NBA Season Preview: Los Angeles Clippers


Last season: 29-53, a season that seemed lost when Blake Griffin fractured his kneecap landing after a monster dunk in the preseason. But only the Clippers can find ways to bring that down even farther: there was the Mike Dunleavy firing (which is on its way to court), Baron Davis checked out mentally, then there was the Phil Hughes era. Hughes may be one of the most honest, fun coaches I’ve ever covered. But he wanted to run and the team did not have the players for it. The results were just ugly.

Head Coach: Vinny Del Negro, he of the simplistic offensive sets but who got a young team to play hard and defend for him. If he can do that again with this roster, they’ll do pretty well. Based on history (from Bill Fitch through Dunleavy), Del Negro should hire a good attorney because he will have to sue to get all of his money owed on his contract.

Key Departures: The Clippers did not really lose much on the court (which should bring more hope than it does here). Steve Blake traded uniforms and will be in the locker room 25 feet down the hall. Ricky Davis is in China. Travis Outlaw is gone. But really, nothing that can’t be replaced by better. Not that it was, but these were not huge losses.

Key Additions: We can count Blake Griffin in here because he never played a regular season game for the Clippers. This guy is a beast, a guy who can instantly become one of the better pick-and-roll guys in the league. There aren’t many athletes like him at the four and everyone will be reminded why he was the first overall pick.

The Clippers had a high draft pick — again — used it on Al-Farouq Aminu, a guy they think could be their future at the three. Then at Summer League he looked a few years away, although by the preseason he seems to have made big strides. Still it may be next year or the year after before we know what the Clippers have here.

In the short term, the Clippers got a very solid Ryan Gomes to come in and play the three for them, and at a fair price. The Clippers also made good signings with Randy Foye and re-signing Craig Smith, giving them solid if not spectacular depth. Basically, if these guys are playing 18 minutes a night off the bench the Clippers will be fine, if these guys have to play 30 minutes in a starters role the Clippers will struggle. And in the preseason Gomes has been starting, so….

Eric Bledsoe, who Los Angeles traded what will be a future pick in the teens for so they could draft him at 19, will step in now and be the backup point guard from day one. And the heir apparent to the big job.

The Clippers also signed Brian Cook to a two-year deal Why? Just, why?

Best case scenario: It all comes together perfectly, Baron Davis and Blake Griffin becomes one of the best pick-and-roll duos in the league, the role players all play above their heads a little and the Clippers fight for one of the final playoff spots in the West.

For that to happen: Baron Davis is the good Baron Davis, not the bad jack-up-a-deep-three-with-18-seconds-on-the-clock Davis. Also, the team’s role players need to play a little better than they have in the past.

The Clippers have a good frontcourt — Chris Kaman made the All-Star team while that is a borderline call the fact is he is one of the better true centers in the league. He plays well with his back to the basket, can pass and plays solid defense. Now with the hustle and athleticism of Griffin along side him there is a lot of potential there. The Clippers need to be near the top of the league in shots attempted in the paint for them to be successful, because not many teams can match them up front.

But it all comes back to Davis. This guy has the skills to be one of the most dynamic, best distributors from the point in the league. When he is interested — like in the middle of last season when he and Kaman got a real flow going on the pick-and-pop for a while. But Davis chaffed against Dunleavy and by the time Hughes took over Davis had mentally checked out for the season.

Del Negro, based on what he did with Derrick Rose in Chicago, gives his point guards a lot of freedom. A lot. That and the energy of Griffin, the quality wingman in Eric Gordon could make the Clippers a dangerous staring five. But if Davis mentally checks out early again, he will drag the Clippers down with him.

The Clippers should get a bigger, better year out of Eric Gordon, who continues to improve, as evidenced by his time with Team USA. The rest of the guys — Foye, Gomes, Smith, Rasual Butler and so on — are all pretty average, solid NBA players, Which is nice, but if the Clippers are going to step forward in a deep west then need a bench that can be more dynamic. Somebody here needs to be a guy who can lead that unit.

More likely the Clippers will: be a slightly more entertaining version of last year’s team. And miss the playoffs. And have a lovely lottery party.

