By Tim Cornell
After the best season in franchise history, the Clippers face many questions around their roster and coaching staff. The Clippers held the 4th seed in the Western Conference.
The Clippers had a 56-26 regular season record which included a perfect month of December en route to a 17 game win streak, the second longest streak in the NBA this season. The team was ranked 4th in points per game allowed with 94.6 as well as ranked 9th in points per game with 101.1. They had an often times streaky offense, but with Chris Paul running the offense, they dominated a majority of the season.
The Clippers had a very under rated defense. They added Matt Barnes in the off-season who really helped their offense. Blake Griffin also stepped up his individual defense.
It was the Clippers bench that helped them to their 56-win season. Given the nickname “A Tribe Called Bench”, the Clipper’s second unit continually dominated opposing team’s benches and starters. Led by the young point guard Eric Bledsoe, the bench also got contributions from Matt Barnes and Lamar Odom.
The unstoppable offense from Jamal Crawford was a huge spark for the Clippers off the bench as well. Crawford is one of the best in the league at making what would seem like a “bad shot”. He is very good at hitting long three point shots at the end of a shot clock. Although this should never be the game plan, it is not bad to have a player on the court that can bail you out of a bad offensive possession.
After this successful season that ended with a first round exit, the Clippers have to look at their roster and coaching staff and figure out what went wrong. After winning the first two home games against the Memphis Grizzlies in the first round of the playoffs, they dropped four straight including one at home to end their season.
Here are some of my thoughts on the changes the Clippers should make this off-season. We will start with the roster and go by position.
Chris Paul: The main focus this off-season will be resigning Chris Paul. His value to the team cannot be measured. He was a leader on and off the court. He was a mentor to the younger players. He acts as a coach and never misses a chance to lead or teach someone something. They Clippers need to offer him a max contract and also make other roster changes to show that they are serious about making a championship run.
Eric Bledsoe: Bledsoe was a huge part of the bench this season. He is a great young point guard with scary athleticism. This season he has gotten a lot of attention as a potential trade asset. I think this would be the way to go for the Clippers. They could trade him to get a potential back up power forward or another big man.
Maalik Wayns: We did not see that much of this point guard during the season. He was signed late when there were injury concerns with Chris Paul and Eric Bledsoe. He is also young and has some potential. Though I do not see the Clippers resigning him. He only played 202 minutes all season. But he could surprise in off-season workouts.
Chauncey Billups: The Clippers have had bad luck with SG the past few seasons. This one was no different. Billups was out most of the season coming back from a torn Achilles, which led to Willie Green starting most of the season. When Billups was in, he contributed sparingly. He averaged 8.4 PPG and 2.2 assists. Billups did not do much on the court, but he spent most of the season on the bench acting as a coach. He has had a long career and has a lot to teach the younger players. His value as a coach is worth signing him to a small contract to have him around. But I do not think he should be a starter, the Clippers need more speed and athleticism in the starting role for shooting guard.
Jamal Crawford: A streaky but good shooter, Crawford was a great sixth man. He only lost getting the award to J.R Smith from the Knicks. Crawford is currently signed with the Clippers through the 2015-2016 season. He will continue to provide a spark off the bench.
Willie Green: Although he started most of the games this season, when Billups came back from injury Green saw himself at the bottom of the depth chart. While I was not a huge fan of Green at the beginning of the season, as Billups came back from injury I realized how great of a professional Green is. He never complained about losing minutes, and always played hard when he was called to play. He is signed through next season and could provide a spark off the bench or could be inserted into the starting line up whenever called upon.
Caron Butler: Butler is signed through next season. He provided streaky scoring for the Clippers this season, averaging 10.4 PPG. His biggest strength was his defense. He is a crafty veteran player who knows how to lock down opposing players. The Clippers have a lot of age at the SF position. They want to keep Butler around but need to think about the future in that position.
Matt Barnes: Barnes may be the second most important resign this summer after Chris Paul. Barnes is playing at his best this season. He was sometimes streaky on offense, but his defense could always be counted on. Barnes showed how useful he could be on offense in the last game of the season scoring 30 points on 6-7 three-point shooting. He is also very crafty around the rim and a very good cutter. Signing him to a 3 year deal could lock him up for the rest of his career and give the Clippers some depth at the SF position moving forward.
Grant Hill: Hill was the oldest player on an active roster until he recently retired. He only played in 29 games this season, posting 3.2 PPG and .9 assists .
DaJuan Summers: We saw Summers for a grand total of 7 minutes in 2 games all season. He only signed a contract on March 15th so there were not many opportunities for him to get minutes behind a deep SF position. Especially that late into a season for a playoff team. I doubt we will see Summers back next season; he has never contributed that much in his 3 year career. Unless we see him surprise in post season workouts, the Clippers should be looking for other young talent at the SF position.
Blake Griffin: Griffin is the player the Clippers currently have locked up the longest. He is signed through 2016-2017 with a very nice contract. Griffin is very important to keep around. Although if they sign Paul, Griffin will not be the best player on the team but he is a fan favorite. Keeping Griffin is instrumental to the Clippers moving forward. Blake has seen his production go down each year since the 2010-2011 season; his first full season. He put up 22.5 PPG that season along with 12.1 RPG in 38 minutes per game. This season his numbers were 18 PPG and 8.3 RPG in 32 MPG. A lot of the load has come off of his shoulders since the team has gotten Chris Paul. Also DeAndre Jordan has developed as a player helping Blake down on the block. I will break down Blake Griffin’s play this season in an article to come. I have too much to say to write about it here. Moving on!
Lamar Odom: The Clippers brought in Odom this offseason after the PF had the worst season of his career. It took awhile for Odom to start contributing this season, but he did have flashes of his old self. Bringing Odom to LA to see if he could play like he did with the Lakers was a good plan, but it did not totally work out. Odom was a positive influence on Blake helping him work on his moves. But Odom’s career is in a tail spin and I think the Clippers should look for another backup PF via trade.
DeAndre Jordan: Jordan was rewarded this offseason with a huge contract that has him signed through 2014-15 season. He received an elite center status salary and responded with 8.8 PPG and 7.2 RPG. Jordan’s production on the court needs to greatly improve if the Clippers want to make a playoff run next season. He was basically non-existent in the first round against the Grizzlies. Jordan did develop some offensive moves this offseason that he was able to use from time to time. If he keeps working hard this season he could be more productive next season. He also did not get a lot of confidence building from Vinny Del Negro who would play him for less than 15 minutes in games, putting Odom in instead for a smaller lineup. Keeping Jordan out of games when he was not doing anything wrong is not a good way to develop a young center.
Ryan Hollins and Ronny Turiaf: Both of these players had streaks where they were very effective coming off of the bench. But in the long run I do not believe either of these players will be legitimate backups on a championship contending team. Both provided a lot of energy and put a big body on the court. I think using Eric Bledsoe as a trade chip could be useful in upgrading their center position.
The Clippers are looking for a new coach with Brian Shaw, Lionel Hollins, and George Karl all in the mix. All three of these coaches are highly sought after but I expect the Clippers to land one of them. My favorite of the three is Karl for a few reasons. I have always loved Karl offensive schemes. I think he could do a lot with the Clippers roster in getting a more flowing offense in position. He has also been around for a long time and really demands the respect of players. I think hiring him would give the Clippers the best chance of signing Chris Paul back. Shaw would be my #2 pick. Many teams have him at the top of their list; he is looking at a major pay day coming.
The Clippers have a promising future ahead of them as long as they sign Chris Paul to an extension. If they can accomplish that, they will have many more winning seasons in their future.