The Clippers capped off one of their best seasons in a long time, winning 56 games and finishing fourth in the Western Conference. The last time the franchise won 49 games the team was still in Buffalo and John Wooden was still coaching at UCLA.
By firing head coach Vinny Del Negro after the team got bounced in six games by the Memphis Grizzlies, it paved the way for the hiring ex-Clipper Doc Rivers to run the team. There was speculation that All-Star guard Chris Paul wanted Del Negro gone, but management squashed that quickly.
Rivers who was able to get out of his contract with the Boston Celtics, and the move convinced Paul to re-sign with the team. Losing Paul would have set the franchise back yet again, and turned them back to the old Clippers.
OneManFastBreak.net examines the teams in the Pacific Division and where they’ll finish:
1-LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS
Bringing in a championship-caliber coach in Rivers immediately paid dividends, as the Clips were able to acquire Darren Collison, Byron Mullens, J.J. Redick and Jared Dudley (they traded Eric Bledsoe and Caron Butler to Phoenix in a three-team deal with the Suns and Bucks). Collison replaces Bledsoe as the backup point guard, Mullens will back up center DeAndre Jordan, and the team re-signed Matt Barnes and Ryan Hollins. They also added free agent Antwan Jamison who crossed the hall to sign with L.A.’s other team. They also added small forward Reggie Bullock in the draft.
Redick gives them a shooter they so desperately needed last season. He is a career 39% 3-point shooter and will help a team that made just 35.8% of their shots from behind the arc, which was 15th in the NBA. They made just 30.4% when it mattered most, in the postseason. Redick and Dudley (40.5% career shooter on threes) should upgrade that immediately. Dudley also gives them a much better starter than last year’s options: Butler and Grant Hill, who retired.
Collison may not be a starting caliber PG, but he’s more than capable of being a super sub that can provide 18-20 minutes per game and spot start on occasion if they want to rest Paul and keep him healthy for the playoffs. The Clippers could also use both Paul and Collison in certain situations. Collison may not be as athletic as Bledsoe, but the team played the Bob Barker role and thought the price was right when they signed him.
Mullens had a career season last year (10.6 points per game, 6.4 rebounds per game and two assists per game), but he played nearly 27 minutes and it was for the lowly Charlotte Bobcats. Mullens is a better backup than Ronny Turiaf, but he shouldn’t play more than about 13-15 minutes. Hollins returns, but he’s really an emergency option since he doesn’t provide much in the way of production (3.4 points and 2.3 rebounds).
Bullock has talent, but he may have difficulty seeing much playing time with the additions the team made. He will likely see some time in the NBADL.
So, are the Clippers that much better?
Griffin needs to continue to develop and not just be interested in being an ESPN highlight reel. His rebounding needs to get better and he needs to work on developing a mid-range game so defenses can’t just pack the paint. Jordan needs to show he is still a good defensive player and improve his rebounding. His production took a dip after signing a huge contract. The Clippers got better on paper, but they need to show they are a true title contender. Despite some of their shortcomings, the Clips will win the Pacific and it shouldn’t be that close.
2-GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS
Stephen Curry is the engine that runs the Warriors. He went from being a very good player to franchise player with a true superstar season (22.9 points, 6.9 assists, while making 45.3% of his threes). Curry had several memorable performances (a 47-point game against the Lakers and a 54-point game against the Knicks), and had 13 games where he scored at least 30 points.
Curry and Klay Thompson (16.6 points on 42.2% shooting and 40.1% on threes) form one of the best young backcourts in the league. They will be a great duo for a long time and the foundation of their offensive production.
Jarrett Jack (12.9 points and 5.6 assists) was a luxury they were able to enjoy last year as a backup PG, but as a free agent he wasn’t interested in sticking around. He left for the Cleveland Cavaliers, while dependable reserve forward Carl Landry left for the Sacramento Kings. In doing so, Golden State lost two crucial players who were instrumental in their playoff run.
They also dumped some salaries by trading Andres Biedrins, Richard Jefferson and Brandon Rush, plus two first-round and two second-round picks to the Utah Jazz for Kevin Murphy. They brought in Andre Iguodala as an upgrade at small forward. He gives them a solid defender and a player who can run the offense when Curry isn’t in the game.
The salary dump was made to clear up space needed to convince Dwight Howard to come to Oakland, but ultimately they struck out when he chose the Houston Rockets. However, they have salary cap flexibility by unloading the unwanted contracts.
In order to try and add some depth to the bench the Warriors signed Toney Douglas as the backup PG to try and replace Jack (Iguodala may also play some point), Marreese Speights to replace Landry as the backup big man and Jermaine O’Neal as a backup to often-injured big man Andrew Bogut.
The Warriors caught the NBA by surprise last season and that won’t happen again. In order for them to build on what they accomplished they’ll need to stay healthy. Bogut was the only starter who missed a lot of games, but Curry’s ankles are just a twist away from sidelining him for an extended period.
3-LOS ANGELES LAKERS
Well, the Dwight Howard experiment didn’t work out quite the way the Lakers planned it and now they move forward with a lot of uncertainty.
