Welcome to “Pretty Much Screwed,” our definitive guide to the upcoming NBA season. This team-by-team preview details why it’s probably not your favorite team’s year. Now we discuss the Clippers, a team that is finally out from under the shadow of the Lakers but can’t escape our doubts.
A few years ago, many years ago, decades ago, this preview would be a breeze. “The Los Angeles Clippers are pretty much screwed,” we’d say, and you’d nod vigorously in agreement, because what other reality could there be? The Clippers are a doomed, cursed, bad franchise.
Now? Think about it: The coach of the Celtics — the NBA-championship-winning coach of the freakin’ Boston Celtics — chose to leave his job to go work for Donald Sterling — THE Donald Sterling.
This team must be pretty good.
Chris Paul (point god), Blake Griffin (explosive power foward), J.J. Redick and Jared Dudley (shooters), DeAndre Jordan (tall person), Jamal Crawford (sixth-man offensive wrecking crew), Antawn Jamison and Darren Collison (hopefully useful veterans), Matt Barnes (the guy who won’t mind going to prison to secure a win)… now led by one of the most respected and revered coaches in the league? Yes, they are pretty good. So why are they still pretty much screwed?
Well, they play in a tough league, against teams that are, on paper, more talented (the Heat, Pacers, Rockets and Thunder all come to mind). But I won’t compare them to other teams. Here’s my biggest problem with the Clippers.
All their success is predicated on the idea that their stars take steps forward this year, and that’s not guaranteed.
We’ve been talking about how athletic and dynamic Blake Griffin is for years, and each fall we hear that he’s been working on his repertoire and becoming more confident in his game — but I would never consider Blake Griffin on the block as my first choice when I absolutely need a bucket in the fourth quarter. DeAndre Jordan is as freakishly large as they come, but his game on both ends has stagnated since he signed his big contract. Chris Paul is the best point guard on the planet, but where’s the postseason success? Doc Rivers is good… I guess? He won a title with a pretty fantastic team (which included defensive whiz Tom Thibodeau), and coached 2006-2007 Celtics as well.
The assumption is that this team has the talent to make noise, and the veteran leadership to keep them on the right track, and the coach to help run more than just tic-tac-toe offensive schemes. But the Clippers need more than a good coach and some three-point shooters to change their playoff track record. It will take their best players reaching a whole new level; it will take even their 10th, 11th, 12th guys reaching a new level. The team, as a whole, must take the leap — and I won’t believe the Clippers can do that until I see it.
The stakes are high this year. It’s championship or bust for every team, but only a handful of teams can really justify feeling that way and the Clippers are one of them. A few missteps in a series against the Thunder, Spurs, Rockets or Grizzlies — or whoever comes out of the East — could send the team into yet another offseason of tough questions. Only time will tell how good the Clippers really are. We won’t be able to call it from here.
Actual season prediction: 60-22, second in the West. Lose in the NBA Finals.
Photo via Getty