Well, it was fun while it lasted. The Clippers owned Los Angeles for most of the last several years and then finally crashed, failing to make the playoffs and trading their franchise player, Blake Griffin, at midseason. The Griffin deal signaled a changing of the guard and strongly hinted that the Clippers are pressing the reset button as they move forward. It was a mild surprise that they finished with a winning record at 42-40, given the rash of injuries and constant lineup changes as a result. Lou Williams was a bright spot, bringing scoring relief to a team that often struggled to get buckets. With a new management team in place, led by Jerry West, the Clippers now embark on a new journey in search of their next personality. RIP, Lob City.
A page was turned in Clipper history this summer when DeAndre Jordan was gently encouraged to opt-out of his contract and sign with the Dallas Mavericks. DJ was Mr. Clipper, having spent his entire 10-year career with the club and living through the highs and lows. His defection was the final move that saw the Clippers distance themselves from Lob City … They also drafted Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, a point guard bringing size (6-foot-6) who was impressive for Kentucky in tournament play and solid in NBA Summer League … Rather than make other wholesale changes, the Clippers opted to keep their salary cap manageable for next summer.
1. Can the Clippers ever stay healthy? A common thread in the Doc Rivers era is injuries: Griffin, Chris Paul, etc., etc. And then last season it seemed the entire roster was hammered at one point or another. The only returnee who made it through the season unscathed was Williams. Danilo Gallinari in particular needs to stay upright for a team that might have scoring challenges. Aside from Williams, he’s the team’s only proven point-producer.
2. Williams was a tremendous sixth man last season. He’ll need a similar impact if the Clippers plan to challenge for a playoff spot. This would be unique to Williams, who has never been a lead singer throughout his career. The challenge is there, then, for him to equal or surpass last season’s 22.6 scoring average and finally crack the All-Star team.
3. The point guard situation will be interesting. Ultimately, it will determine the direction of the club. Pat Beverley is the holdover starter and Milos Teodosic will get some burn. But will Rivers use a portion of the year to groom Gilgeous-Alexander, the appointed successor to both? Much will depend on where the Clippers are in the standings and also the rookie’s growth. Rivers doesn’t have a rich history in being generous to rookies, so this bears watching.
MAN ON THE SPOT
More than a few basketball observers felt Rivers did his best coaching job last season, which is a statement in itself; Rivers is recognized as one of the best in the game. Yet this season presents another challenge for Rivers. The Clippers are in transition, lack star power and it’ll be a struggle to reach the playoffs in the loaded West. A turnaround seems years away. How much longer does Rivers want to stick around? The team stripped him of his personnel power two summers ago -- which wasn’t such a bad move -- and traded his son Austin this summer (ditto). When things went sour in Boston, he forced his way out of town. It wouldn’t be surprising if Rivers soon reaches a conclusion that he’d be better somewhere else.
Tobias Harris | 19.3 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 3.1 apg
One of the league’s more underrated players is making himself into a go-to guy and a consistent source of scoring.
Danilo Gallinari | 15.3 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 2.0 apg
Has played 70-plus games only twice in his nine years; a very reliable shooter and offensive threat when healthy.
Marcin Gortat | 8.4 ppg, 7.6 rpg, 1.8 apg
A short-term answer at center arrives to replace Jordan, though his skills are declining at age 34.
Patrick Beverley | 12.2 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 2.9 apg
Bulldog point guard will get in your grill and make you work; still limited shooting and not a superb playmaker.
Avery Bradley| 9.2 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 1.8 apg
Limited to just six games because of injury last season; a dependable combo guard who brings a D-first mentality.
Montrezl Harrell | 11.0 peg, 4.0 rpg, 1.0 apg
Signed team-friendly contract extension this summer; a worker bee who brings energy but perhaps not a starter.
Lou Williams | 22.6 ppg, 2.5 rpg, 5.3 apg
A supreme sixth man of the last several years is coming off a breakout season at age 30; can he duplicate?
Luc Mbah a Moute | 7.5 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 0.9 apg
Steady and reliable veteran and a favorite of Rivers returns to the Clippers and brings defense and deep shooting.
THE BOTTOM LINE
LeBron James and the buzz surrounding the Lakers will certainly diminish the visibility of the Clippers. In that sense, it’s a return to second-class status in town, from a glamour standpoint if nothing else, for the Clips. This probably isn’t so bad; as they reload, the Clips will escape scrutiny during tough times. Also, expectations are low for this club, so any positive surprise will reflect well on Rivers and the direction of the club. In the loaded West, winning streaks will likely be rare and therefore the Clippers are looking at 35-47. That’s quite a comedown from their heyday under Rivers, yet better days await next summer when they’ll likely have a lottery pick plus cash to spend on free agents.