Clippers are Deep and Experienced

A championship contender needs stars, depth, and experience. With their recent offseason additions, the Clippers have all three.

Eric Patten

Even in an era of superstars and so-called “Big 3s” championing the NBA, depth and experience still matter.

While Dirk Nowitzki won the 2011 Finals MVP it was his supporting cast of Jason Terry, Tyson Chandler, Shawn Marion, and J.J. Barea, among others, who helped Dallas win their first title. And in 2012, in spite of Lebron James’ individual brilliance, it took Finals breakthroughs from Norris Cole, Mike Miller, Shane Battier, and Mario Chalmers to get Miami past Oklahoma City in five games.

A year removed from preeminent success and postseason heartbreak, the Clippers seem well aware of this dynamic. Their offseason moves have been swift and convincing. Like never before, the team is ready to win.

Last season’s bench unit, known affably as the “Goon Squad,” has all but been replaced (Eric Bledsoe not withstanding). Enter Lamar Odom, Grant Hill, Jamal Crawford, Ronny Turiaf, Willie Green, and Ryan Hollins. Or perhaps more importantly, 259 career postseason games.

Last season’s starting shooting guard, Chauncey Billups, is back, signing a one-year deal to, in his words, “do things the right way.” While absent from the lineup with a torn left Achilles tendon in the final 55 games of his only year in L.A., Billups watched from afar. His 140 playoff games, two Finals appearances, and 2004 Finals MVP, could only be valued as second-hand experience.

The value of experience cannot be overstated. It’s something Clippers head coach Vinny Del Negro stressed when the team signed Hill to a two-year contract on July 18.

“When you really want to have success in this league and you really have opportunities as a top team, there has to be sacrifices and that is what I talked to all these guys about when they came in, from Jamal [Crawford] and Chauncey [Billups] to Lamar [Odom] and Grant [Hill],” Del Negro said. “They’re all veteran guys, they’ve been through it and there are going to be some sacrifices in terms of sometimes minutes or shots or touches or whatever there is. But, hopefully everyone will buy into the chemistry of the team which is most important and that will take time.”

The veterans have been added to a nucleus of stars Blake Griffin and Chris Paul as well as DeAndre Jordan, Caron Butler, and Bledsoe, providing more stability to a locker room that was already considered a tight-knit group. And while the chemistry will most certainly take time to build, it could come quickly for a group that’s expressed a desire to play together.

“I am very excited about getting Lamar here,” Billups said. “I had a chance to play with Lamar a couple of years ago in the World Championships [2010] and grew a greater appreciation for him as a teammate and a leader and a veteran. I think what he can bring will really help this team. Of course, adding a guy like Jamal Crawford is huge. Jamal is a guy who in my opinion, over the last seven or eight years been one of the elite players.”

Hill spoke similarly of the team’s make up.

“I think you have good character guys deciding to sign in Chauncey and talking to Chris Paul,” Hill said, referring to conversations he had with the Clippers’ backcourt tandem before signing. “Even though Blake is young, I have a lot of respect for him and talking with him as well as guys like Lamar. People who to me, have high character and are good people.”

The character and experience of the roster will be paramount in a season unlike any other in Southern California for the Clippers. Last season’s success will undoubtedly bring lofty expectations. A playoff berth, top five seed, or series victory will seemingly no longer be acceptable goals. And according to Billups, that’s just fine.

“Talking to some of my guys and some of my friends around the league, people know that the Clippers are serious about winning now,” Billups said. “We go into different cities for different games and it is not like, ‘Oh man we’ve got the Clippers tonight, it is going to be an easy game. It is like, this is a big game.’ It is a big game now. That is when you know you have turned a corner.”

CLIPPERS FULL OF PLAYOFF-TESTED VETS

Here’s a look at the postseason experience for the Clippers, including number of games played and the furthest each player has advanced in his career.

Chauncey Billups 140 (2 Finals)
Lamar Odom 102 (3 Finals)
Ronny Turiaf 42 (2 Finals)
Caron Butler 41 (Finals/Injured)
Grant Hill 38 (Western Conference Finals)
Chris Paul 34 (Western Conference Semifinals)
Willie Green 28 (First Round)
Ryan Hollins 26 (Eastern Conference Finals)
Jamal Crawford 23 (Eastern Conference Semifinals)


Note: Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, and Eric Bledsoe played in their first-career playoffs last year (11 games each).