With the Donald Sterling era officially coming to a close a couple weeks ago with new owner Steve Ballmer taking over, the Los Angeles Clippers are in drastically better shape coming into this season. Yesterday, it was announced that the team agreed to an extension with head coach Doc Rivers that will keep him signed on with the club through the 2018-19 NBA season. While both of these moves happened off the court, they are tremendous ones for this franchise’s future.
Ballmer has already proven to be a very enthusiastic owner who is clearly all-in on making this Clippers team a powerhouse, and the first step was re-signing one of the best coaches in the league in Rivers. Rivers has a ring from his coaching days with the Boston Celtics, when he guided a team with Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen past the Los Angeles Lakers in 2008 to another championship for the organization.
The question now becomes if he can do it again with the Clippers — and not just maybe once or twice during the duration of this new contract, but right now.
While the San Antonio Spurs rightly remain the favorites in the Western Conference, the Clippers are definitely right in the mix at the top. The Oklahoma City Thunder dismissed them in six games in the second round of the playoffs last year, but while the Thunder arguably downgraded their bench this offseason, the Clippers made strides to improve their depth.
They somehow snagged big man Spencer Hawes during free agency, as well as Jordan Farmar to shore up their backcourt after losing Darren Collison to the Sacramento Kings. Hawes is the definition of a “stretch four”, a talented shooter from all areas of the court, and he also has the size and strength to play the center position as well. Farmar is a capable point guard who looks to get his teammates involved first, which is perfect for the Clippers.
With a strong bench, budding starpower in Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, as well as a dominant rim protector and post finisher in DeAndre Jordan, can the Clippers win the championship this year?
They could absolutely leapfrog the Thunder and take over the No. 2 position out West, and with a clear direction from an ownership perspective now, if they are focused they could absolutely challenge both the Thunder and Spurs to represent the West in the NBA Finals.
JJ Redick needs to do his best to stay healthy, as he was a vital part of this Clippers squad last year when he was on the floor. He only played 35 games, but I think Clippers fans can expect a big bounce-back year from their sharpshooting two-guard. There is also some uncertainty in the Clippers’ wing situation, particularly their backups, but I believe they will figure this out as the season progresses.
Paul has been called the best point guard in the league by many, but he has failed to reach the Western Conference Finals in his otherwise very decorated career. Griffin showed great strides in improving his jump shot last year and was super efficient overall, but he needs to take his defensive game to the next level. There is no reason for a player of his size and athleticism to be averaging less than double-digits in rebounding and less than one shot block per game. Quite simply, this Clippers team goes through these two stars, and anything less than a Conference Finals showing (assuming they are at full-strength) should be considered a failure at this point.
This is not to suggest that the Clippers are feeling any kind of pressure going into this year, because I think that weight was lifted as soon as Sterling was pushed forcefully out the door. With new ownership and a stable head coaching situation, the Clippers might be poised for a serious push for a championship. I think a realistic expectation is for them to reach at least the second round of the playoffs again. It is definitely possible that they run into the Thunder again and this time get their revenge against them. In terms of making it beyond the Conference Finals stage, I think it could definitely happen, but their chemistry will really have to be strong when the playoffs come around. In terms of a championship, I say no for now. But they definitely have a shot this year if all goes right.