Your 2013 Los Angeles Clippers
It’s still hard to fathom this sometimes, but the Los Angeles Clippers actually have EXPECTATIONS. Ever since Chris Paul arrived in LA in 2011 the Clippers went from a perennial doormat, laughing stock, and the Lakers neglected, adopted little brothers to a top team in the Western Conference with championship aspirations.
This is a team that won 56 games this year (which included an impressive 17 game winning streak that started back in December) and swiped the mantle of best basketball team in Los Angeles from the struggling Lakers. They were loaded with probably the deepest bench in basketball that included Matt Barnes, Eric Bledsoe, a rejuvenated Lamar Odom, and of course Jamal ‘Of Course I’m Shooting this 3-pointer’ Crawford. They had the best point guard in the league with THE MOST ATHLETIC big man in the league to form a lethal 1-2 punch. It seems to good to be true right?
Of course after going up 2-0 in their first round playoff series against the Memphis Grizzlies they proceeded to collapse in the most terrible way possible. But before we touch on the playoff failure this predictable Clippers collapse really started back in April when the LA Times’ TJ Simers wrote this article exposing the internal conflicts that were occurring behind the scenes. Chris Paul, who off the court everyone can agree is one of the nicest guys in the NBA, is a killer on the court and demands excellence from his team. If you have ever watched CP3 play you’ll notice one thing pretty quickly. He is always talking to someone. To the refs, to
assistant head coach Vinny Del Negro, to opponents and most importantly to his teammates. Apparently, this abrasive style got old pretty quickly for his younger teammates. Namely Blake Griffin, and DeAndre Jordan. The two high-priced high-flyers (who also were stars of this video that coined the term ‘Lob City’) that the Clippers need to play well in order to win. DeAndre Jordan was buried on the bench by Del Negro because of his inconsistency and lack of ability to make free throws. Blake Griffin wanted to see more of the ball in crunch time (he also struggles from the FT line, shooting 66%). All this behind the scenes madness combined with the fact that they were coached by VINNY DEL NEGRO, equaled what we saw in the playoffs.
Let’s start with their crunch time issues. Every single time it was “give CP3 the ball and go away”, which is fine in the regular season. You can get by on that when the games don’t really matter in October-March, but not when the playoffs start and defenses tighten up. Go rewatch Game 1 of that Knicks-Celtics series if you don’t believe me. Every possession matters for every team. That’s why the teams with the smart offensive systems…(Hey San Antonio, and Miami) swept their first round opponents with relative ease. This “hero ball” strategy for the Clippers was especially doomed against the Grizzlies who have an elite perimeter defender in Tony Allen and an elite frontcourt defender in Marc Gasol who can smartly play the pick-and-roll game that every team likes to run to death.
Fast forward to the playoffs. The Clippers were up 2-0 and were looking like they were primed to make a playoff run in a Western conference that was wide open. The Thunder without Russell Westbrook, and the Warriors without David Lee it was set up for them to do something great. Instead? Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol completely dominated DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin (albeit a Blake Griffin with an ankle injury) on the inside in 4 straight convincing wins. It really hasn’t been close either. Gasol and Randolph have been so dominant offensively over their Clippers counterparts, i’m pretty sure that Blake and DeAndre are going to wake up in cold sweats thinking about it.
Vinny Del Negro could not stick to a solid rotation, instead using pretty much everyone with a pulse on the Clippers bench. Experimenting lineup combinations is not something that needs to be done in the playoffs. By this time coaches know the best 9 guys they have and stick with them. Instead? He kept playing Chauncey Billups (who should probably be retired all due respect), Ryan Hollins and Rony Turiaf. It also didn’t help that whatever confidence DeAndre Jordan may have had in himself was ruined when he was stuck on the bench in the regular season. Despite the questionable amount of money that Clips paid Jordan (combined he’s going to make a little over $21 million for this season and next season) having an athletic 7 footer that can jump out of the gym is an asset in this league. The Clippers need him to be more than just a dunk/block highlight machine. He can’t become that until he first earns the trust of his coach.
So where do the Clippers go from here? Well first things first, they need to shore up Chris Paul who will become a free agent this summer. Due to the current turmoil in the locker room, it isn’t guaranteed that the Paul is going to come back. Especially when Marc Cuban and the Mavs are out there still.