The Los Angeles Clippers raised the franchise's bar for excellence to new heights last season. They won a team-record 56 games, put together just the third perfect month in NBA history by way of a 17-game winning streak in December and claimed their first ever Pacific Division crown.
And all without the help of James Cameron.
That effort was boosted, though, by a group of reserves whose collective excellence inspired a number of underwhelming nicknames—chief among them, "A Tribe Called Bench."
Such monikers hardly did justice to a second unit that was the third-highest-scoring in the league, according to hoopsstats.com.
L.A.'s bench was so effective thanks in large part to two double-digit scorers (Jamal Crawford and Matt Barnes), a havoc-wreaking youngster (Eric Bledsoe), a pair of wily veterans (Grant Hill and Lamar Odom) and another duo of energetic giants (Ryan Hollins and Ronny Turiaf).
Together, this crew made minced meat of other bench mobs.
According to NBA.com, the five-man unit of Bledsoe, Crawford, Barnes, Turiaf and Odom outscored its foes by a sturdy 11 points per 100 possessions in 283 total minutes together during the 2012-13 regular season.
For the most part, the Clippers' "tribe" has since been disbanded.
Bledsoe was offered as "sacrifice" in the trade that brought Jared Dudley and JJ Redick to LA. Grant Hill retired. Turiaf signed on with the Minnesota Timberwolves. Lamar Odom remains at large, though his days of being a useful NBA player may be done.
Even so, the Clips' bench should still rank among the NBA's best come 2013-14.
Barnes is back on a three-year pact, as is Hollins by way of a one-year, minimum-salary deal. Crawford will be in Year 2 of his four-year contract, with Willie Green likely moving to the bench full-time to push him for minutes.
The new arrivals could be plenty useful as well. Darren Collison, an LA native, will be asked to reprise his role as Chris Paul's backup, which he played with aplomb when the two were teammates with the New Orleans Hornets.
Reggie Bullock, a first-round rookie out of North Carolina, could be another "3-and-D" player on the wing to boost the Clips' efforts on both ends.
That leaves Doc Rivers with as many as 11 players worthy of time in the team's rotation, though Bullock figures to sit plenty while watching the other 10 go to work—for a while, anyway.
A second unit of Barnes, Crawford, Collison, Green and Hollins comes equipped with some intriguing offensive potential. The first four can all shoot from deep, with Crawford, Collison and Green all capable of attacking off the bounce.
Collison, in particular, took the majority of his shots (369 out of 724). That's quite an accomplishment for a guard of Darren's slight build (6'0", 160 pounds), though he's certainly helped in that regard by his incredible quickness with the ball.
Beyond that, Barnes and Hollins both bring tons of energy to the table—especially when it comes to cleaning the glass—while Green (.461 from the field, .428 from three in 2012-13) has proven himself capable of starting in a pinch should anything unfortunate befall Redick.
But none of that portends much success defensively, which is where the Clippers' reserves buttered their bread last season.
They flustered and frustrated their opposition with aggressive play at the point of attack. According to NBA.com, the bench forced turnovers nearly 20 percent of the time and converted those into upwards of 18 fast-break points per 36 minutes.
Barnes was important as a catalyst in this regard, but Bledsoe was the one who really made this operation purr. His tenacity, strength, athleticism and all-around nose for the ball allowed him to pester other ball-handlers and bring Lob City to life, even when Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan were seated on the pine.
But Bledsoe is gone now, off to start anew with the Phoenix Suns. That leaves the Clips without a hawk up top, in addition to a decided dearth of second- and third-string big men.
For now, then, next season's edition of "A Tribe Called Bench" would appear to be short some of the crucial ingredients that allowed last year's to thrive.
Then again, the Clips might not be as dependent on their second unit to stretch leads as they were in 2012-13.
Dudley and Redick both project as upgrades to the starting five over Butler at small forward and the combination of Willie Green and the aging Chauncey Billups at the off-guard spot. The new guys may not be ace defenders, but they're certainly capable of putting a body on somebody and do more than enough as three-point marksmen to compensate for some of their erstwhile flaws.
Both the starters and the reserves should enjoy a greater measure of defensive success with the direction of Doc Rivers.
His Boston Celtics ranked among the top 10 in the NBA in defensive efficiency during each of the last six seasons, including the last three without Tom Thibodeau—Rivers' former defensive guru and the current head coach of the Chicago Bulls.
How will the Clippers' 2013-14 bench compare to last year's?
Granted, the personnel Rivers will have at his disposal in LA can't quite measure up to the Kevin Garnett-led group he guided to two NBA Finals appearances and a title in Beantown—not unless/until Blake and DeAndre morph into superb rim protectors.
However, the mere upgrade from the chaos of Vinny Del Negro to the more competent and experienced leadership of Doc should have some residual effect on the Clippers' effectiveness in keeping other teams from scoring.
Still, as far as the pieces of the puzzle are concerned, it's tough to imagine the Clippers' new second unit having as much success as its predecessor without another big body to clog the paint and bring some toughness to the table.
Even then, the ceiling for this sub squad—particularly on the defensive end—would remain considerably lower.
Not that these guys won't play well together and extend leads while the starters catch their breath. If anything, this is more a matter of respecting just how good "A Tribe Called Bench" was rather than belittling the upcoming volume.
Still, the Clippers had better hope their bench is up to the task of taking the league by storm next season.
With league's highest-paid coach and a slew of shooters joining the core of Paul, Griffin and Jordan, the Clips will be expected to contend for the Western Conference title from an insanely deep field of competitors.
The pressure of such expectations won't fall exclusively—or even mostly—on the Clippers' reserves by any means. The bulk of the responsibility for LA's fortunes will ultimately rest with the superstar duo of CP3 and Blake.
But if the subs don't carry their weight as well as they did last year, the Clippers will have that much tougher of a time surviving the onslaught out West and capitalizing on their competitive primacy in the City of Angels.