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If Blake Griffin can take the step from All-Star to superstar, the Clippers will be contenders in the West this year. Photo by Jason Lewis
With the Thunder trading Harden away, the Lakers and Clippers look like the best in the West.
Entering the regular season, the Los Angeles Lakers looked like they positioned themselves for a run at a NBA championship, but coming out of the West would be tough because of the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Los Angeles Clippers have not gotten as much hype as their inner city rival, but they look like they will be in the mix too.
Well things slightly changed when the Thunder traded the NBA's reigning Sixth Man of the Year James Harden (Artesia High School) to the Houston Rockets. Harden may have been a bench player, but along with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook (Leuzinger High School, UCLA), Harden was one of the key players to their success. The Thunder obtained a few players and two first round draft picks in return, which will help them in the future, but this trade hurt them for this season. This team is not as good as last year without Harden, which makes the Lakers the clear favorite to win the West, and it also bumps the Clippers up a notch.
The Lakers overhaul of their roster has been well documented, but the Clippers have flown under the radar to a certain degree this offseason.
Last season the Clippers made it to the second round of the playoffs, and if they're going to make it to the next level, the key factor could be how their front court of power forward Blake Griffin and center DeAndre Jordan improve.
As an All-Star, Griffin is one of the best players at his position in the league. Entering his third season, the question is if he can become one of the best overall players in the league. Can he become a super star?
Usually by the third year of a player's career they are what ever they're going to be. Griffin is already one of the best power forwards in the game today. But if the Clippers are going to be real contenders, they need another superstar to go along with point guard Chris Paul.
Most championship teams have at least two superstar players, and if Griffin can become that this season, then the Clippers can come out of the West. They are also going to need improved play on the offensive end of the court from Jordan. He does a lot of things well, especially defensively and rebounding because he is a great athlete.
Jordan is not expected to be great on the offensive end of the court, but to take pressure off of Paul and Griffin, he has to be respected in the low post.
One thing working for the Clippers is their bench, which looks like it will be one of the best in the league. Point guard Eric Bledsoe, shooting guards Jamal Crawford and Willie Green (who will start in place of injured Chauncey Billups, who should be back by December), forwards Lamar Odom, Grant Hill, Matt Barnes, and Ronny Turiaf, and center Ryan Hollins, are all serviceable players.
Having those players in the reserve unit ensures that the Clippers can compete at all times during games, and also they can keep on rolling when they have to deal with injuries.
The Lakers have an improved bench with veteran forward Antawn Jamison coming over from Cleveland, and an improved Devin Ebanks. Center Jordan Hill and point guard Jodie Meeks are serviceable. This Lakers bench is better than what they had last year, which was one of the worst in the league, but they are not as good as the Clippers bench.
The Lakers are better in the starting lineup, where these games are really won, but the Clippers are not far behind, and with a better bench, they could give the Lakers a run for their money.
These two teams have never met in the playoffs. With the Thunder turning over about a third of their roster, it is hard to argue that the Lakers and Clippers are now the top two teams in the West heading into the regular season.
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