The Los Angeles Clippers nearly unseated the Lakers atop the Pacific Division last season thanks to the addition of Chris Paul. But this season could be make or break for the franchise with Paul set to become a free agent next summer.
Can the Clips’ veteran additions lead the team to back-to-back playoff appearances for the first time in 20 years?
After pulling off the trade for Paul last winter, the Clippers were forced to quickly slap together the rest of the rotation, and the result was an unbalanced roster with some questionable pieces forced into significant roles.
When Chauncey Billups went out with a torn Achilles’ tendon in February, the team’s fragile depth got even thinner.
This the top priority this offseason was to add depth. The Clips signed veteran reserve scorer Jamal Crawford, added small forward Grant Hill and traded for forward Lamar Odom. That’s 42 seasons of NBA experience coming off the bench.
Throw in nine-year veterans Matt Barnes and Willie Green, along with seventh-year big man Ronny Turiaf, and the Clippers added a stable of quality veterans to the starting five of Paul, Billups, Caron Butler, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. Odom could be the integral playmaker of their revamped second unit. Odom, in his second stretch with the Clippers, will need to revert to his Lakera ways after a disastrous stint with the Mavs.
How much room Griffin has to grow shouldn’t detract from how good he already is. As a 22-year-old, he put up 21 points, 11 rebounds and three assists on 55% shooting. There’s no question that Griffin is one of the most powerful and athletic players in game today. His dunks are already the stuff of legend, and his physical style of play is both effective for his team and aggravating for opposing players.
If Griffin can extend the range on his jumper and be a better positional team defender, those things will do wonders for the Clippers’ chances to compete with the league’s elite. Jordan has shown the potential to be a defensive star. The time has come to permanently step into the role and be the difference maker the Clippers, and much of the league, has seen coming since 2010.
This is a hugely important year to be depending on cheap help, because Paul — who is essentially this franchise’s badge of legitimacy — will be a free agent after the season. His decision to stay or go will depend on several factors, but the most prominent will be the franchise’s outlook in the four- or five-year window for which he’d be re-signing.
There are other question marks, too. Coach Vinny Del Negro is on the last year of his deal, and whoever is the coach as of July 1 will obviously have a major impact on Paul’s decision. So, too, will the performance of the several new players the Clips added to the roster in the offseason.
Vegassportsbetting odds to win West: +1000