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Los Angeles Clippers 2014-15 Preview - The Road to Prominence

Doc Rivers has established his system and has a year under his belt with his new group in LA. After falling in the second round of last year's Western Conference playoffs, are the Clippers ready to make a run for the hardware?

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Clips Nation - Los Angeles Clippers 2014-15 Preview -

The Western Conference is brutally tough, as the Clippers have found out in recent postseason trips. The goal needs to be to advance further in the playoffs -- no team in franchise history has ever won more than one playoff series during the same postseason. There's no shame in losing to Oklahoma City or San Antonio -- two great teams in their own right. But the Clippers will have to get past one or both of them to quiet the talk of not being able to win the big games.

This goal is most important to Chris Paul, who is universally acknowledged as the best point guard in the league, but who has never been past the conference semi-finals, either in New Orleans or in Los Angeles.

Another good goal for the team would be to win at least 58 regular season games. If they can do that they will become the first team in NBA history to improve their record in seven straight seasons.

2013-14 IN REVIEW
1st in Pacific Division - 3rd in Western Conference
Lost to OKC (4-2) in the Western Conference Semifinals

Doc Rivers dropped a bomb on the basketball world in the summer of 2013, when he decided he wanted no part of a long rebuilding process in Boston. With three years remaining on the five-year extension he signed with Boston in 2011, Doc skipped across the country to join the Los Angeles Clippers as the Celtics received a 2015 first round pick as compensation. Not only would he sign a three-year, $21 million deal to take on the responsibilities as the Clippers head coach, he also negotiated his way into multitasking role as President of Basketball Operations for the first time in his career.

Look, we could go back and forth all day about this, that and the third regarding all of his reasons for leaving Boston. I'll save you the increased heart rate and put it how Kevin Garnett would - it is what it is.

From a basketball standpoint, it changed everything for the Clippers. No longer were they happy to get out of the NBA cellar, it was now - for the first time in Clippers history - about winning championships. Yeah, I said it. The Los Angeles Clippers can legitimately talk about winning, as Doc's presence shifted the landscape and completely changed the culture.

Guys were now going to be held accountable like never before, with a team-oriented family-like atmosphere that expected excellence and selflessness. You know, ubuntu, etc. Rivers is a master of the psychological game, as well, where his genius shined when he did things like hide the Lakers banners from the rafters during Clippers games.

You can't just talk the talk, however. For the first time ever, the Clippers felt the realism of being able to walk the walk. Of course, it helps when you jump into a situation with guys like Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, Jamal Crawford and DeAndre Jordan intact, not to mention offseason acquisition J.J. Redick, one of the purest jump shooters you will ever witness.

Doc's impact left a mark on the organization from top to bottom, but nobody benefited from his presence quite like DeAndre Jordan. After being labeled as "overpaid" prior to last season, Jordan proved to be worth the wait as he completely transformed his approach to the game in 2013-14. A guy that was once somewhat of a goofy personality that wasn't maximizing his potential now turned into a big time vocal presence and one of the best defensive anchors in the entire game of basketball.

Jordan was as engaged as ever, accumulating 42 double-doubles while leading the league in rebounding and field goal percentage. The 25-year-old physical freak of a specimen posted career highs in scoring (10.4 PPG), rebounding (13.6 RPG), blocks (2.5 BPG), steals (1 SPG), minutes played (35 MPG) and field goal percentage (67.6%).

His frontcourt partner Blake Griffin played his best ball, as well, putting up a career high 24 points per game to go along with 9.5 rebounds and 3.9 assists, while shooting above 70% from the free throw line for the first time in his career. With Chris Paul out of the lineup for approximately a month, Griffin took his game to an even higher level, putting the team on his back to produce over 27 points per game on 55% shooting. Never has Griffin been that consistently aggressive on the floor, and that remarkable stretch put him in the conversation with LaMarcus Aldridge, Kevin Love and Dirk Nowitzki for the title of the best power forward in the game.

In his third year in LA, Chris Paul continued his run as the most complete point guard in basketball. Scoring over 19 points per contest, CP3 also lead the league in assists (10.7) and reigned supreme in the steals category for the sixth consecutive season with 2.5 cookies per game. Paul's leadership and two-way excellence was put on display in one of his best regular seasons of his career.

Paul would miss 18 consecutive games with a separated shoulder he suffered in the first week of January, but offseason free agent signing Darren Collison was more than ready to fill in, similar to his rookie year filling in for the injured CP3 with New Orleans. Collison was outstanding for the Clippers all season long, averaging over 11 points and just under four assists per game, but he was even more effective with increased opportunity. In 34 games as a starter, Collison put up 14.8 points and 5.3 assists per game, shooting the ball as efficiently as ever.

As J.J. Redick fit beautifully with the Clippers as a lethal floor spacer, scoring a career high 15.2 points per game on 45.5% shooting, Jamal Crawford won the NBA's Sixth Man of the Year award for the second time in five years. Crawford finished third on the team in scoring, putting up 18.6 points per contest, including 22 points per game with Chris Paul absent from the lineup.

The Clippers finished the season 57-25, marking the highest single-season win total in franchise history and earning the third seed in the stacked Western Conference.

In the first round, they went up against the up-and-coming Golden State Warriors in a series where the Clippers off-court endeavors made more headlines than their play. In the middle of a playoff run, Clippers owner Donald Sterling's highly publicized racist remarks leaked and understandably rubbed the entire organization the wrong way. While refusing to use it as an excuse, the Clippers let it be known that it was at least in the back of their minds, but they were still able to grind through a hard-fought Game 7 victory where four Clippers reached the 20-point plateau to complement a 15-point, 18-rebound performance from DeAndre Jordan.