The Lakers were active in free agency, but they were limited to the bargain-basement talent because of limited cap room. They brought back backup guard Jordan Farmar (who was with them from 2006-10), and signed center Chris Kaman, small forward Wesley Johnson, swingman Nick Young, power forward Elias Harris and small forward Shawne Williams.
Kaman will most likely start at center while Gasol stays at PF, giving the Lakers two 7-footers in their frontcourt. Kaman had a disappointing year in Dallas (10.5 points and just 5.6 rebounds in 20 minutes per contest, while appearing in 66 games), but the hope is next to Gasol, he’ll be able to provide 14-15 points and 8-9 rebounds.
Farmar is more suited to Mike D’Antoni’s frenetic pace than the triangle offense he played under Phil Jackson. If Nash gets hurt, Farmar should be able to step in and run the offense, along with Steve Blake. That’s if they don’t tinker with the offense, and there is a possibility they will since they brought in assistant coach Kurt Rambis, a longtime assistant and one-time Lakers head coach.
Young, Johnson and Williams will try to replace Metta World Peace, who was released under the Amnesty clause and signed with the New York Knicks. Young provides scoring and could start the season at shooting guard if Kobe Bryant isn’t fully recovered from his torn Achilles’ tendon. Johnson, who could start at SF, finished the 2012-13 strong for the Phoenix Suns averaging 13.4 points in 21 starts. On March 18, 2011, Young scored a career-high 29 points against the Lakers.
Jordan Hill returns from a hip injury that caused him to miss 53 games, and he’ll provide relief to Kaman or Gasol. After the Lakers acquired Hill from Houston in 2012, he became their energy guy off the bench and had several good games that earned him a nice contract in the summer of 2012.
Steve Nash, Gasol and Kobe will be counted on to carry the bulk of the scoring, but the free agent signings should help provide a much better bench. Whether or not this could be a case of addition by subtraction, not having Howard will be interesting to see. They won’t have to deal with the Dwight drama.
4- SACRAMENTO KINGS
The Kings have been known the last few years for being the new Los Angeles Clippers, a team that just can’t compete night in and night out. But, that might be changing.
The Kings had a pretty good offseason as they traded Tyreke Evans (in a three-team deal for Greivis Vasquez) to the New Orleans Pelicans and replaced him with Kansas University shooting guard Ben McLemore, the seventh overall pick in the draft. It was amazing McLemore fell as far as he did and Sacramento benefited from it. They get the most NBA-ready player (by most scouts’ opinion) from this year’s rookie class.
Versatile forward Luc Richard Mbah a Moute was acquired from the Bucks for a pair of second-round picks, and they also brought back Carl Landry (he played 28 games for the Kings in 2009-10). Sacramento became more athletic with the moves and added a solid veteran in Landry.
McLemore and DeMarcus Cousins give the Kings a good 1-2 punch. Cousins is one of the most talented players in the league when he’s focused, and they brought in a highly respected coach in Mike Malone to take over the reigns.
The Kings have a long way to go before they become a serious playoff threat, but they certainly became more competitive.
The Suns seem to be lost in the post Amare/Nash era, much like the Bulls were after Phil Jackson, Michael Jordan, and Scottie Pippen departed. There was no clear plan on how they want to go about rebuilding and it showed last season after trading away Steve Nash to the Los Angeles Lakers.
They made some moves that should improve them over the long haul, dumping the erratic Michael Beasley, trading hard-nosed defender and outside shooter Jared Dudley and veteran small forward Caron Butler for Eric Bledsoe in a three-team deal. Adding Bledsoe gives them an exciting and talented young player who should help sell tickets.
Goran Dragic played well in his first season as a full time starter (14.7 points, 7.4 assists and 1.6 steals). Bledsoe and Dragic give the Suns a backcourt that can pass the ball and get everybody involved in the offense. And both players can shift between PG and SG. Archie Goodwin was added via the draft and could push incumbent backup Shannon Brown for playing time.
If healthy, center Marcin Gortat can provide 15 points and 9-10 rebounds. But, that’s no guarantee since he has averaged just under 60 games per year in six seasons. If he’s banged up, rookie Alex Len — the fifth overall pick in the draft — will see some playing time as the main backup after Jermaine O’Neal and Hamed Haddadi left for free agency.
Gerald Green continues his nomadic journey through the league (third team in three seasons) and he’ll have every opportunity to show he can play. He’s just 27 and has 50 career starts, but he’ll have some competition. P.J. Tucker is a talented defender (something Green isn’t) and could earn some minutes and starts.
Marcus and Markieff Morris will be the platoon tandem at PF with holdover Channing Frye providing the outside shooting (almost half of his attempts were from beyond the arc) at the position if the Morris twins struggle. Frye also provides a bigger option at 6-11.
The bench isn’t that strong so the starters need to play well. But, expectations are lowered since this is a basically a full rebuild operation with a new coach in Jeff Hornacek, who should be able to find success over the long term. Hornacek was a scrappy player and should be able to relate to his players. They should be in the Andrew Wiggins/Jabari Parker sweepstakes when the next draft rolls around. This is a team in transition and sorely in need of more talent.
Darren Jacks is a regular contributor to OneManFastBreak.net. Send him an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.