And we haven't even gotten to Pierce yet. He's who you'd think would play down the stretch, and it's easy to see him as the stretch-four with Griffin as the five if Rivers chooses to sit Jordan due to his free-throw shooting. However, you'd think that one of the stipulations that Jordan would have about returning to L.A. would be having a bigger role in the offense and more trust from the coaching staff. Geez, too many guys, man, too many guys. I will say I'm drooling at the thought of Pierce trying to check some of these cats we've got in the West. It's a different game out here.
Oh sweet Jesus I forgot about Josh Smith. He might be their sixth-man and I plum forgot him. That's it. I give up. I quit. I have no idea how Rivers will shuffle all these guys. It can't be done. It cannot. He's 6'9 and 225 pounds and he's probably their backup center a la Boris Diaw. Sure, why not? Aldrich will be glued to the bench, as will Hayes and Prigioni and the whole squad will be giving the coach side-eye when his progeny ignores four far-more talented teammates to throw up something awful off the backboard.
How long do you give it before Stephenson or Smith make noise about preferring to play with Prigioni over Austin Rivers because he knows his place and doesn't hog the ball?
Your Coach: Doc Rivers
Like the Clippers biggest celebrity fan Billy Crystal, Doc knows a thing or two about faking the ability to lead people to the finish line. He engages in petty feuds, dabbles in revisionist history and is notorious for starting press conferences with "You guys know I never complain about the officiating..." when he ALWAYS complains about the officiating.
All that written, Rivers, like Pop, is far better dealing with veterans than a young team and there may not be a coach in the league better suited for juggling minutes and soothing egos on a squad this deep. He's had thin benches during his Clippers tenure but people forget how loaded his championship 2008 Celtics were. Tony Allen was their 12th man. Rivers used an 11-man rotation in the Finals. It's gonna be fascinating watching them this year.
Bottom Line: They really should be the favorites to win the title, right? On paper this looks like the best team. We're all just a little gun-shy about picking them because they're the Clippers and they have all this history built up. If you don't believe in chemistry and chasing narrative unicorns, the only basketball criticism you can level at them is worrying if they have enough outside shooting. If you do believe in that stuff though, then the Warriors or Spurs (or heck, even the Cavs) are a safer bet.
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