The arrival of Chris Paul last season vaulted the Los Angeles Clippers to the top of every pundit’s conference favorite picks, national television schedule and NBA jersey sales list. However, injuries and overall sloppy play eventually led to the team’s demise, as the San Antonio Spurs swept them out of the playoffs in the second round.
The Oklahoma City Thunder made the NBA finals, the Miami Heat is still the team to beat, and the crosstown Los Angeles Lakers added Dwight Howard and Steve Nash. There was much work to be done in order to keep up with the league’s elite.
Despite filling some of the major holes from last season, the Los Angeles Clippers have a lot of work to do before they are competing with the league’s best. Let’s take a look at the five weaknesses that will prevent them from being a legitimate title contender.
One major problem the 2011-2012 Los Angeles Clippers faced was stopping teams on defense. The team lacked reliable wing defenders, leaving the defense unable to cut off penetration all season. In addition, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan were not good enough defenders to protect the paint against their counterparts, let alone make up for defensive breakdowns on the perimeter.
As a result, the Los Angeles Clippers finished 18th in defensive efficiency and lost too many close games due to their defensive shortcomings.
Despite signing Grant Hill, the team will still have problems matching up with the league’s high-profile perimeter players this season. Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan need to become better defensive players before the Clippers can be labeled legitimate title contenders.
Training camp is less than a month away and three of the team’s most important players are still rehabbing from injuries that will limit them during training camp.
Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and Chauncey Billups have questionable injury histories and will need to be brought along slowly until they are completely healed from their offseason surgeries.
While Grant Hill remained healthy during his time with the Phoenix Suns, his career nearly ended due to serious ankle injuries. Grant Hill will not be relied upon to play as many minutes as he did in Phoenix, but he is the closest the Los Angeles Clippers have to a reliable perimeter defender making his health paramount.
The Western Conference is home to a majority of the best centers in the league. While the Los Angeles Clippers have an athletic marvel in DeAndre Jordan at center, he has yet to prove he can match up nightly against players the caliber of Dwight Howard, Tim Duncan, and Marc Gasol.
Ryan Hollis and Ronny Turiaf were brought in over the summer to back up DeAndre Jordan. However, much like 2011-2012, the Los Angeles Clippers lack a reliable defender in the paint, which could turn out to be costly.
Vinny Del Negro will definitely be on the hot seat again this season, even after leading the Los Angeles Clippers to the second round of the playoffs. After nearly losing his job late last season, Vinny Del Negro must produce results with one of the most talented rosters in franchise history.
The offense, despite ranking as one of the better units in the league, was elementary last season and stalled far too often without Chris Paul on the floor. Vinny Del Negro has too many weapons for that to happen this season.
Furthermore, this veteran led team must buy into the coaching staff’s philosophies, something which was in question last season.
Chemistry will be a major factor early in the season, especially after adding six new players and one new assistant coach. Additionally, Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, and Chauncy Billups are beginning the year recovering from injuries, which will prolong the chemistry development of the Los Angeles Clippers' newest players.
For example, how will Lamar Odom and Jamal Crawford be able to adapt to a new system where they will not be relied upon to be primary ball handlers? Will Chaunecy Billups start or come off the bench? What kind of role will Eric Bledsoe have this season? The team needs time to gel before they can be expected to win enough games to compete with the conference's elite.