Griffin will be a Rookie of the Year candidate, but how far can he lift a team that is essentially the same as the one that won 29 games last season? Are we really counting on an energized and focused Davis for 82 games? Heck, 65 games of good Davis makes this a borderline playoff team. But it’s just hard to see it. It’s just hard to see Del Negro somehow inspiring this team to great heights.

Prediction: 31-51, and a middling lottery pick. Oh, but Donald Sterling has these grand plans to get a top free agent….

PBT Podcast: We’re back talking Kobe, 76ers, Warriors, Pistons, more

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The ProBasketballTalk NBA podcast is back.

Sure we’re a month into the season, but we’re going to get this podcast rolling again and you can expect us on each Monday and Thursday, with a variety of guests talking everything around the NBA.

Today NBC’s own Dan Feldman joins Kurt Helin to talk Kobe Bryant‘s retirement announcement, and what that means both for the Lakers going forward this season and beyond, but also what that could mean for Byron Scott’s future as the Lakers’ coach.

We also delve into the “showdown” between the Lakers and Sixers on Thursday, talk about the job Brett Brown is doing there as coach (a good one), we talk some Warriors, some Draymond Green, Pistons, Spurs and Pacers to round it all out.

Listen to the podcast below or you can listen and subscribe via iTunes.


Sacramento’s DeMarcus Cousins probable to play against Dallas Monday

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It’s this simple: The Sacramento Kings are 5-5 when DeMarcus Cousins plays this season, 1-7 when he sits. (And that win number is a big misleading, they looked like they would have beaten Charlotte with him, but when he left with back pain they lost, they could easily be 6-4 with him.)

So it’s good news that Cousins is expected to return to the Sacramento lineup Monday night. Well not good for Rick Carlisle and the Mavericks, but good for the Kings, as reported by James Ham at CSNBayArea,com.

This season Cousins is averaging 27.9 points and 11.2 rebounds a game, he has a true shooting percentage above the league average (56.3 percent for Cousins) and he has a PER of 27.1 which is sixth best in the league.

Combine him with the numbers Rajon Rondo has put up lately the Kings become much more dangerous. They’d be even scarier if everyone stayed healthy and George Karl would settle on a lineup.

PBT Extra: Kobe Bryant understands now is time to walk away

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It was expected Kobe Bryant would retire at the end of this season.

It was not expected Kobe would make that official on Nov. 29 — it’s caught the media at Staples Center Sunday (of which I was one) and the fans by surprise.

In this PBT Extra, I talk with Jenna Corrado about the mood inside Staples Center Sunday.

More importantly, I discuss the sense I got that Kobe understands it’s time to walk away, and he is at peace with that.

Luke Walton: Warriors concerned about health, not 72 wins

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Stephen Curry acknowledges the Warriors – who are 18-0 and won four straight to end last season – talk about the NBA record of 33 consecutive wins.

But what about another major record Golden State is chasing, 72 wins in a season?

Shooting guard Klay Thompson called it possible. General manager Bob Myers deemed it impossible.

Interim coach Luke Walton would prefer everyone just keep quiet.

Walton, via CSN Bay Area:

“The 72 thing is far, far away,” Walton said. “We shouldn’t be spending any time thinking about that.

“I’ve also said before that we’re not going to coach this season trying to chase that record,” Walton said

“We’re still going to give players nights off on back-to-backs,” he added. “And we’re going to do our best to limit minutes for some of our players. Our main concern is being healthy come playoff time.”

I don’t think Golden State will win 72 games, but prioritizing health won’t necessary stop the Warriors. They’re so deep.

They outscore opponents by 5.8 points per 100 possessions when Curry sits, 5.6 when Draymond Green sits. Those marks would rank seventh among all NBA teams.

Golden State has the luxury of resting players and continuing to win. That’s what makes the chase for 72 realistic. This team is less likely than most to wear down late in a season where it’s pushing to win every game.

Health entering the playoffs is important, but a 72-win season would raise these Warriors to legendary status. If they’re in range late in the season, I think they’ll go for it – even if the top seed is already secured.

But for now, Walton is probably taking the right approach. Plenty of teams start fast (though never this fast) then drift back toward the pack. No point risking Golden State’s health yet.