LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS PREVIEW
2014-15 IN REVIEW
2nd in Pacific Division
3rd in Western Conference
Lost vs. HOU (4-3) in Western Conference Semifinals
SUMMER OF 2015
Key Additions - Paul Pierce, Josh Smith, Lance Stephenson
Key Losses - Matt Barnes, Spencer Hawes, Glen Davis
Doc Rivers and the Clippers were as busy as any team this summer, enduring a freakish rollercoaster of emotions in the process. DeAndre Jordan was an unrestricted free agent heading into the offseason, and he shocked everybody with the way he handled it; even himself.
On July 3, he verbally agreed to move on to Dallas to sign a four-year, $80 million deal with the Mavericks, putting the Clippers in desperation mode. Fortunately for them, Jordan was having second thoughts almost immediately. Less than a week later, Doc Rivers and a few Clippers players met with Jordan in his Houston home and poured their heart out to him to pitch their situation. Jordan went mental in his own mind trying go decide what to do with his career, and ultimately backed out of his agreement with Dallas to sign a four-year extension with LA worth up to $88 million.
That was a shady situation, but also a major feeling of relief for the Clippers, especially Paul Pierce, who had already agreed to finish his career back home in LA with the idea that Jordan would still be there. Pierce has reunited with Doc, a sentimental move that allows him to ride out hour career in front of his family back home on a three-year, $10 million contract.
Pierce was as clutch a performer as ever in the playoffs for Washington last season, while his experience and leadership will be much appreciated in LA's locker room.
One guy that may benefit from Pierce's approach is Lance Stephenson, who the Clippers acquired in a deal with Charlotte in exchange for Matt Barnes and Spencer Hawes. Stephenson is obviously an exceptionally talented, multidimensional performer but he has yet to put it all together on a consistent level outside of his 2013-14 campaign in Indiana. Only time will tell how he fits and carries himself, but hopefully he can maximize his ability with a change of scenery in veteran-lead environment under a motivator like Doc Rivers.
Los Angeles got another free agent steal when they signed Josh Smith to a one-year, $1.5 million veteran's minimum deal as he tries to play himself into a bigger contract by playing a key role on a winning team. Smith was outstanding for the Rockets in the second half of last season after being released by Detroit, and he played a major part in Houston's run to the Western Conference Finals. His versatility will be a welcome addition off bench behind Bake Griffin and Paul Pierce, giving Doc even more flexibility to experiment with different lineups.
Defensive-minded swingman Wesley Johnson also signed with LA for a minimum $1.1 million deal and could play a key role off the bench this season. He provides the Clippers with a quality athlete and a different look on the wing, adding to their already deep group of perimeter players.
To shore up the backcourt, Doc re-signed his son Austin Rivers for $6.4 million spread out over 2 years, while adding the savvy 38-year-old Pablo Prigioni for extra depth. The Clippers have definitely reloaded, and their bench certainly has a lot more firepower than it did a year ago.
PROJECTED DEPTH CHART
C - DeAndre Jordan / Cole Aldrich
PF - Blake Griffin / Josh Smith / Chuck Hayes
SF - Paul Pierce / Wesley Johnson / Luc Richard Mbah a Moute
SG - J.J. Redick / Jamal Crawford / Lance Stephenson / C.J. Wilcox
PG - Chris Paul / Austin Rivers / Pablo Prigioni
X-FACTOR - Mental Toughness
The Clippers need to be more mentally disciplined if they want to win a championship. That sounds cliche as all hell, but this Clippers team has all the personnel they need to get what they want. The problem is, sometimes they shut down mentally when the going gets tough, and they go into panic mode at times.
Paul Pierce will absolutely have a positive impact on this and say what you want about Lance Stephenson, the man is a gamer that always competes.
"Mental... toughness!!!" - Doc Rivers, 2008
WHAT TO EXPECT IN 2015-16
The Clippers have all the ingredients to compete with any team in the NBA, and with their added depth off the bench, it's safe to expect them to be back in the mix this season.
This team can contend for a championship if all goes well, but they certainly have some heavy competition out west with the defending champion Warriors, the reloaded Spurs, a potentially improved Rockets squad and OKC with a healthy Kevin Durant. Don't sleep on Memphis, either.
Nobody can predict how the postseason will shake out, but you can expect the Clippers to put together one of the top records in the Western Conference and give any team a hell of a run in a best-of-seven series.
2nd in Pacific Division
4th in Western Conference
Additional Clippers Previews:
Prediction: The Clippers will win 55 to 60 games and secure the second seed in the Western Conference. By securing the second seed, the Clippers will get a favorable match up in the first round and advance to the Western semifinals in relatively healthy shape. After surviving a tough six game series against a worn out opponent, the Clippers advance to the Western Conference Finals against the defending champions, the Golden State Warriors. This epic Battle for California will end in seven games after a five hour long Game 7 that witnesses DeAndre Jordan shoot 60 free throws. The Clippers lose Game 7 and in predictable fashion the NBA finally changes its rules after the season to once again address a rule that screwed the Clippers over the year before.
I don't know how much Pierce has left in the tank, but his presence alone should help provide a calming effect on what has been a fairly combustible mix. Lance is a wild card, we all know that. He could be great or he could be gone. He's certainly more talented than whoever else they had on the wing last season. Josh Smith is the key addition for me. Look at some of those bench guys Doc was running out in recent years. Now look at Josh Smith. That said, I think this is it for them. They have to show up in the postseason and they have to win big. There are only so many chances a team gets before it all falls apart. I'm very cautiously picking them to get out of the West and win the whole freaking thing.