With less than eight teams remaining in the NBA Playoffs, it means a few “contenders” have already been eliminated from title contention. The offseason is the time for these teams to retool to prepare for deeper runs next season. The Los Angeles Clippers were one of the better teams in the Western Conference all year. They had the talent, the depth and the chemistry; just about everything you need to become a constant contender in the NBA. Yet they found themselves going home after losing in six games to the Memphis Grizzlies.
The Clippers had a record-breaking regular season by their franchise’s standards. They captured the Pacific Division title, won a team-best 56 games and had homecourt advantage in the first round. Since Chris Paul was traded to the Clippers, things have turned around. Along with Blake Griffin, CP3 has transformed the Clippers into L.A.’s best team. However, their performance in the playoffs was disappointing to say the least and now it is back to the drawing board for the Clippers.
For the remainder of the post, I will assume the role of the Clippers’ VP of Basketball Operations Gary Sacks. I will give my suggestions and analysis on who the Clippers should keep, who they should lose, players to target in free agency and the draft.
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KEEP: Chris Paul, Matt Barnes, Ronny Turiaf and Lamar Odom
If the Clippers want to remain near the top of the West, there is one man they definitely need to keep on their roster: Chris Paul. Paul has been a savior of the franchise in only two seasons. CP3 led them to back-to-back playoff appearances and back-to-back winning seasons. Without Paul, the Clippers are just a collection of talented players. With Paul, they are a well-oiled machine, both offensively and defensively. Paul spearheads the team’s effort. While its hard to envision Paul bolting from L.A., it’s on the Clippers to prove that they can put the right players around him in order to keep the Clippers in the title conversation.
One way the Clippers could do this is by re-signing most of their own free agents. The Clippers retooled their roster and built a team to win now. Los Angeles’ second team had one of the best benches in the league last year, players like Jamal Crawford, Eric Bledsoe, Lamar Odom and Matt Barnes were intricate parts of their success. But the Clippers don’t have the money to bring their entire bench back for another season; instead they have to pick and choose who gets to stay. If I was making the decisions, I would choose to keep Odom, Ronny Turiaf and Barnes. Odom provides a constant mismatch on offense, Turiaf brings heart, hustle and energy off the bench, and Barnes brings intensity and defensive effort (he also was the only other player beside CP3 to show up in Game 6 during the playoffs).
LOSE: Eric Bledsoe, Ryan Hollins and Chauncey Billups
The first name on this list is going to cause much debate during the offseason. Eric Bledsoe will not be a free agent this offseason, and when/if he does become one the following summer, he will be a restricted free agent. In actuality the Clippers could not do a thing and hold on to Bledsoe for another season and try to match any offers he gets as a restricted free agent. However, this isn’t the smart business move and with the new CBA and the potential demand for Bledsoe’s services, the Clippers probably wouldn’t have the money to keep him. (Paul pointed this out during their series against the Grizzlies) The best option going forward is to imitate the way the Thunder handled the James Harden situation. Bledsoe had a great season and at times looked like a 6-1 version of LeBron James, and who wouldn’t want any type of LeBron on their team? The Clippers need to shop Bledsoe and try and find a trade partner that has the type of post presence they sorely missed against Memphis.
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Chauncey Billups was a great acquisition for the Clippers after being amnestied by the New York Knicks in 2011. He was relatively cheap and still had a few good years of basketball left in him. However, after suffering an Achilles injury in the middle if the 2012 season, Billups hasn’t been the same. This was most noticeable in the playoffs, where he shot just 30 percent from the field and only averaged 6.2 points a night.
Ryan Hollins was productive in limited minutes for the Clippers last season, but he is also an expendable player — especially with Turiaf and DeAndre Jordan on the roster. His days as a Clipper may be coming to an end soon as other teams in search of a mobile, athletic big man will probably offer him more money to leave.
FREE AGENT TARGETS: Jarrett Jack
If the Clippers focus on bringing back their own free agents, they won’t need to go after many free agents when July comes around. One player that would have an immediate impact, plus fill the void left by Bledsoe as backup point guard, is current Golden State Warriors guard Jarrett Jack. Jack has resurged this season as Stephen Curry‘s backup, while excelling in sharing the court with Curry as well. Jack could do the same thing with the Clippers. As proven after the signing of Billups and Bledsoe’s development, CP3 is completely comfortable sharing the backcourt with a second point guard. With Jack in the fold, it will allow for each to play both on and off the ball for stretches next season. Jack had an impressive year with Golden State, averaging 12.9 points and 5.6 dimes per game.
DRAFT TARGETS: Shane Larkin, Lorenzo Brown and Steven Adams
In the draft, the Clippers should have two focuses: guard depth and getting another big man to develop. Shane Larkin, at times last year, looked and played like the best point guard in all of college basketball. The ACC Player of the Year definitely had a season to remember, pouring in 14.5 points and dishing out 4.6 assists a game while leading the Miami Hurricanes to a 29-7 record, ACC regular season and Tournament championships and a Sweet Sixteen appearance. Larkin is small in stature (only 5-11) but his quickness and ability to hit shots from deep make him a dangerous player.
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Lorenzo Brown was a noteworthy talent in college, yet his team at North Carolina State didn’t live up to the preseason hype placed upon them by the media. At 6-4, Brown would be one of the taller point guards in the entire league. Brown converted to point for the Wolfpack after his freshman season. After an adjustment period as a sophomore, he looked much more comfortable running a team as a junior, leading the ACC with 7.2 dimes per game. Brown would definitely be a change of pace from CP3 and with his size, the two could also play together in the backcourt.
Steven Adams is a 7-0 big man from New Zealand who spent his lone year of college playing for the Pittsburgh Panthers. Adams was a late bloomer, but coming into the season many pundits believed that he would have a big impact at Pitt. Yet Adams was underwhelming as a freshman, averaging only 7.2 points and 6.3 rebounds per game. What Adams did show was the potential to improve, as well as a defensive presence in the paint. Adams averaged 2.0 blocks a night playing in one of the toughest and rugged conferences in the country. While Adams is still extremely raw as a player, the same was said about current starting center DeAndre Jordan when he entered the draft following his freshman season at Texas A&M. Jordan has also started to fall out of favor in L.A. and Adams could serve as his replacement in the future.
What should the Clippers do this summer?
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