In the second round, however, they would run into one of the most devastating opponents in basketball as they faced off against the Oklahoma City Thunder. Despite Chris Paul racking up a double-double in every game, holding series averages of just under 23 points and 12 assists per contest, the Clippers simply had no answer for OKC's dynamic duo of Russell Westbrook and 2013-14 NBA MVP Kevin Durant. The highly productive tandem combined for 61 points, 15.5 rebounds and 14.1 assists per game while they each got to the free throw line about 10 times per game. Ouch.

Los Angeles fell in six games, as their season came to a close as a victim of a second round exit. As Doc Rivers preaches, anything less than a championship is unacceptable, but it's hard to classify last season's Clippers as disappointing. In their first year together, they played some great basketball and at the very least, showed that they are going to be a force to reckon with as long as this core is intact.

No NBA Finals [yet], Clippers fans, but things are as promising as ever.


Key Additions - Spencer Hawes, Jordan Farmar
Key Losses - Darren Collison, Jared Dudley, Danny Granger, Ryan Hollins

The biggest and most relieving news for the Clippers this summer was the official departure of Donald Sterling. Exactly one month after the 80-year-old bigot was banned from the NBA for life, he finally gave in and officially agreed to sell the team to former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer for $2 billion on May 29.

Everybody knew that was coming, but everyone was happy to put it in the rear-view. The energy of Ballmer would certainly help people forget about it and enter the new era of ownership with a smile. What about Ballmer makes people smile, you ask? Watch his introductory speech.

After speculation that Doc Rivers would consider leaving the organization if Sterling still owned the team in 2014-15, the Clippers sale sparked a increased investment in the organization. Rivers signed a five-year contract extension worth over $50 million, which will take him through 2019.

Looks like Doc is here for the long haul (heh).

In an attempt to reshape the supporting cast, Doc was a busy man in player movement and had a lot of free agents to attend to. Darren Collison was terrific last season, but you didn't expect him to stick around as a $2 million backup, did you? After Collison left LA for an opportunity to start for the Kings, the Clippers kept hometown kid Jordan Farmar in Los Angeles on a two-year, $4.2 million deal with the second year coming as a player option.

Farmar spent half of last season banged up and on the sidelines, but was excellent for the Lakers averaging 10.1 points and 4.9 assists per game, shooting 44% from beyond the arc for the second straight season.
Farmar will take on Collison's role as the backup point guard and will be able to provide a lift on both ends of the floor.

After re-signing Big Baby Davis to a one-year, $1.23 veteran's minimum deal, the Clippers improved their frontcourt rotation by bringing in a remarkably perfect fit at center. Free agent Spencer Hawes agreed to a four-year deal worth over $22 million, with the fourth and final year as a player option, and will bolster their bench.

The skilled 26-year-old is coming off of his best year in the NBA, where he accumulated 13.2 points, 8.3 rebounds and three assists per game for Philadelphia and Cleveland in 2013-14, and his offensive skill set will complement Griffin and Jordan as well as you could ask for. At 7'1", he is a serious floor spacer that is a threat to shoot 40+% from three-point territory, he is a versatile pick n' roll receiver and he really has terrific court vision for a big. His heady passing ability will work wonders for the Clippers offense that is already stacked with a borderline unfair cast of weapons.

In a cost-cutting move, Rivers also sent Jared Dudley and a protected 2017 first round pick to Milwaukee in return for Carlos Delfino and Miroslav Raduljica, who were each waived immediately. Fans generally don't like their teams giving up first round picks, but this deal gets the Clippers out of the $8.5 million that Dudley is due over the next two years.

C - DeAndre Jordan / Spencer Hawes / Ekpe Udoh
PF - Blake Griffin / Glen Davis / Hedo Turkoglu
SF - Matt Barnes / Reggie Bullock / Chris Douglas-Roberts / Joe Ingles
SG - J.J. Redick / Jamal Crawford / C.J. Wilcox
PG - Chris Paul / Jordan Farmar

X-FACTOR - Team Defense
Doc Rivers has a couple of incredible defensive anchors in DeAndre Jordan and six-time NBA All-Defense selection Chris Paul, but he's going to need the entire group to be in sync with one another. Certain guys have to improve defensively from an individual standpoint and those rotations are going to have to be crisp in 2014-15.
Especially in a best-of-seven playoff series, one mistake can kill your defense and the Clippers experienced far too many defensive breakdowns last season. This team is arguably the most talented in the league and they'll never have problems putting the ball in the bucket, but they need to be able to get multiple stops on a consistent basis before they have a chance to make their first run to the NBA Finals in franchise history.

There is no doubt that this year's Clippers team is going to be one of the best squads the NBA has to offer, and they will certainly be in the mix in the Western Conference. With Kevin Durant out of action to start the season, LA has a great opportunity to start strong and gain an advantage in the standings from the jump, and they'll want to capitalize on that.

The Western Conference is no joke, and you'll be hard-pressed to find any "easy" matchup in the playoffs out there, but you'll also have a hard time finding tougher opponents than the Clippers. I can't believe I'm saying this (which I will say until the Clippers actually win something), but if all goes well, the Clippers are going to have a strong chance to compete for a championship.

1st - Pacific Division
3rd - Western Conference

Keep your eyes peeled for the New York Knicks preview, coming tomorrow morning.

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