Los Angeles Clippers – Off Season Report

Image result for chris paul blake griffin deandre jordan

2015/16 Record: 53-29 (1st round exit)

Ins:

Marreese Speights FA – 2yr / $2.9mil
Raymond Felton FA – 1yr / $980k
Brandon Bass FA – 1yr / $980k
Alan Anderson FA – 1yr / $980k
Brice Johnson DR – Pick #25
Diamond Stone DR – Pick #40
David Michineau DR – Pick #39

Outs:

Jeff Green FA – Magic
Cole Aldrich FA – Timberwolves
Pablo Prigioni FA – Rockets
Branden Dawson FA – Unsigned
Alex Stepheson FA – Unsigned
Jeff Ayres FA – Unsigned

Off Season Analysis:

The Clippers have always been the NBA’s enigma franchise. Starting life as the Buffalo Braves back in the 70’s and fortuitously drafting a future league MVP in Bob McAdoo (who was a very bad man by the way) – they then moved to San Diego in the late 70’s-80’s in the ill fated Bill Walton era. Dwindling crowd numbers eventually led the Clippers to be  moved to big market Los Angeles in the hope of better times ahead.

Image result for san diego clippersImage result for buffalo braves logo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

However the 90’s and 2000’s were cruel to the Clips. Whether it was Danny Manning’s knee injuries, the gone-to-soon Darius Miles era, Donald Sterling or the Clipper curse, much of their history is laced with disappointment, injury and many, many fruitless lottery trips.

The Clippers of today are hoping to re-write their history and change the narrative of this franchise, but last season didn’t really help matters. A solid regular season ended with the Clips getting bounced by the upstart Trailblazers in six games, which is a bit of an indictment for this experienced group. Granted they had significant injuries that occurred during the playoffs to key players (Griffin and Paul) that clearly assisted in their downfall, it still appeared to some that major change was coming in the off season to this underachieving roster.

However, the Clips have decided to essentially back themselves in and keep the status quo. Whether this is partly due to a lack of assets, a lack of cap space, or the genuine belief that they can contend in the West – I’m not sure. What I will say is that the Clippers of 2016/17 appear to be a slightly deeper team than the one who got bounced in April, albeit with some very noticeable holes.

So let’s review the new faces. In comes Marreese Speights to add some bench scoring punch and Raymond Felton to keep him company at the buffet bar. In all seriousness, I don’t mind either of these signings for the cost. Felton is a savvy veteran these days and can run a team in the event of a CP3 injury, or handle backup duties with relative ease. He had a solid bounce back year for Rick Carlisle’s Mavs last season, and while his role will likely be smaller in LAC – he’s a decent enough signing. Speights is who he is – a big guy who can space the floor a bit, play no defence and occasionally have a big game. He’s a solid enough yin to Jordan’s yang in that sense.

In keeping with the “solid but underwhelming” free agent signings, Brandon Bass didn’t have to pack up his bags after moving from the Lakers to the Clippers after another non-descript season. Bass is a journeyman PF who provides a solid mid-range J, rebounding and not much else. Alan Anderson has been added to the backcourt to wave towels and hit the occasional three, and that rounds out the Clips veteran additions.

While I’m not particularly overwhelmed by the off-season signings, I quite like the Clippers draft this year. After an impressive college season culminating in the most heart breaking loss ever, Brice Johnson comes to LA as a ready made backup 4 who will be able to provide bench scoring, rebounding and some much needed youth to this veteran clad roster. They also acquired the rights to Diamond Stone, who has a soft touch on the offensive end and is young and raw enough to be developed into a contributor over the next few seasons. Last time the Clippers drafted a young Center, they moulded him into DeAndre Jordan, so as Hinkie would say “trust the process”. Michineau likely won’t see a lot of playing time, but has good size for a point guard and will learn under one of the best in the business.

My biggest criticism for this team is saved for GM and Coach, Doc Rivers. There’s a reason why a GM role and a Head Coach role are distinctly two different jobs, as in Doc’s case, his ability to do both jobs effectively is compromised by how close he is to the players. By playing conservatively this off-season, Doc has likely locked himself into another 50 win season – with a first or second round exit. That’s good enough to keep your job, but not good enough to win NBA Championships, which is ultimately the goal for every team.

