Competition Discussion: Los Angeles Clippers

(Previously: Atlanta, Boston, Charlotte, Chicago, Cleveland, Dallas, Denver, Detroit, Golden State, Houston, Indiana).

The season is still a ways away, but most of the rosters are set, barring the requisite Michael Jordan comeback rumor (just kidding, but only a little).  We have an idea where our team stands, but we can't really know unless we discuss everyone else.  In that spirit, I'm going to throw up a "competition discussion" thread for each of the other 29 teams over the next couple months or so.  We'll go in alphabetical order from A to Z.  Today's team: LA Clippers.  Jump to the comments to discuss the Clippers and make a prediction on their record.

       

Last year's record: 19-63 (Pythagorean Record: 18-64)
Playoffs: None

Offensive Rating: 102.3 30th)
Defensive Rating: 111.7 (27th)
Pace: 92.1 possessions/game (13th)

In: Blake Griffin, Rasual Butler, Craig Smith, Sebastian Telfair
Out: Zach Randolph, Tim Thomas, Quentin Richardson (sort of), Fred Jones

Projected starting lineup: Baron Davis, Eric Gordon, Al Thornton, Blake Griffin, Chris Kaman

Key themes:

  • How good is Blake Griffin going to be? 
  • Last year was a pretty brutal year for Baron Davis.  Is his head in the right place this time around?  Can he and Mike Dunleavy coexist?
  • More generally, can Mike Dunleavy actually still coach?  Fan opinions of him are about as low as they could be, but he's given himself another chance with his offseason moves.  Can he capitalize?
  • How does Eric Gordon continue to grow now that there's far more offensive talent healthy?
  • Who starts at small forward?  Al Thornton is talented, but how well does he fit in with the other four players in the starting lineup? 
  • How will minutes be divided in the frontcourt among Griffin, Chris Kaman, Marcus Camby, Craig Smith, Steve Novak and young DeAndre Jordan
  • What happens to Camby?  He would be an attractive piece to somebody at the trade deadline...
  • The Clippers could have a ton of cap space next summer.  What do they do with that cap space?

A while back, Stop-n-Pop of SB Nation's fantastic Minnesota Timberwolves blog wrote this interesting post about how the perception of the Timberwolves as being a dysfunctional franchise was affecting the way the Ricky Rubio situation was covered.  I didn't really agree with the way he made his argument (using it as a crusade against "unnamed sources" when, let me tell you, it sounds so much easier to forgo those than it actually is), but the larger point still made total sense -- our own biases about a franchise affects how we project a situation. 

When projecting the Clippers, I think we're seeing a lot of the same type of franchise narrative bias. 

John Hollinger, ESPN:

Ultimately, however, too many question marks remain to comfortably place the Clippers in the conference's top eight. From the health issues with the two Davises, Camby and Kaman, to the conflicts between Baron Davis and Dunleavy, to the shaky, unpredictable ownership of Donald Sterling that could rear its ugly head at any moment, the odds of something coming along to trip up the Clippers are strong.

ESPN panel:

A 33-49 record would be a 14-game leap, and L.A. has been such a disheveled franchise it's going to have to prove itself to our panel.

Orlando Sentinel:

Decades and decades of futility, save a brief playoff bubble, that burst shortly thereafter, typify the Clippers.  They didn’t make a lot of changes to their roster in the offseason, re-signing most of the free agents on their roster. The biggest change is the young guy – first overall draft pick Blake Griffin. The Clippers are often the butt of the joke. This year’s Clippers, though, might have an arsenal that could change all that. But that’s a big might.

Those are just a few articles I've read where the "they're the Clippers" storyline gets dropped in, sometimes subtly, sometimes not-so-subtly.  But how much does franchise voodoo really affect the on-court product?  Maybe a little, just because Donald Sterling remains the owner, and dysfunction does often start at the top (cue angry Redskins fans calling for Dan Snyder's head).  But when that dysfunction is used as reasoning for discounting so many of the potential positives of the on-court product, then it becomes too much.  

