The Los Angeles Clippers are a completely revamped team, and have been rebuilt from top to bottom over the offseason. The loss of Elton Brand to the 76ers was a jagged pill to swallow, but for the most part, the Clippers have come out of the summer months looking fresh and clean. The addition of Baron Davis was long overdue in the fact that this franchise has never had a great point guard. Save for a few good years from Mark Jackson and Sam Cassell, the Clippers have historically been very weak at one of the most important positions to a basketball team. Other than signing Baron, a Western Conference team was feeling quite charitable, and helped in the cause for Clipper transformation. Los Angeles would receive former Defensive Player of the Year, Marcus Camby, in exchange for a second round draft pick. Those guys in Denver sure are kind. Now, with a solid, veteran core, the Clippers are ready to get back into contention for a playoff spot, and continue building for the future.
Offense: With former Golden State Warrior, Baron Davis, the Clippers are best suited as a running team. Baron will have many targets on this team, both inside and out, and should have no trouble finding the open man, or an open shot for himself. Along with Davis, the Clippers added Jason Williams and Ricky Davis, so the team has some much better shooters to spread the floor. Cuttino Mobley is still on the team, and should be a great compliment to Davis in the backcourt, and a great teacher for the young Eric Gordon. If Mike Dunleavy can hand the reigns over to Baron Davis, and let this team run, they could be a top-ten, maybe even top-five scoring team this season. All the pieces are available, so it would be a shame for them to try something else. The Clippers were 29th in scoring last year, so a change in the game plan wouldnít hurt.
Defense: The Clippers were a mediocre defensive team last year, and gave up over 101 points a game, while scoring just under 94. This year, the offense will be better, so that helps. Defensively, well, yeah, they will be better. They already have Chris Kaman patrolling the paint, who was third in both rebounds and blocks per game. Now, thanks to Denver, they also have Marcus Camby at his side, who was second and first in those categories, respectively. So, the Clippers have two players in the post who were both top-three in rebounds and blocks? Thatís a joke, right? The Clippers have a possible two-headed monster in the post on defense, and it will be tough for anyone to get past that scary duo. Baron Davis is also a solid backcourt defender, and Thornton should do a fine job replacing Maggette, but the defense starts and finishes with Kaman and Camby. The Clippers are a much deadlier team this year, and defensively, they could be impenetrable in the post.
Strengths: This team has depth, and finally has a star point guard to run things. There is a solid backup at every position, and that could make the Clippers a very dangerous team when the year begins to wind down, and teams begin to show fatigue. Assuming the Clips can stay healthy, they should be a major contender at the end of the season.
Weaknesses: The Clippers top-three players are all injury prone. Kaman has been injured quite a bit over the last few seasons, whereas Baron and Camby seem to have left their injury-plagued days in the past. That doesnít mean the injury bug wonít hit again, and this should have Clipper fans worried. Marcus Camby used to be made of glass, and considering he isnít getting any younger, there is a possibility he wonít last all year.
Other than the possible injury angle, the Clippers only other problem could be chemistry. We shouldnít find out if thatís a problem until the season starts, though, so itís relatively unknown as to whether this team will bond together quickly, or have difficulties throughout the year.
Five Players to Watch:
Baron Davis - Davis is poised to have a big year, and the Clippers are building the team around him. If Davis can stay focused, and have an All-Star caliber year, this team should see the postseason once again. Baron Davis has just as many weapons around him now as he did in Golden State, so he should have no trouble fitting in with the change of scenery. This team, though, will only go as far as Baron takes them, so he will need to focus on basketball and put Hollywood aside Ė at least, until the seasonís over.
Chris Kaman - Lurch had a breakout year for the Clippers last season, without their star Elton Brand in the lineup. This year, Kaman will be looked at as the teamís top post-scorer, considering Marcus Camby doesnít have the best touch around the basket. Camby, though, is good at passing out of double-teams, and Kaman could benefit from playing with an unselfish big-man. Kaman, however, needs to prove that he can stay healthy, because he needs to be on the floor if this team has a shot at getting to the playoffs. Kaman is a great post-defender, but Camby can cover that if Kaman goes down. Camby wonít be able to pick up the slack offensively for him, though, which is what makes Kaman so valuable to this team. Kaman could push his game to new heights playing alongside Camby and Davis, but if heís injured, the opportunity will be worthless.
Marcus Camby - Camby is still obviously bitter over being traded away for next to nothing. After seeing the potential of this team, though, he has to be smiling. Camby will be the teamís power forward, which will mean he doesnít have to match-up with the bigger centers around the league anymore. Camby is a tremendous help-defender, and his abilities on that end of the floor should shine with the Clippers. The pressure of defending every player one-on-one that entered the post, like he had to do in Denver, will be gone, and now he can focus on his best traits, which will make life easy for both him, and the Clips. Another Defensive Player of the Year Award is not out of the question for the Cambyman.
Al Thornton - Mike Dunleavy believes that Al Thornton could be a 20 point per game scorer, as soon as this year. After a slow start to last season, Thornton picked up speed as his minutes began to increase. He quickly became one of the best players in the lineup. With a talented point guard to get him the ball in easy situations, Thornton should develop even more, and averaging 20 points per night could be right down the alley. He is still a bit raw, but with a slew of veterans around him, he should pick up the fundamentals very quickly as the year goes on.
Cuttino Mobley - Mobley seems to be the forgotten player on this team. One of the few remaining guys from last yearís team, Mobley still has some gas left in the tank. His game should mix perfectly with that of Baron Davis, and he will be one of the most valuable players for this team in the clutch. Along with Ricky Davis, Mobley will be a great example for Eric Gordon, and Gordon will definitely benefit from playing with Cat. Mobley may see a decrease in minutes, but his overall effect on this team will still be great.
Playoff Hopes: The Clippers have vastly improved from last year, but the West is just so strong. If the big three for the Clippers can stay healthy, they could snatch either the seventh or eighth seed, but that will be very difficult with teams like Dallas, Portland, and Denver all possibly vying for those two spots. The Clippers will definitely be in the mix for a Playoff spot, but getting there wonít be easy.
Prediction: 3rd Place, Pacific Division