How Deep Are the Los Angeles Clippers?
The Los Angeles Clippers have had a rather eventful offseason, and as a means of supplementing their underwhelming bench of a season ago, have added five reserves capable of joining the rotation at some point in the coming year.
That's a fairly radical makeover in NBA terms, and though LA's designed starting lineup should remain intact, Vinny Del Negro will have an assortment of dynamics to sort through in his attempts to find the best combinations of the players available.
These Clippers are undoubtedly deeper than their predecessor, but given an offseason to improve, sign players and use salary cap exceptions, it would be hard not to be. Last season's outfit maximized the impact of a sturdy starting five and a few useful subs, while the remodeled Clips will likely go deeper into their bench and use a wider range of possible lineups.
Much will change, but is this team really that much better off than the shallower outfit that was eliminated in the second round of last year's playoffs?
There's a lot of potential in these reserve ranks, but a quick up-and-down of the Clippers' bench leaves little in the way of certainty. As much as we'd like to believe that this group can step in and immediately provide LA with what they were missing last season, such could only be true in a best-case scenario.
The optimism starts with Lamar Odom—the Clippers' top offseason import, and the magician behind the NBA's most perplexing vanishing act. Odom has always been classified by his ability to disappear for possessions, minutes or games at a time, but the 2011-2012 campaign marked the first time that Odom went off the grid for an entire season.
It's still impossible to suss out exactly what went wrong for Odom last year, and one could point to a handful of occurrences and pressures that may or may not have contributed to his complete disinterest in playing. Still, the curious nature of his drop into the abyss makes Odom's return to form anything but a given. It's certainly possible that coming back to Los Angeles will help get one of the league's most versatile players back on track, but there's no reason at all to give him the benefit of the doubt at this point.
Next behind Odom in import is Jamal Crawford, an offensive gunner who has stumbled into a situation that isn't quite right for him. Crawford is a shot creator; he generates looks for himself and has a knack for knocking down incredibly difficult shots. He also doesn't play particularly well with others, even though he's quite affable as a person. His particular style of play doesn't jive perfectly with high-volume playmakers, and thus Crawford makes the most sense when he's allowed to hoist up shots without all that many other considerations.
He'll have some of those opportunities for L.A. this season, but by nature of the Clippers' rotation he's also likely to play alongside Chris Paul pretty often. Considering Crawford's tendency to wait for the ball, and his unimpressive work as a spot-up shooter, that's hardly a perfect match.
Such incompatibility will hardly stop Paul from running the Clipper offense at a high level, but considering some of the alternatives on the free-agent market and how many minutes Crawford is likely to play, it's certainly worth noting that this particular element of the rotation is at best weaker than it could have been.
Grant Hill is one of the Clippers' more dependable offseason additions, but he'll turn 40 in just a month's time, making him an entirely different kind of liability. Hill did fine work for the Phoenix Suns over the last five seasons, but the magic and defiant energy have to run out at some point; it may be unfortunate to have to look at Hill's career as a ticking clock, but he's already managed to be such a useful player for far longer than anyone could have reasonably expected.
Maybe this season is an extension of Hill's winning effort against Father Time, but perhaps it's not. The Clippers could really use Hill's scoring and passing instincts as a lineup adhesive off the bench, but that need alone doesn't guarantee that Hill will still be in fine playing form. This could very well be the year when Hill's career finally begins to wind down, and while we all hope that's not the case for a terrific player and a class act, it's an unavoidable consideration.
All three of these players could go on to do quite well for the Clippers this year, but we have no way of knowing what to expect until we see them in action. Such hedging is a safe bet in the case of any offseason addition, but with contributors this unpredictable, ill-fitting and past-prime (respectively), we're hardly left with any other choice.
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