The Clippers, on paper, look to be very, very dangerous.  I'd submit that no team had a stronger offseason.  The teams' biggest addition, Blake Griffin, pretty much came because of good luck, but the other moves the Clippers made aren't receiving enough attention.  Dumping Zach Randolph for an expiring contract is huge, because Randolph was blocking Griffin's path to stardom and is the type of player that never plays on winning teams.  Turning that expiring contract (Quentin Richardson) into two pretty good pieces in Sebastian Telfair (a poor starting point guard, but a pretty solid backup) and Craig Smith (an underrated backup forward who fills Randolph's shoes much more cheaply and efficiently) was pretty outstanding considering the brutal complimentary core the Clippers trotted out last season.  Snagging Rasual Butler, a starter last year for the Hornets and another solid bench guy, for literally nothing was also an underrated move, as was passing on Allen Iverson.  Basically, the Clippers lost no significant pieces and added a potential rookie star and three solid rotation guys. 

The end result is a roster that's pretty balanced.  At the point, the Clippers have Baron Davis (more on him in a minute) and a solid backup in Telfair.  On the wing, the Clippers have Eric Gordon, who had an outstanding, if unnoticed, rookie season, and Butler, a starter for a playoff team last year.  Up front, the Clippers have Griffin, Chris Kaman, Marcus Camby, Craig Smith and youngster DeAndre Jordan, which is about as solid a frontcourt rotation as you'll find in the West.  The only problem-ish area is small forward, but between Al Thornton, Butler and three-point marksman Steve Novak, the Clippers should find somebody who fits.  On paper, that's a pretty good team.  It's certainly a better team on paper than Phoenix, Golden State, Houston sans Yao and Oklahoma City, the other teams who are competing for a playoff spot out West. 

The wild card, of course, is Davis.  He was awful last year, showing up out of shape and griping about coach Mike Dunleavy's slow-down offense.  It was by far the worst season of his career, and it sunk the Clippers even before all the injuries and such.  Davis and Dunleavy are now talking like they're on the same page, but the fundamental problem of placing Davis, an up-tempo guy, in a controlled half-court game still exists.  On the other hand, you have to think Davis was humbled last season and is motivated to prove to people that he's not done.  If he's motivated, Davis is still a major difference-maker on both ends of the court, and even though this might not be the perfect offense for him, I think Davis is going to bounce back and have a much better year than last year.

Look, there are a lot of reasons to think this mix will blow up chemistry-wise.  Dunleavy's been a pretty bad coach recently and Davis doesn't have a great history of being motivated.  Griffin might not be the real deal, while the frontcourt may still be too crowded.  However, it wasn't so long ago that Dunleavy was leading a solid, defensive half-court group to within a shot of the Western Conference Finals.  This Clipper team has more talent than that group, and they have much better roster balance than what they've had in the years since.  That will mean a lot more wins, even though they're the Clippers.

Mike's prediction: 43-39, second in the Pacific, eighth in the West

Team Mike Prada JakeTheSnake Truth About It Rook6980 bwoodsxyz
Atlanta 47-35 44-38 45-37 45-37 45-37
Boston 57-25 55-27 54-28 44-38 56-26
Charlotte 32-50 32-50 29-53 34-48 37-45
Chicago 39-43 40-42 42-40 40-42 44-38
Cleveland 63-19 60-22 64-18 64-18 61-21
Dallas 49-33 44-38 51-31 50-32 47-35
Denver 53-29 53-29 50-32 52-30 51-31
Detroit 38-44 42-40 41-41 38-44 35-47
Golden State 31-51 16-66 34-48 28-54 28-54
Houston 37-45 41-41 30-52 34-48 48-34
Indiana 33-49 28-54 35-47 39-43 36-46
LA Clippers 43-39 36-46

 

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