GM Doc’s most questionable move had to have been last year’s Jeff Green deadline deal. Parting with a 1st round pick (lottery protected in 2019 and 2020) for a few very average  months of basketball was a horrible deal for the Clippers. Green is a guy who has literally snaked the entire country over the course of his average career, barely making an impact. He’s essentially a homeless man’s Rudy Gay. For a team that is dearth of quality youth, that future pick could be vital in bringing in a mid-first round wing that adds something different to the table. Hell, a guy like Kawhi Leonard was a mid-first rounder! It wreaked of a desperation move to acquire a “name”, without real thought as to the fit on the roster. Topping it off, Green walked to the Magic on an over-inflated one year deal and leaves us all scratching our heads as to WTF Doc was thinking…or Orlando for that matter.

On top of that, Rivers decided to re-up a few of LAC’s own free agents. Jamal Crawford probably needed his bifocal lenses checked when a 3yr $42 million dollar deal landed on his lap. While Crawford is the reigning NBA Sixth Man of the Year (and you could argue whether he deserved it last season), I’m not sold on giving a 36yr old a 3yr deal, particularly at around $14 million a season. This is a deal that could really sting a year from now if Crawford’s production falls off a cliff this coming season. Perhaps even worse is Doc lining the pockets of his offspring – giving Austin Rivers a 3yr $35 million dollar deal that was up there with the worst deal of the off-season. Rivers is a middling combo guard who isn’t particularly effective from distance, needs the ball in his hands, and doesn’t create for others. Giving him that size deal boggles the mind. I will admit that Doc was partly backed into a corner – being an over the cap team, they either let Crawford and Rivers walk and only sign minimum salary players, or bite the bullet and pay them big bucks for not much. Doc chose the latter, while giving himself a slight out with putting Early Termination Options (ETO) in the 3rd year of these two awful deals.

GM Doc has also not addressed the Clippers greatest deficiency – a starting calibre NBA Small Forward. In a league where your closest Western Conference rivals are starting Kevin Durant and Kawhi Leonard at the 3, you simply can’t roll out the Mbah a Moute’s of the world and hope to contend with the elite teams in the league. We also just witnessed Lebron James have one of the most historically dominant NBA Finals in history – so that’s 3 of the NBA’s very best SF’s playing deep into the business end of the playoffs. A wing rotation of Luc Richard, Wesley Johnson and Paul Pierce’s ghost just isn’t going to get the job done. From that perspective, it’s difficult to see how they can improve on a 3rd seed and likely 1st or 2nd round exit once again. The ceiling appears to have been reached with this unit, which will be a definite consideration for both Chris Paul and Blake Griffin who own ETO’s after season 2016/17 ends.

Having said all that – when looking at the modern NBA version of the Clippers, I find it difficult not to take the glass half full approach. Maybe there’s something to be said for a period of sustained semi-success for this franchise, given their turbulent past. Even if it is done with some of the worst uniforms and branding known to man. There are worse fates than being a pseudo contender in a stacked Western Conference. As much as the Clips would love to distance themselves from their past, it’s still hard to take them seriously when Chuck the Condor is the mascot, and this guy owns your franchise. The Clippers just can’t get out of their own way.

Image result for chuck the condor

Grade: C

2016/17 Prediction: 55-27

League Pass Meter: 7/10

The Clippers are a solid team. You’ve got one of the best PG’s in the game in CP3, plus 2 of the greatest lob threats he could ask for. There’s not a lot new here though, so it feels a little same-same but different.

Depth Chart:

PG: Paul Felton Michineau
SG: Redick Rivers Anderson
SF: Mbah a Moute Johnson Pierce
PF: Griffin Bass Johnson
C: Jordan Speights Stone

Salary Cap Situation:

2016/17 salaries: $114,740,032 (over the cap team)
2017/18 salaries: $111,329,826

Max room: $42.7mil
Min room: $0

Future Assets:

Incoming:
2020 2nd (CLE)

Outgoing:
2017 1st (TOR – protected 1-14)
2017 2nd (BOS)
2018 2nd (NY or PHI)
2019 1st (BOS via MEM – protected 1-14)

2016/17 Questions:

Can the Clippers challenge the Spurs and Warriors in the West?

Will the Paul and Griffin contract scenarios be a huge distraction?

Which Small Forward takes the starting role?

Can the Clippers combat small ball as they are presently constructed?

Will Doc make another head scratching deadline desperation move?

 

 

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