The Clippers might be able to do something this year. In basketball circles, that line is the log that clogs up the toilet at somebody’s house party. Every now and then it floats to the surface, and eventually it will go away, but nobody wants to admit it actually came out of them.
Well, here we are again with another talented-on-paper Clippers squad, a fresh start from the Dunleavy era, the official beginning of the Blake Griffin era, and some cap space. So … you know … the Clippers might be able to do something this year. But first they have some business to handle during the offseason:
1. Hire Kelvin Sampson
Always a tough position to fill. Any established NBA head coach with a decent track record probably doesn’t want to go anywhere near the Clippers; the owner is the basketball version of Al Davis, and the franchise has permanent second-class citizenship in its own city thanks to the Lakers. But because this is L.A. and the team has money, people still expect a big-name hire. The Clippers have to find a coach who needs them more than they need him; an up-and-coming assistant, an old dog looking to get back into the game, or somebody who needs to prove himself again. Sampson is the right guy. The former University of Oklahoma and Indiana University coach left the college game in disgrace, and since then has worked under Gregg Popovich in San Antonio and Scott Skiles in Milwaukee. Sampson will preach defense first — something this current Clippers roster needs — and he’s a respected mind in the basketball industry. He’s also close to Blake Griffin and Eric Gordon, having coached EJ at IU and having recruited Blake (and coached his brother) when he was with the Sooners. College coaches have a rep for flopping in the League, but Sampson’s situation is different. He actually coached at Oklahoma and Indiana, where he didn’t get a lot of All-American recruits but still won awards and made some noise in the NCAA Tournament. But more importantly, Sampson has been around the NBA lately and isn’t jumping straight from college, so he won’t be overwhelmed with how everything works.
2. Don’t get too excited about LeBron
Maybe a few months ago the Clips would have been in the running with the Knicks to land LeBron with the “you can be a global icon” sales pitch, but now I doubt it’ll happen for them. Following another postseason where his team fell short of expectations, LeBron can see now that the key to him running this League isn’t playing in a big city, it’s winning a championship. And sorry, but the Clippers just don’t have any championship pedigree whatsoever. At least LeBron is old enough to remember the Knicks being good in the ’90s; but for his entire life, the Clips have been OK at best, and mostly crappy. LeBron isn’t going to the Clips. But that doesn’t mean L.A. can’t take their chances with other big-name free agents. Dwyane Wade, for example, is a bright-lights/big-city guy. He might be ready to leave Miami in the dust and start his life over (and Ms. Union wouldn’t mind the move to Hollywood), and his potential supporting cast on the Clippers is honestly better than what he has with the Heat.
3. Sign Matt Barnes
The Clippers offense was 27th in the NBA in scoring, 27th in three-point percentage, 25th in free-throw attempts, and 28th in turnovers. And the defense wasn’t much better. This team could use a veteran defender to sic on the League’s elite scorers, and Barnes will be available at a reasonable price after opting out of his deal with Orlando. He’s not as good of a shooter as current starting SF Rasual Butler or as good of a scorer/athlete as Travis Outlaw, but Barnes is enough of a threat to at least spread the floor while Baron Davis, Gordon, Griffin and Chris Kaman take care of the offense. Barnes is a California guy who went to UCLA, and he has playoff experience. He’s a hustle player who can get the often-dead Clippers crowd going, and he’s a malleable complementary guy who won’t get in the way of the young stars. He’d be a perfect fit for this squad.
What do you think the Clippers have to do this summer?