During the 2011-12 NBA season the Los Angeles Clippers experienced something which they hadn’t had the pleasure of doing in almost a decade which was advance to the second round in the Western Conference playoffs. Besides that the buzz and excitement surrounding the Clippers last season was something completely new and was usually saved for the cross-gym rivals, the Los Angeles Lakers. The Clippers finished the regular season with 40-26 record just one game behind the Lakers in the Pacific Division. In the postseason they defeated the Memphis Grizzlies in a thrilling seven game series, but were promptly swept out of the Western Conference Semis by the San Antonio Spurs, four games to none. This year the Clippers are back and looking to do much more damage during both the regular and post seasons.
The Clippers catalyst is without question their All-Star point guard, Chris Paul and they will only go as far as he leads them. Last season in his first year as a member of the Clippers Paul averaged 19.8 points, 9.1 assists and 3.2 rebounds per game while controlling the offense and setting up tons of alley-oops for Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. Griffin and Jordan are the Clippers main presences in the paint and as long as the two of them can control that area of both ends of the court good things should be in the Clips present and future. Last season Griffin had his best season as pro (with the help of Paul) averaging 20.7 points, 10.9 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game, but this season he should be able to elevate his game to the next level by consistently knocking down jump shots to loosen up opposing defenses from always guarding the paint against him and Jordan. Last season Jordan averaged 7.4 points, 8.3 rebounds and two block shots per game, he is the ideal compliment for Griffin in the paint, seven-footer that doesn’t need the ball much and plays solid defense.
The other two starting lineup positions are filled by the two grizzled veterans on this Chauncey Billups and Caron Butler. Both Butler and Billups are tough, crafty players who impart much of their knowledge with the rest of the team which is made up of mainly a youthful roster. Last season in limited work (due to a torn Achilles) Billups averaged 15 points and four assists per game in his first season as shooting guard. Butler averaged 12 points and 3.7 rebounds per game last season and was a major contributor for Los Angeles during their brief postseason stint as well. If both Billups and Butler can come back this season and contribute as they did when they were healthy the sky is the limit for what this team can accomplish.
The Clippers bench underwent a huge makeover during the off-season and if those changes can work out for the best then L.A.’s second team has a great chance of being the city’s best team. The Clips added Jamal Crawford, Lamar Odom, Grant Hill and Matt Barnes to provide them with more fire power from their second unit. Crawford is instant offense and the Clippers are hoping that is exactly what he can provide for them coming off of the bench. Last season Crawford averaged 13.9 points and 3.2 assists per game for the Portland Trailblazers, if he can duplicate those numbers while coming off of the L.A. bench then he would give them reserve points that they lack in the ’11-’12 season. Hill and Barnes will provide the Clippers plenty of depth at the forward position as well as solid defense on the wings.
Last year Hill averaged 10.2 points and 3.5 rebounds per game with the Phoenix Suns while Barnes put up 7.8 points and 5.5 rebounds per game for the Lakers. The x-factor for this Clippers team could be Odom, if he can return to his usual jack-of-all-trades form that he has been known for throughout his career then he will provide them with a dangerous weapon. Last season he was out of place in Dallas and hopefully for the Clippers sake returning to L.A. (now his third tenure in the city, second with the Clippers) will rejuvenate him. Eric Bledsoe, Ronnie Turiaf and Willie Green will also be expected to be solid contributors to the Clippers second unit as well.
Head Coach/Front Office:
Last season head coach Vinny Del Negro had concerns surrounding his job security when the Clippers went through their losing woes during the month of March and early on in April. This season that shouldn’t be an issue as long as his team maintains their positive play throughout the season. He led them to a 40-26 record and a second place finish in a division which they have never truly been competitive in. It was unfair that he had to endure that type of pressure but this is the beast of expectations in professional sports. Del Negro is a tough, but effective coach and he has not only earned the players trust and respect inside of the locker room but also has their collective as well.
General Manager Gary Saks let a number of players from last season’s team go including Nick Young, Reggie Evans, Mo Williams, Randy Foye and Kenyon Martin and replaced them with Hill, Barnes, Crawford, Odom, Turiaf and Green. Only time will tell if they were the right moves or not but one thing is certain, for the first time in the Donald Sterling era the Clippers front office seems as committed to the team as their long suffering fans are and hopefully they can reach the postseason in consecutive seasons for the first time since the 1991-92 and 1992-93 seasons.