Perhaps the only good thing about failing at anything, are the lessons that can be learned when reflecting on those failures. Unfortunately, this is especially true for the 2012-13 Los Angeles Clippers. Expectations and team aspirations were unusually high for a franchise that had previously made the playoffs a mere eight times in its history.
Now that the season has drawn to an unexpected close at the hands, or should I say, claws of the Memphis Grizzlies, there are plenty of lessons to learn from. Despite finishing in the top 10 on offense and defense, the Grizzlies were able to expose the Clippers for everything they were not.
First of all, the Clippers’ biggest weakness, post defense, was exposed by the stellar play of Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph. The duo manhandled the Clippers’ bigs all series long, and managed too many easy shots.
Randolph would consistently bully his way to where he wanted and then seal off his man. None of the Clippers’ bigs were able to push him off the block or hold their ground against him on defense.
Los Angeles desperately needs a defensive big that can match up with players like Randolph. The Clippers were able to defeat Memphis last season in the playoffs because Reggie Evans could successfully defend Randolph in the paint. Blake Griffin needs to watch some tape of that series this summer and learn a few things from it.
Next, the Marc Gasol versus DeAndre Jordan battle ended extremely one-sided. Jordan’s lack of defensive awareness was evident throughout the series; Gasol could either step back and shoot over Jordan or push him around in the paint.
Jordan needs to develop into the $10 million defensive center the Clippers are paying him to be. However, his time may have run out in Los Angeles. His lack of any post moves hinders what the Clippers try to do on offense, and his defender can easily move off him to block Blake Griffin or slow down Paul in pick-and-roll sets by playing a pseudo-zone.
Due to the Clippers’ lack of cap space, the most logical way to add players that fit the team’s needs is via trade. Jordan and Eric Bledsoe are the franchise’s most likely pieces to include in trades that may bring back players the Clippers need.
As mentioned above, a defensive big is sorely needed, especially one that can play next to Blake Griffin. Another need is a big that can step out and hit shots from the perimeter. Not only will this allow Griffin more room to operate in the paint, but it'll also improve Paul’s pick-and-roll game. Blake may be a devastating roll-man, but his inability to consistently hit shots from the perimeter limits Paul’s ability to create and allows defenses to clog the lane.
Other areas that need to be addressed are perimeter defense and shooting. The Clippers lacked a long, athletic defender on the perimeter all season. Caron Butler did his best, but was too slow to keep up with the elite wings in the league, let alone Tayshaun Prince.
While Chauncey Billups may wish to return to Los Angeles this summer via free agency, the team sorely needs a starting shooting guard. Willie Green filled in admirably, but is limited on both sides of the ball and was squeezed out of the rotation in the playoffs. Jamal Crawford is undoubtedly better leading the bench-unit as the primary scoring threat, but struggled when playing with the starters.
Eric Bledsoe is also a great guard to have off the bench, but his impact was limited this postseason and he remains a prime candidate to be packaged with Caron Butler or Jordan to bring back a stretch big man and an athletic defensive wing. Teams looking for an athletic point guard that can cause havoc on defense will be drooling over Bledsoe. It might be in the Clippers' best interests to deal Bledsoe, a luxury on the roster, for help elsewhere.
Finally, the one lesson the franchise learned from their epic collapse is that Vinny Del Negro is not the coach they want leading them next season. Lionel Hollins coached circles around Del Negro and might not even be retained in Memphis. Vinny was unable to come up with rotation changes or in-game adjustments to keep the Clippers competitive as Memphis built leads.
The one lasting image Clipper fans have of this postseason is TNT cutting to shots of Del Negro standing on the sideline, holding his “game plan” with a blank look on his face. His inability to draw up plays to take advantage of Memphis’ aggressive defense was mind boggling. Although, not as mind boggling as his lack of creativity with his substitution patterns and rotations, when it was clear Memphis was dominating his traditional lineup.
The team needs someone who not only commands respect of the young players, but has the knowledge to implement an offensive system that fits with the talent on the roster. This has been the problem Del Negro faced since he strolled the sidelines in Chicago with another elite point guard leading his team.
Del Negro handed the keys to his offense to Derrick Rose in Chicago, much like he did with Chris Paul in Los Angeles. Unfortunately in both cases, the keys were to Vinny’s garage where Paul and Rose had to build their own cars without any directions.
Overall, the most successful season in franchise history ended like an outdated casino in Las Vegas: being demolished with sticks of dynamite as large crowds formed to witness the implosion. Perhaps the lessons that can be learned from an unexpected first-round loss will lead to needed changes this summer. The future is still extremely bright, but needs a little tweaking, not to mention a new coach. Either way, the dog days of summer are here for Clipper fans, most just expected them to come closer to the end of May instead of the familiar end of April.