Know thy enemy: Los Angeles Clippers
Last Season: 19-63 (.232, 4th in Pacific Division, 14th in the Western Conference)
Key Additions: Drafted Blake Griffin, traded for Craig Smith, Sebastian Telfair, Rasual Butler.
Key Subtractions: Zach Randolph, Paul Davis, Zach Randolph, Mike Taylor, Fred Jones, Zach Randolph, Zach Randolph, Alex Acker (I kid), Zach Randolph, Zach Randolph, and Zach Randolph.
(Look, it's Clipper Bear-rell! Cue collective groan...)
A Heaven's Gate franchise for nearly their entire existence, 2008-2009 may just have been their Gigli.Or vice versa. Or maybe it was their Meet Dave/Adventures of Pluto Nash. Whatever the cinematic comparison, for LA's other squad it was, even relative to a history fairly riddled with this sort of thing, a total disaster from start to finish. Last summer's triumph of landing Baron Davis immediately went sour for the Clippers when Elton Brand defected to Philadelphia. Davis showed up out of shape, got hurt, shot 37% when he did manage to play, and didn't get along with Mike Dunleavy. Essentially, he brought nothing to the floor except Kate Hudson. Davis was hardly the only problem. Marcus Camby was injured in the preseason. Ricky Davis got hurt, as did Chris Kaman. Jason Williams retired before he ever suited up. Maybe he had a vision?
It all served to kick the jersey maker into overdrive. Over the course of the season, trades- including perhaps the worst swap of the decade, bringing in Randolph and his tailor-made-for-bad-teams game and albatross of a contract- and injuries put 19 different guys in red, white, and blue.
Not exactly a recipe for continuity.
But like Mark McGwire, we're not here to talk about the past.
This season, at least in theory, ought to be different. On paper, where the Clippers often thrive, the potential is there to sneak into the playoffs, thanks to a very effective summer. They won the draft lottery to nab Griffin, then won the cap/team chemistry lottery in finding a sucker/taker for Randolph.Zebo was eventually turned into Smith, who provides great depth in the frontcourt and is one of my favorite mid-rotation guys in the NBA, and Telfair, a nice backup to Davis at the point. Butler was a steal, literally, since the Clippers gave up virtually nothing to get him from New Orleans. Among the holdovers, it's easy to forget that Kaman averaged nearly 16 points and 12.7 reboundsa night in 56 games during the '07-'08 season. If he's healthy, the Clippers have a genuine scoring threat in the post to go along with the defensive presence of Camby and the extremely sturdy Griffin. Baron showed up to camp in good shape, looking to atone for last year's disaster, and with Eric Gordon could comprise one of the better backcourts in the W.C.
All that, and heaps of cap space for next offseason. Call this the Summer of Dunleavy.
MD Sr. says the Clippers will run more this year, which will give Davis the sort of freedom he enjoys and take better advantage of his skills. Kaman ought to thrive in that sort of setup as well (he's goofy, but athletic and can get up and down the floor). More breaks mean fewer jumpers on the wing for Al Thornton, which is definitely a good thing. Putting Gordon in space is smart, too, since he's very difficult to keep out of the lane.
On the other hand, the threat of injury hangs over this bunch like the ugly spawn of the Sword of Damocles, the other shoe, and global warming. There's still no proof that these parts work together all that well, since they didn't get a chance to play together last year. I'm not sold on the Davis/Dunleavy relationship, despite the pair seeming to make nice over the summer. BD, frankly, has never really meshed with any of his coaches, and Dunleavy can be prickly in his own right. And as Friend of the Blog Eric Pincus pointed out when we were chatting about the team during Media Day, the Clippers aren't filled with ball movers beyond Baron (who himself launches plenty of ill-advised shots).
For the sake of simplicity, I always write these previews with the idea that teams will be reasonably healthy. Injuries are just too unpredictable to do it any other way... unless you're working with a squad like the LAC, where nearly every important cog in the machine has suffered in recent years. That makes them tough to ignore, though this summer's additions leave the Clippers with far more depth to weather the storm. To me, the key is Kaman. Healthy and productive, he's one of the NBA's best centers, and provides balance to what would otherwise be a very guard heavy attack. He has to stay on the floor. If he's on the floor for 75 games, the Clippers have a shot.
That, and a few other breaks (at this point, they've gotta be due), mean BD, Dunleavy, and Co. have the chance to double last year's win total. More, even. The talent is there to challenge for a playoff spot. In the end, though, I think the Clips fall just short. Still, anything approaching relevance is a positive for this crew. Whether they get there this season or not, they're set up well for the future.
Prediction: I'm an optimistic man by nature, and will give the Clips the benefit of the doubt. 42 wins, 2nd 3rd* in the Pacific, 9th in the Western Conference... although a couple key injuries could see the 2 and the 4 switch places.Would that really shock anyone?
*Update: The original Pacific Division listing of 2nd was a mistake. The intention was to have them third. My apologies for the flub. BK