Last Season: 53-29, 4th Seed in the West
Off-season Gains: PG Raymond Felton (free agent), C Brandon Bass (free agent), PF Marreese Speights (free agent), SG Alan Anderson (free agent), PF Brice Johnson (draft), SF Dorell Wright (free agent)
Off-season Losses: SF Jeff Green (free agent/Orlando), C Cole Aldrich (free agent/Minnesota)
Off-season Stock: Never higher, through virtually nothing of their own doing.
League Pass Team?: Oh heck yeah. Love 'em or hate 'em, they're never boring.
We're used to a constant cyclone of dysfunctionality from the Clippers, whether it's the ugly, racist ramblings of their former owner or the team racing from points far and wide to rescue DeAndre Jordan from the clutches of Mark Cuban, but this summer was different. They saved all their drama for in-season, with Blake Griffin breaking his hand punching an assistant trainer and missing most of the year. By comparison, their off-season was relatively tranquil, with no big moves, no headline-grabbing controversies. The Clippers retained their top nine players in terms of minutes played while quietly adding some depth and losing just Cole Aldrich, who was good for them in a limited role, and Jeff Green, whom Doc Rivers would've grown exasperated with soon enough anyway. Maybe the clips just figured with Kevin Durant going to the Warriors that it'd be impossible for anyone to notice anything they did so they just made an organizational decision to carry over their crazy for next summer. They'll have extra room to spend on their crazy cap in July.
Griffin ruined their season last year, and he's sorry about that, but honestly I've come around on him ever since that Spurs series in 2015. And he's an aspiring stand-up comedian (adult language), which I'll respect forever. Griffin's never going to be an outstanding defender due to his relatively short arms, but he does pretty much everything you could possibly ask for offensively, keeps adding to his game every summer --he even tinkered with the three-ball last year-- and his passing would probably be more appreciated if he wasn't on a team with Chris Paul. Jordan wouldn't be a star everywhere, but he fits perfectly with Griffin, the two of them covering each other's faults. Jordan's defensive reputation will always be ahead of reality, but he has improved there. Like Andre Drummond in Detroit, Jordan's free-throw shooting puts a ceiling on what his team can achieve, only the consequences are even more dire with the Clips, where they're really not far away from a 'chip.
Paul, meanwhile, continues to crank out MVP-caliber seasons. He was as good as ever last year, at 30, and he remains the most terrifying player in the NBA as far as the Spurs are concerned. Not LeBron. Not Westbrook. Not Curry. It's Paul, who it feels like makes every shot he takes in fourth quarters, gets to the line at will, and is completely indefensible in the pick-and-roll. His history of short-circuiting in the playoffs is mystifying, but his broken hand last year was well-timed at least. They were going nowhere with Griffin and his bad quad anyway.
Then there's J.J. Redick, the one NBA wing that Kawhi Leonard has no answers for. He just runs people around a million screens like this generation's Reggie Miller and all you do is switch and pray. All Redick did last year was lead the league in three-point percentage while simultaneously hosting a podcast that I keep going back and forth about liking or not. I'm being redundant but I just cannot say enough about how perfectly their top four work together. The Redick signing couldn't have worked out any better for them.
It just everything falls off a cliff after that. Luc Mbah a Moute was the designated fifth Beatle last year, but only at 17 minutes a game and he just doesn't shoot well enough to make it totally work. Only Paul's skill makes it work even at 4-on-5 (or arguably 3-on-5, with DAJ) where with most point guards it'd be a disaster. He's the best of a bad lot of options. Wesley Johnson shoots it a tick better, but his defense is a big drop-off. Paul Pierce was done two years ago, I'm kind of stunned he hasn't retired. They'll probably scrounge up a three-man somewhere at the trade deadline or via a buyout because for now it remains their Achilles Heel.
Austin Rivers is still a flawed, inconsistent player, but he's proved his toughness if nothing else in the playoffs last year. Slowly but surely, he's figuring out how to score and seems to have a better idea of what he can and can't do. Unfortunately, one of the "can'ts" is passing, which makes playing him as a backup point problematic. So really, Rivers is more of a two, which pushes Jamal Crawford, who collected the third Sixth Man of the Year Award he didn't deserve last spring, to the three. They can all slide over a spot with the addition of Raymond Felton, and the more he passes and the less he shoots, the better off they'll be. The backups in the front court will be all new too, with Marreese Speights offering a steady diet of threes and 17-footers and absolutely nothing else and Brandon Bass gamely trying to protect the rim despite being undersized. The second unit should be fairly productive scoring-wise, as benches go, but I can't fathom how they'll stop anybody.
The only interesting piece on the bench as far as I'm concerned is rookie Brice Johnson, a 1st-Team All-America power-forward out of North Carolina who averaged 17 and 10 for the Tarheels last year and was very impressive in the Orlando Summer League as well, showing no difficulty adjusting to a higher level. Whether Doc Rivers will give Johnson a chance to leapfrog a vet in his rotation is my question. Oh, and in the second round they got center Diamond Stone out of Maryland, a mortal lock to win the prestigious "NBA Player Whose Name Most Sounds Like He Would Win a Paternity Suit Against Three of His Teammates" Award.
I know it's going to be an unpopular opinion on a Spurs blog, but I think the Clippers have the best chance of giving the Warriors a series in the Western Conference. Their offense creates as many problems for the Warriors as it does the Spurs. GSW doesn't have an answer for Griffin, Paul or Redick anymore than the Spurs do and Paul's physicality bothers Stephen Curry on the other end. It's just a question of whether they can hold up physically and mentally, because the talent is there. But if it doesn't happen this year for them, it never will.