The Los Angeles Clippers won a franchise-record 56 games and had the NBA’s third best scoring differential last season. Then after taking a 2-0 lead on Memphis, they proceeded to lose four straight, making an unexpected and disappointing first-round exit.
Which begs the question – were last season’s Clippers the regular season contender or the postseason pretender?
The team did not rest on its regular-season laurels during the offseason, adding a coach with a championship ring in Doc Rivers, a new set of starting wings and – most importantly – re-signing Chris Paul for another five years. With J.J. Redick and Jared Dudley joining the roster, the Clippers added great shooters who should help space the floor for Blake Griffin and give Paul plenty of passing options when he breaks down defenses.
The Clippers also re-signed key reserve Matt Barnes, got a huge bargain on Darren Collison to back up Paul at the point, and took a chance on Byron Mullens, a young 7-footer with offensive skills. Late in the offseason, they signed Antawn Jamison away from the rival Lakers to replace the troubled Lamar Odom. If the pieces all fit together – and they certainly look like they will on paper – this should be an improved Clippers team.
Part of that improvement will have to come from Griffin, entering his fourth season with plenty of headroom in his development as a player. With Paul, Griffin and Rivers all signed for the long term, the Clippers are betting that those three can get them to the next level, and in very short order.
Here are five things to watch with the Clippers this season.
1. Do coaches matter? NBA fans and scribes love to kvetch about coaching. However, there’s at least some academic research to suggest that coaches matter very little, if at all. The Clippers hope very much that they do, because they just spent $21 million and a first-round pick on the most expensive coach in the NBA in Doc Rivers.
It must be said that Vinny Del Negro guided the Clippers to the best winning percentage in their history, not once but twice. But he was not offered a new contract, and instead the Clippers lured Rivers away from the Celtics. Rivers is one of four active coaches to have won a championship, while Del Negro was routinely described as one of the least competent coaches in the league. If ever a coaching change should matter, it’s this one.
2. Shooting, shooting and shooting. The Golden State Warriors won a first-round series with a team consisting of some elite shooters and not much else. As a result, every NBA team – with the possible exception of the Warriors themselves – wanted to add shooting this off-season.
The Clippers acquired a brand new set of starting wings in Redick and Dudley in a single transaction; it cost them veteran forward Caron Butler’s expiring deal and highly coveted backup point guard Eric Bledsoe. But in one fell swoop, they added two wings that should perfectly complement Paul and Griffin.
Redick has shot 39 percent from the arc for his career and has one of the purest strokes in the game. Dudley is over 40 percent for his career. With Jamal Crawford and Willie Green still around, the Clippers can now surround Paul and Griffin with deadly spot-up shooters, offering their opponents a nightly “pick your poison” of how to defend and whom to leave open.