The 2012-13 season didn’t end well for the Los Angeles Clippers.
They were bounced in the first round by the Memphis Grizzlies as Vinny Del Negro had circles coached around him by Lionel Hollins, Blake Griffin suffered an ankle injury that made him less effective than usual, DeAndre Jordan was rendered useless halfway through the series and after games 1 and 2 Eric Bledsoe, Jamal Crawford and Chauncey Billups made a minimal impact. It was the worse way possible considering Chris Paul would become an unrestricted free agent in just a matter of weeks.
With that on their minds the front office of the Los Angeles Clippers acted quick, attempting to pry the threesome of Doc Rivers, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce from the Boston Celtics, but after the league stepped in, it was found impossible that the team could get all three, having to settle for either the head coach in Rivers or the duo and Pierce and KG which would have meant the departure of DeAndre Jordan. Even with options on the table, Donald Sterling began to stray away from the idea of dealing with the Boston Celtics, but rumors arose that Chris Paul’s threat to sign with the Houston Rockets was what kept Los Angeles in it. They then swapped future first round picks for Doc Rivers and the chips began to fall for the Clippers
Chris Paul announced his intent to re-sign with the Clips.
With the 25th overall pick in the 2013 NBA Draft, the team selected forward Reggie Bullock out of North Carolina who has a chance to be a key 3-and-D player in this league.
The Clippers then shipped prized possession Eric Bledsoe along with Caron Butler to the Phoenix Suns. In return the team got sharp-shooters J.J. Redick (Milwaukee) and Jared Dudley to replace the likes of Butler and Chauncey Billups.
Then came the final stage: Revamping the bench. Eventually Matt Barnes and Ryan Hollins re-signed with the club. Signings Darren Collison and Byron Mullens soon came after.
Five years ago you probably would have laughed if I told you that Donald Sterling didn’t screw up the Clippers when he had the chance to improve the best set of players he’s ever had. Instead of rushing into his decisions, Sterling and other front office faces made great decisions, choosing the proven Rivers over other coaching candidates (Hollins, Gentry, etc.) and seeking the best possible trade for Bledsoe when having several offers on the table.
And now? Expectations will be high for this club. There’s an argument that this is the best team Chris Paul has played for in his eight year career rivaling his 2008 New Orleans Pelicans club. On paper. Until they prove that the fit is there, that last tidbit will always matter. They replaced the corpse of Billups with one of the best shooters at the guard position in Redick. Alongside Dudley, they’ll see countless opportunities from behind the arc and their presence will be key to getting Blake Griffin involved in the offense. No matter how good Chris Paul is and will be in the next five years, the difference between being a championship contender or a first/second round exit will be on how well Griffin plays for this team.
They haven’t addressed their biggest weakness, interior defense, but they still have a piece in DeAndre Jordan to dangle if they feel he isn’t ready to take this team to the next step. But that’s where Rivers come in. His rep is being a defensive coach though Tom Thibodeau is noted as the mastermind of those Boston Celtics defense from 2008 to 2010. Mullens and Hollins aren’t a step in that direction though Mullens will help if Rivers decides to deploy a small-lineup to utilize Griffin as he’d be surrounded by multiple shooters giving him room to work in the paint.
There’s still a gap on the bench as who’ll be the reserve power forward, but that doesn’t cloud what this team has done in the offseason. At best they could finish the season as the number one seed with their current roster, fourth being the worst, which isn’t bad considering the Western Conference is at least six deep. Everything on the team’s offseason checklist was addressed and now it’ll be up to the players and coaching to meet the heavy expectations. No more are the days of blaming Vinny Del Negro. If this team isn’t in the Western Conference finals come May, forbid an injury happens, the blame will come down on two who often avoided national scrutiny the past few years: Chris Paul and Doc Rivers.