The Clippers have to resolve a number of issues going into next season, one being figuring out how to get guard Eric Bledsoe on the court more. Photo by Jason Lewis
This may be the most important off-season in Clippers history. They do not want a repeat of the 2006-07 season.
When the final buzzer sounded at the end of the Clippers Game 4 loss to the Spurs a week ago, it marked the conclusion of the most exciting season in the Clippers’ Los Angeles residency. It also started what could be the most important off-season in the franchise’s entire history.
The acquisition of Chris Paul raised the standards for this long-suffering ball club. Gone are the days as the laughingstock of the NBA. Not only did the Clippers get arguably the best point guard in the league, but the perennial punch line also got the last laugh over their cross-town rival as commissioner David Stern nixed a previous trade that would have made Paul a member of the Lakers.
Paul’s arrival meant so many things to this team. He added instant credibility to a team in desperate need of it. His leadership was paramount to the team’s success, especially after the injury to Chauncey Billups. He also made the team more marketable, given the increase in merchandise sales and media coverage. Probably most surprisingly was that for the first time ever there was an actual discussion in the early part of the season on whether Los Angeles had become a Clippers town.
Although for all of his prowess, Paul cannot do it alone. The team surrendered a lot of assets to get him, and rightfully so. Yet Paul’s playmaking ability did not increase the scoring output from big men Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan that many were expecting. Griffin continued to play at an all-star level, but struggled in the playoffs. Jordan appeared to have hit a plateau.
The last time the Clippers made the playoffs six years ago, in a run which saw them come one game from reaching the Western Conference Finals, they spent the following season drafting in the lottery, finishing 40-42 and ninth in the conference. That was the season that promising point guard Shaun Livingston suffered a horrific knee that nearly ended his career. Things fell apart after that as the team spent the next four seasons finishing no higher than 12th in the conference.
To prevent a repeat of that scenario several things have to happen.
Adding complimentary pieces to this team will be paramount to convincing not only Paul to sign a long-term deal, but Griffin as well. The team can offer Griffin an extension this summer, but his decision to re-sign could be contingent upon what other players are added to this team.
Defense and inside scoring hurt this team down the stretch and both areas have to be addressed. Any acquisitions will most likely come from a trade or free agency, as the Clippers are without a first round draft pick for the second straight year.
Backup power forward Reggie Evans has to be retained. He has endeared himself to fans for his gritty play. While not a scorer his rebounding would be missed should he leave.
Jordan has to improve. When the Clippers matched Golden State’s $43 million offer sheet to Jordan, they had to have been expecting more than 7.4 points per game in return. With a full off-season with trainers, Jordan’s scoring could make a significant jump.
The Clippers have an interesting situation at the guard position, because behind Paul, their best guards are Chauncey Billups and Eric Bledsoe, who are both point guards like Paul. Billups played shooting guard and provided veteran leadership before a season ending Achilles injury, and the Clippers turned out to be right by refusing to include Bledsoe in the Paul trade.
Bledsoe came up big for the Clippers off the bench during the playoffs. He missed the beginning of the regular season while coming off of an injury, and he struggled to find his place in the Clippers rotation when he returned. In the regular season he averaged only 11.6 minutes and 3.3 points per game while shooting 38 percent from the field and 20 percent from three-point range. But the Clippers relied on him more during the playoffs, as he averaged 17.2 minutes and 7.9 points per game while shooting 58 percent from the field and 42 percent from three-point range.
The issue with finding Bledsoe more playing time is that he plays behind Paul, which means that the Clippers will have to play him more at shooting guard to get him on the court. With Billups coming off of a serious injury, he may not be much of an option at that position next year. Mo Williams played a lot at shooting guard, even though he is a natural point guard, and Randy Foye was streaky at that position. Nick Young turned out to be a one-dimensional player.
The Clippers will have some decisions to make at the guard position, and some players could be up for trades.
The team had to make a decision about head coach Vinny Del Negro, and they decided to pick up the option on his contract, giving him one more year to prove himself. There were rumblings late in the season that Del Negro had lost his players. A gutsy seven game opening round series win against the Grizzlies may have saved his job.
As fun as the Clippers were to watch this season they have to become a more balanced team to prevent future playoff sweeps. If not, the Lob City era could end before you know it.
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