Definitive Blueprint for Turning L.A. Clippers into Title Contenders in 2012-13
The 2012-13 NBA season might as well be based in the city of Los Angeles. With every inspiring victory and gut-wrenching loss, the L.A. Lakers will be at the heart of every headline you read during this riveting season.
And to think, there is another team in that city that is viewed as a lock to make the postseason. You know, that little brother, the Los Angeles Clippers.
Through all of the years of distress, however, Clipper fans maintain a level of high expectations. With the star power of Chris Paul and Blake Griffin running the show, there is no reason that this team cannot build upon their 2012 Western Conference Semi-Finals appearance.
The question is, can they win the NBA championship? If they are to achieve said feat, they must follow a blueprint.
Fortunately for the organization, the following slides provide just that.
1. Frontcourt Balance
The Los Angeles Clippers are known around the league as "Lob City." The reason for this is the awe-inspiring combination of Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, who create the most exhilarating alley-oop tandem in the NBA.
Unfortunately for the Clippers, making the highlight reel doesn't mean you'll make the NBA Finals. For that to transpire, a greater balance must be found in the frontcourt.
Griffin must develop as an offensive force. Although his back-to-the-basket and mid-range games are overly-criticized, there is validity to claims that he is not yet one of the elite scoring power forwards.
The reason for such a claim is that when the lane is blocked off, albeit difficult to accomplish, Griffin's game can become one-dimensional.
Alongside Griffin are the likes of Lamar Odom, Ronny Turiaf and Ryan Hollins. For the Clippers to make the NBA Finals, however, they must receive consistently elite performances from DeAndre Jordan on the defensive end.
Keep in mind, the best frontcourt consists of a balance between scoring and protecting the rim.
If both Griffin and Jordan are able to develop their fundamentals on either end, the Clippers will become a much more serious force in the championship picture. Their backcourt is strong enough, but will their frontcourt display the same will to improve?
If so, the Clippers instantly enter the title conversation.
2. Lead Scorer or Balanced Attack?
The Los Angeles Clippers have one of the deepest rosters in the NBA. With a starting lineup of Chris Paul, Willie Green, Caron Butler, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, they instantly become a favorite to make the postseason.
With reserves such as Jamal Crawford, Lamar Odom, Ronny Turiaf and Eric Bledsoe, the depth begins to overwhelm.
With all of this talent on the roster, it is imperative that head coach Vinny Del Negro establishes a system in which the scoring burden is equally distributed. If he opts to take a separate route, it must be clear from the opening month who will be trusted with the scoring duties.
We know Paul and Griffin will get their 15-to-20 a night. The question is, where will Crawford, Odom, Butler and, eventually, Chauncey Billups fit in?
Once that question is answered, the Clippers can begin to move forward as championship contenders.
3. Define Eric Bledsoe's Role
Whether you approve of the Los Angeles Clippers' four point guard system or not, that's what they're working with. With this being known, it is imperative that the Clippers define the role of their most dominant perimeter defender.
Third-year athlete Eric Bledsoe.
Bledsoe is a phenomenal ball hawk with an excellent base. Although he lacks the experience of a Chris Paul, Jamal Crawford or Chauncey Billups, Bledsoe has proven how infectious his energy can be.
With Bledsoe on the floor during the 2011-12 NBA postseason, the Clippers posted a positive 38. This comes by virtue of his defensive tenacity and unparalleled hustle on both ends of the floor.
When a 22-year-old is putting forth such an effort, you can bet the bank that the veterans will follow suit. With such a level of intensity on every possession, it will be very hard to defeat the L.A. Clippers.
Defining when and where Bledsoe will be playing time is a perfect way to assure yourself of moments of impact.
4. Chauncey Billups' Return
Although this is out of the Los Angeles Clippers' control, there is no way around how much of an impact Chauncey Billups' return would have on the team. After all, he's one of the few players on the team that has developed a championship pedigree.
And no, being a brilliant point guard named Chris Paul does not fit the bill.
Billups won the 2004 NBA championship with the Detroit Pistons and took home the Finals MVP award. Since then, Billups has developed the nickname of "Mr. Big Shot" for his tendency to step up and make plays in the clutch.
With Billups back in the lineup, the Clippers would have the veteran leadership necessary for a postseason run. Not only will Billups provide an offensive spark, but he remains one of the league's better perimeter defenders.
With his all-around game in the rotation, the Clippers become a stronger team. With Billups' NBA championship and an additional Finals appearance, they become a more legitimate contender.
Chauncey Billups' long-awaited return cannot come any sooner.
5. Home Court Advantage
The Los Angeles Lakers, San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder have all made postseason runs before. They are quite familiar with the NBA Finals and are all well-acquainted with the tedious road to glory.
The Los Angeles Clippers, however, are a team with just two past title winners on the roster: the aging and out of shape Lamar Odom and the recovering from injury Chauncey Billups.
If they are to make a shocking run to the NBA Finals, it is imperative that the Clippers secure at least one round of home court advantage. With each game certain to be close through the fourth quarter, a home crowd would certainly ease the process of making it to the championship series.
If they end up having to play four games at Oklahoma City or San Antonio, the chances the Clippers end up playing for the title certainly decrease.
For that reason, it is of the utmost importance that the Clippers finish within the Top 4 in the Western Conference. As a result, they'd have at least one round with home court advantage.
Shoot for the stars and fall on a 4, if you must. Otherwise, dreams of a title become an illusion.
6. Embrace Vinny Del Negro
If the Los Angeles Clippers are going to make a run to the NBA Finals, they must finish the regular season within the Top 4 and secure at least one round of home court advantage. In order to do so, there is one final act they must take.
End the rumors and embrace Vinny Del Negro as the head coach of this franchise, regardless of what transpires from start to finish.
If the Clippers are going to win big, they cannot face any form of distractions. Their in-city rival Los Angeles Lakers will clearly steal the headlines, thus leading to a season of under-the-radar play from those traditionally awful Clippers.
With the Clippers avoiding the magnifying lens they were under a year ago, the pressure becomes far less of a burden. To sacrifice that benefit by bringing up the rumors of replacing VDN would do nothing but kill such momentum.
Embrace Del Negro or face yet another season of disappointment.