Hoop Diary continues our series on NBA Franchises, looking around the league and checking in on what teams can expect in both the coming season, and in future seasons. Each team is evaluated for organisational leadership, salary cap situation, the current roster, future suggested or likely changes and expected future results. Today we explore the much maligned Los Angeles Clippers, so join us on a trip through LA’s other franchise.
Los Angeles Clippers
The Clippers finished the 2010/11 season a massive 29 games behind the Western leading San Antonio Spurs and a long way out of Playoff contention, but still have to be happy with their season. In fact it’s hard to do anything but smile for those who saw Blake Griffin up close and personal, playing 82 games and prove that he is a game changing force of nature who will be in the MVP discussion for years to come. The Clippers have a lot to be thankful for besides Blake though, with a talented young roster, solid veterans, a level of cap flexibility and the Lakers fading quickly from contention. If only they could trade owner Donald Sterling, they would be on easy street.
It’s hard to rate the Clippers organisation as anything but a failure. Almost everyone who has anything to do with the team is excited because of the product they can put on the floor and the opportunities they will have in coming seasons, but there is a huge shadow cast over all that optimism by the owner and his inept and penny pinching ways.
Donald Sterling refuses to pay for top tier talent in the front office, and the coach is a short tenured underachieving lame duck. The Clips haven’t made a solid personnel decision in years (possible exception the hiring of Hoop Diary favourite Robert Pack as Assistant Coach), although going into detail on all of them would require a whole other column. If they were to be graded, the LA Clippers would get a resounding F minus under Organisation. The only positive that’s possible to spin here, is that the situation is so rosy that it will be hard for even Sterling and his crew of misfits to screw this happy accident up.
Of course any talk about cap space is somewhat difficult while the teams are locked out and a new cap structure is likely, but teams will still carry forward their current obligations so a comparison can still be drawn. The always frugal Clippers are of course under the salary cap and really only have one big deal to speak of, that of Chris Kaman. Of course, being the Clips they have some bad deals (Ryan Gomes 2yrs/8m total, Randy Foye 1yr/4.25m) but nothing cap crushing, and several players on small value contracts and short on years who could be moved or waived to create yet more space. DeAndre Jordan will need to be signed to an extension and is sure to prove a hot commodity on the open market, but he is the only real issue as there is still time before Blake Griffin needs to be signed to a max deal off his Rookie contract.
It sure wasn’t by design, but the Clippers have lucked into one of the best rosters in the Association. They are young, athletic, talented and are probably only missing a real locker room leader. The list is loaded with talent, especially in the starting five, although the centrepiece is clearly Blake Griffin, whose averages of 22.5 points, 12.1 rebounds and 3.8 assists are likely to go up again this season as he hasn’t scratched the surface of his potential yet. Flanking Griffin are talented youngsters DeAndre Jordan and Al-Farouq Aminu who together may end up providing the perfect compliments to Griffin with their size and athleticism overwhelming every teams frontcourt.
The secondary star and designated game closer is the multi-talented Eric Gordon, while running the point is newly acquired Mo Williams. Many have lampooned the Clippers for trading away Baron Davis and his whale of a contract along with what ended up being the number one pick in the Draft, but time will likely show that even this decision was for the best. The Clippers are much better off with a veteran player with deep range who is willing to just get out of the way for the youngsters, and if Williams plays along, he’ll be a much better option in their system than Kyrie Irving ever would be.
The challenges start to mount after the starting five however, as is a sharp drop off in talent on the bench after Chris Kaman, although Kaman may be moved to another team for some depth. Eric Bledsoe flashed some promise in his rookie season and Randy Foye could evolve into a useful player, although he’ll never escape the fact that he was drafted 7th overall and traded for Brandon Roy. Undersized Craig Smith provides some value as an enforcer up front, but the rest of the list is a wasteland of talent who thankfully don’t earn big dollars.
The major change required for the Los Angeles Clippers is the need to get some real leadership into the playing group, and hopefully leadership that includes a desire and ability to focus effort at the defensive end. The Clippers were woeful at that end, but have all of the talent at their fingertips to be excellent and a leader who can help them achieve that (say Marcus Camby) would be ideal. Camby would also push Jordan back to the bench, lessening the load the youngster will be asked to carry. Derek Fisher would also be another strong target, as his playing days are long behind him (or should be) but he’d be extremely effective as a leadership voice in a young area, and he wouldn’t have to move home.
The only issue the Clippers face in selling season tickets is finding enough phones to field all the incoming calls. They are a hot commodity and will continue to be so for the immediate future. It’s hard to ignore the two elephants in the room, the stench that comes from Donald Sterling, and the fact that Griffin has already missed a full year to injury and he is the engine that makes this unlikely golden roster sparkle so brightly. He has never had a serious injury before, so it’s safe to assume that it was a freak injury and he’ll continue to bounce back strong, but the man they call The Donald will always be a lead weight around this franchise.
It’s impossible to be negative even with that huge downer, as the Clippers are a season pass mainstay and a hot ticket for every arena they visit. The Blake Griffin show will continue and it’s likely the make the Playoffs this year, on their way to bigger and better things in coming seasons.
Tune in regularly as we take a look at another team and assess their fortunes in the coming seasons.