It was another frustrating season for the Los Angeles Clippers last season. On paper, they were actually pretty intriguing coming into the season. Baron Davis was reportedly in shape and motivated to rebound from a terrible 2008-09 season. Blake Griffin, the number one pick in the draft, was supposed to infuse immediate excitement. Eric Gordon had a promising rookie season, and Chris Kaman and Marcus Camby combined to form some good frontcourt depth alongside Griffin.
As usual, though, it all didn't go according to plan. Obviously, Griffin got hurt at the beginning of the year and missed the entire season with a knee injury, killing the buzz the team generated in the offseason. Despite that, the Clippers were a respectable 17-18 on January 12, with a double-digit lead in the third quarter at Memphis. Then, a water pipe broke, the game was delayed, and all that positive momentum died. The Clippers lost the game and went just 12-35 the rest of the way. Along the way, they dumped Camby for nothing and played some of the most uninspiring basketball you'll ever see on this level. It's wrong to blame the Clippers' collapse on the broken water pipe, but since we're talking about the Clippers, it's a convenient excuse. Bad voodoo always seems to follow the franchise.
This season, the Clippers again look interesting on paper. They
kind of sort of didn't really have a chance for LeBron James, but ended up spending a small chunk of their cap space on Ryan Gomes and Randy Foye. They've fully committed to a youth movement, and brought in young coach Vinny Del Negro, formerly of the Bulls, to lead the way. The biggest newcomer, however, is Griffin, who is healthy and ready to show why he was the number one pick in the 2009 NBA Draft.
There's a lot of pressure on Griffin too. As SB Nation's Clippers blog Clips Nation writes, he's basically the only significant addition to last year's team.
Four of the Clippers starters figure to be the same from last season (depending on who wins the starting small forward job, Butler or Gomes). The backup bigs are the same (Smith and Jordan). Ignoring the rookies not named Blake Griffin, who don't figure to be factors this season, you've got Gomes and Foye instead of Thornton and Telfair. There's just not a lot more wins in any of these changes. Will Gordon have that break out year? Maybe. But Davis is getting older, and Kaman just had a career year, so there doesn't seem to be a lot of room for improvement there. So any improvement in the team comes down to what Griffin can do, both on the court and in the culture of the team.
Don't underestimate him.
It's possible Griffin really is all that, but as a rookie coming off a serious knee injury, pardon me if I underestimate him.
The good news for Clippers fans is that they have committed to a youth movement, with Gordon, Griffin, 22-year old DeAndre Jordan and draft picks Al-Farouq Aminu, Eric Bledsoe and Willie Warren all in tow. Throw in Kaman, who had an all-star season last year, and there's something here.
At the same time, though, there remains a big question mark beyond Griffin: Baron Davis. Davis had a better second season than first season out in LA, but he still took plays off, showed a lack of effort at times and jacked up too many threes. But as Clips Nation writes, if he ever plays hard and smart, he becomes an even greater asset.
Surrounded by major scoring threats in Gordon, Griffin and Kaman, the real question for Davis is whether he can evolve into more of a Jason Kidd type point guard, managing the game, racking up assists, shooting less frequently. His floor vision is among the best in the NBA and he's an uncanny passer - he can be effective in the league for several more years, even as he loses some explosiveness. The other question for Davis of course is whether he can remain motivated for an 82 game season. More than most NBA players, the difference between a motivated Baron and a disinterested Baron is monumental. If Del Negro turns out to be a poor X's and O's coach, but a good motivator, he could be a very good fit for the Clippers. And we'll be able to tell pretty quickly in the play of Baron Davis.
Considering how rare it is for Davis to be motivated, that's a tall order. But that's just me.
Naturally, Clips Nation is optimistic about the team's chances, saying the Clippers will go 42-40 next season. I, on the other hand, can't place a good deal of faith in any team that's counting on Baron Davis to be motivated and Blake Griffin to be all-star quality right away despite that knee injury. Therefore, I'll say 31-51.