INSIDER: FIVE STORYLINES WITH A MONTH BEFORE TRAINING CAMP OPENS
After an offseason of such consequence and change, it is likely little surprise that Clippers Media Day is just a month away. It has been said in the past: “what offseason?” But this summer’s stretch from June to September has flown by seemingly faster than ever. With the final few weeks remaining before camp opens, here are five storylines that are worth considering:
1) Big man rotation. The backcourt and wing spots are loaded with guys deserving of major minutes. Those positions will likely work themselves out fairly naturally, especially considering how much it resembles an improved version of last season’s group. But what will the front-court rotation look like? Obviously, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan are the starters. And even though Griffin averaged a career-low 32.5 minutes last season he will unquestionably be a focal point. Jordan is presumably in store for a boost in his minutes per game as well, particularly after his successful stint with USA Basketball in June. Byron Mullens is likely considered the third big. He said Doc Rivers already talked to him about his role, spacing the floor for Jordan and Griffin. He started 41 games in Charlotte last season and could play center or power forward either next to Jordan or Griffin or as a part of a newly configured bench. Mullens could be the first big off the bench, but he might not always be the first replacement for Jordan and Griffin. It’s plausible that Matt Barnes could enter the game first and play alongside Griffin with Jared Dudley at small forward. Rivers will begin to tinker with those ideas and many others beginning Oct. 7 in Portland when the Clippers open the preseason.
2) Learning a new system. Rivers and staff will be implementing a new system on both ends of the floor, and that will take time for a group that includes not just new coaches but could include as many as seven new faces on the roster. There are 28 days from the start of training camp to opening night. Is that time enough to get comfortable? For a veteran group like the Clippers, probably. It will be fascinating to watch those wrinkles get implemented, whether it be out-of-bounds plays or defensive systems.
3) Rookies. First round draft pick Reggie Bullock, who was a focal point of the Clippers’ five games in the Vegas Summer League, will be hard pressed to see much rotation time early in the regular season, but training camp and the preseason will be an opportunity to get real NBA experience. Other rookies invited to training camp will also get a shot and even with a roster that is mostly set there is always intrigue in seeing how a youngster performs in his first run as a professional. Preseason fan favorites are often formed, too. Take Marcus Hubbard and Marqus Blakely as examples over the last few seasons. Neither made the final cut, but both received a tremendous amount of love from fans in that short span.
4) Blake, Chris and DeAndre, year three. For the first time since the 2010-11 season, the Clippers are opening camp with a pair of new starters. They dealt Caron Butler to Phoenix and Chauncey Billups signed with the Pistons as an unrestricted free agent. Still, the cornerstones (Griffin, Jordan and Paul) remain and in their third year together what has become the most prolific show in the NBA in terms of highlights will be under the magnifying glass to advance further. The continuity is a start and the familiarity with one another will offer the finishing touches for what could be the most productive season from the trio yet. They were a part of the fourth most efficient lineup in the league last year among those where players were on the floor for at least 100 minutes together (+26.2), just one year removed from Jordan’s first as a starter and Paul’s hasty arrival in Los Angeles shortly after the lockout ended. What will year three provide with Rivers at the helm? It could be monumental.
5) Managing expectations. Considering they won a franchise-record 56 wins last season and the aforementioned potential of a Griffin, Paul and Jordan trio, expectations for the Clippers will be higher than any time in their 44-year history. Rivers has embraced that all along. When he was introduced he firmly believed that the franchise was going to benefit from being projected as a top team and last week he told the L.A. Times “I don’t want us to shrink from that at all… but what we’ve got to get our guys to understand is expectations are one thing, realization is a whole different thing.” And that’s where the early stages of camp and the season will meet expectations head on. The Clippers play 11 of their first 16 games against playoff opponents from 2012-13, including Oklahoma City twice, Miami on the road and a rematch with the Grizzlies on Nov. 18. The lofty expectations Rivers has talked about will be tested and measured, poked and prodded all season. How the Clippers manage expectations will begin in training camp when Rivers will begin to teach how to realize them.