If the Los Angeles Clippers don’t break the barrier of the conference semifinal, it’s going to be the end of their time with Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and Doc Rivers. Not all three will leave, but the current faces of the franchise won’t be a trio anymore.
A brief history of the Clippers in Los Angeles: A team that did very little. A bit of playoff in the 1990’s, a good season in 2006, and that’s it. Then came Blake Griffin, and after waiting a year for him to recover from his injury, they suddenly became a team people talked about. They didn’t win at first, not a lot, but they became an item of sorts. Once Chris Paul joined, they became the best team in the city (which rarely happened since moving to Los Angeles).
Doc Rivers joined them after the 2012-2013 season, still carrying the flair and fame of leading the Boston Celtics to the NBA Finals in 2008 and 2010. He became head coach and and President of Basketball Operations. He got his son a job in the NBA after failing his rookie year. He talks a lot, praising himself and blaming his players when things go wrong. He makes funny faces when he doesn’t agree with things. Bottom line? He didn’t take the Clippers forward in three seasons with the team.
Did this offseason create a difference? Hard to say. The additions and departures were minor, with Brandon Bass and Brice Johnson to add depth at power forward, Alan Anderson and Raymond Felton to help out in the backcourt, while Wesley Johnson and Marreese Speights to provide some scoring off the bench. Depth is good, something that’s been missing all these years. But is the team’s decision making in crunch time, perhaps an even bigger issue, improved?
That’s up to Rivers and Paul, and a little bit on Griffin, who is capable of being a kind of point power forward with more range than before, along with his usual athleticism and inside scoring. But in crunch time, Paul has the ball, and it often ends badly. DeAndre Jordan is a defensive force, but his offense remains limited, as do his free throw moments. The small forward position is awful with Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, which means playing with 4 on 5 when they have the ball. Paul Pierce is staying for another season, but most of his contribution right now is in the locker room, telling them about how he won a championship. The Clippers won’t get what the Wizards got from him in 2014-2015.
Maybe the Clippers can play more 3-guard lineups in order to escape some SF minutes. Perhaps they start playing without a center at times, but the team is built in such a way that playing without Jordan, or with Griffin at center on his own, leaves them very vulnerable in a lot of ways. This has nothing to do with coaching, but with team building, another thing Rivers is in charge of. Hmmmm…
Best Case Scenario
Championship. That’s what the Clippers are about, and when everyone’s healthy, for some stretches of the season (but very short ones, usually without the Golden State Warriors on the schedule) they look like ones. Paul won’t suffer from last-two-minute meltdowns. Griffin will stop slowing down the game. Jordan won’t miss from the line and improve his range from the current 2-feet it is, and the other offense from guys like J.J. Redick, Jamal Crawford and even Austin Rivers will provide a season and playoff long barrage from beyond the arc, opening things for the more high flying maneuvers this team can produce.
Worst Case Scenario
Anything that’s not a conference final. Both Chris Paul and Blake Griffin can leave at the end of this season and Paul, hanging out quite a lot with LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, wants a championship ring badly. At some point, I’m guessing, Steve Ballmer will start to think about someone other than Rivers fitting his plans of turning the franchise into a championship-winning one.