Los Angeles Clippers: Will A Good Summer Lead To A Title?

Things were looking very promising for the Los Angeles Clippers during last season’s playoffs. Up 3-1 against the Houston Rockets in the Western Conference semi-finals, it looked like the Clippers might finally find their way into the Conference Finals for the first time in franchise history. The Clippers have been knocked out of the Conference Semis three of the past fours years; the other year they lost in the opening round.

Doc Rivers and his coaching staff have confidence in the stars but the role players and bench players did not contribute effectively, leading to a disastrous game 7 loss in Houston. So, this off-season, the Clippers made huge upgrades and had a very eventful summer that may finally lead to a championship push.

The Clippers got a bargain of a deal by signing Josh Smith to the veteran’s minimum of $1.5 million for one year, a pickup that can potentially turn into a key piece for the Clippers at a very low price.

After a dismal showing with the Pistons, Josh Smith had a career resurgence playing for the Houston Rockets last season as a solid rotational player scoring double digits in 35 of 48, games coming off the bench. There are concerns that Smith can be an issue in the locker room but the media makes it seem worse than it really is.

When the Pistons bought out Smith’s contract part of the reason was he did not fit the scheme, and the younger forwards- Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe- needed room to grow. At the time of the release, the Pistons cited that there were no personal issues however you don’t eat a contract with all of the salary implications just because of personnel inconsistencies. The fact that Smith didn’t perform up to the level of his contract and inhibited the development of others made him disposable.

For the Clippers, Smith will add needed depth that will allow Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan to have ample time on the bench. If Smith sticks to scoring in the paint and doesn’t attempt too many threes -a persistent problem that plagued him with the Pistons and Hawks- he can be a solid depth player.

Smith is one of only 10 players in NBA history to attempt at least 1,000 three-pointers and shoot under 30 percent on such shots. He shoots the second-worst percentage among those players. On the flipside, Smith shot 60.1% in the restricted area last season, a solid number and also a number that Smith has surpassed before. If the Clippers get the Josh Smith who is capable of working off the dribble, spacing the floor, and being solid defensively, then this pick up can be a huge home run.

Another solid offseason pickup was the addition of Paul Pierce, reuniting the Boston Celtic duo of Doc Rivers and Pierce. Pierce still has plenty left in the tank and although his athleticism has definitely declined, his high basketball IQ and basketball fundamentals have kept him in the league. “The Truth” will add locker room leadership that is much needed with emotional players like Chris Paul and DeAndre Jordan. Pierce will likely be the starting small forward now that Matt Barnes is gone.

Although all of Pierce’s numbers were career lows last season, he was still effective for the Wizards, especially during playoff time. Pierce went from 11.9 PPG last season to 14.6 PPG in the playoffs, and also bumped up his eFG % from 53.7% to 65.2%. Stepping up in the playoffs is something the Clippers dramatically need and something that they did not get with Matt Barnes, whose numbers dropped from 10.1 PPG to 7.1 PPG come playoff time.

Many other depth issues were addressed by the signings of players like Lance Stephenson, Pablo Prigioni, and Wesley Johnson. But there was one move, by far, that cemented the Clipper’s offseason as a successful one rather than a failure. That was the resigning of DeAndre Jordan.

Even with all the other signings, losing DeAndre would have been a huge blow. Jordan led the league last season in rebounds, total rebound %, and field goal %. In addition, Jordan was in the top 5 for blocks per game. Jordan has developed into one of the top centers in the league with the help of his freakish athleticism and chemistry with Blake Griffin; both in the top three in offensive rating last season.DeAndre Jordan is the defensive anchor for this team. Keeping him will allow the Clippers to remain title contenders against a very challenging Western Conference.

High expectations are in the air for the Clippers. They are in a win now, championship or bust mentality. Being able to create an adequate supporting cast now that Spencer Hawes, Glen Davis, and Hedo Turkoglu are gone will help the starting line-up play less minutes and stay fresh throughout the season.

photo via llananba