Donald Sterling will no longer be an embarrassment to the NBA now that he has been replaced by new Los Angeles Clippers owner Steve Ballmer.
Sterling embarrassed himself, the Clippers and the NBA when a recording was leaked by his personal assistant V. Stiviano on April 25, sending shockwaves through the basketball community. In the recording, he got caught red-handed in a racist rant. New commissioner Adam Silver acted quickly and banned Sterling from the league for life and fined him $2.5 million. The fine was the maximum allowed under the CBA. Ballmer, former CEO of Microsoft, stepped in and offered $2 billion to buy the team, shocking people regarding the amount of money for a largely unsuccessful franchise during the course of their history.
The Clippers won a franchise-best 57 games last season, eclipsing the 56 wins they set in 2012-13. But the Clippers lost in the second round of the playoffs for the second time in three seasons, so there will be a little added pressure this season for head coach Doc Rivers and point guard Chris Paul.
Rivers is entering his second season as the head man and they need to be able to get past the first round. However, his arrival seemed to light a fire under big man DeAndre Jordan, who finally had a career year (10.4 points per game, 13.6 rebounds per game, 2.5 blocks per game and 67.6% on field goals) and achieved some of the vast potential he had been teasing the Clippers with for years.
Paul, 28, was consistent as ever last season (19.1 ppg, 10.7 assists per game, and 2.5 steals per game), but he is entering his fourth season with the Clippers and needs to help the team achieve more when it matters. The West is of course stacked from top to bottom, but if he wants to be considered the best PG in the game, he has to help them win more. Being the best at his position is tied to success in the playoffs.
The team didn’t have a lot of money to spend on free agents in the offseason, but they landed a solid signing when they picked up Spencer Hawes, 26, for four years and $23 million ($5.8 million per season). He made $6.5 million last season and took a minor paycut. He is going to give L.A. one of the best backup big men in the league.
He will backup power forward Blake Griffin and Jordan at center. Last season, L.A. was forced to use Byron Mullens, Ryan Hollins, and Glen Davis at center when Jordan was out of the game. Hawes gives Doc a super-sub at PF/C like Jamaal Crawford gives them at PG/SG. Hawes averaged a career-high 13.2 ppg, 8.3 rpg and 3 apg for the Cleveland Cavaliers and Philadelphia 76ers. He also made an amazing 41.6% of his 3-pointers. Hawes is a great passer in addition to being a good outside shooter (36.1% on 3-pointers), he has registered nine assists three times in his career. He’s going to give L.A. a nice offensive option when he plays center with Griffin and he can slide over to PF and play the stretch four when Griffin needs a rest.
Crawford is the other super-sub the Clippers have and he’s a huge part of an improved bench with the Hawes signing. Crawford had a great year (18.6 ppg and 3.2 apg) and gives them a great 1-2 punch at shooting guard with J.J. Redick (15.2 ppg, 45.5% and 39.5% on 3’s). Redick was very solid in his first season with the Clippers, even though he played in just 35 games due to a back injury. Having Crawford means they don’t lose too much when Redick is out, but if he’s healthy the Clippers will have one of the best benches in the NBA.
The Clippers lost their backup PG Darren Collison when he signed with the Sacramento Kings. They didn’t have to look far to find a replacement as they snatched Jordan Farmar away from the team across the hall, the rival Lakers. Farmar may not always be the picture of good health himself, but for 15-18 minutes per game and maybe 18-20 starts a season he’s a solid pickup. Farmar is coming off his second-best season of his career (10.1 ppg and 4.9 apg in 22 mpg). However, he played in just 41 games due to a variety of injuries.
Griffin blossomed last season into a full fledged superstar as he averaged a career-high 24.1 ppg (up from 18 ppg the previous season), 9.5 rpg and a career-high 3.9 apg. Griffin’s improvement as a passer means teams can’t just double-team. His defense still needs some work but no player is perfect.
Matt Barnes returns as the starting small forward and provides defense and some timely shooting. Barnes, 34, will have most of the minutes since Jared Dudley was traded to the Milwaukee Bucks (for veteran swingman Carlos Delfino basically). Barnes averaged 10 ppg and 4.6 rpg last season, but his 3-point shooting in clutch situations was good, despite a mediocre 34.3%. Delfino will see some backup minutes there once he’s healthy, he missed all of last season with a foot injury. He averaged 10 ppg and made 37% of his 3-pointers in the 2012-13 season with the Houston Rockets. Reggie Bullock may have a better shot at seeing minutes at SF than SG since the team is loaded at that position.
The regular season is just a warmup to the postseason, and that is where the Clippers will be judged. Rivers, CP, Griffin are all going to be graded based on their ability to get beyond the second round. This is a team that should easily win 53-55 games and claim one of the top seeds, unless injuries hit and they need to show they are a true contender for the NBA title. The Spurs have to get old sometime, right?
Darren Jacks is a contributing writer for OneManFastBreak.net. Follow him on Twitter @djroxalot.