The Clippers have a lot to do before the 2009-2010 season if they want to be competitive.
Talent-wise, this is not the worst Clippers team we've ever seen. They struggled this year with injuries – Chris Kaman only played in 31 games, and Zach Randolph played in 39. If they can stay healthy, they should get a few more than 19 W's next year.
The roster talent is a start, but it's going to take a bit more to get them out of the dregs of the Western Conference.
It has to start at the top
Mike Dunleavy is a talented coach. He led the Clippers to their only playoff series victory in my lifetime, but if the Clippers want to turn the team around, change needs to be top-down.
Dunleavy has already been in place longer than any other Clippers coach in the franchise's existence, and is well above the average tenure for current coaches with their current teams. Plus, it's a good time to be coach shopping. A few options, ending with my favorite:
Sam Mitchell. Took the Toronto to the playoffs a few times, though they underachieved every time they got there.
Tom Thibodeau. He's an assistant coach for the Celtics right now, and is largely credited for their dominant defense. Thibodeau would be a great call.
Avery Johnson. Remember him? How does he not have a coaching job? He took the Mavericks to the playoffs every year, and included trips to the Conference Finals and Semis. He's got a funny voice, I'll grant you that, but his Mavs played exhilarating basketball. Some excitement on the court might be the ticket to the Clippers' eventual relevancy. Avery Johnson is my pick.
Cross Your Fingers For the First Pick
Next week is the Draft Lottery,and we'll find out which first-round pick the Clips get. The lowest they can go is sixth, so here are six possible picks, in order of priority:
Blake Griffin, PF. Duh. Griffin will go first no matter which team is doing the picking. He's a strong, aggressive power forward – the Clippers already have Randolph at that position, but he's the only true PF on the roster. Griffin would probably start next to Randolph in the front court starting day one regardless, and could be a real franchise player.
Ricky Rubio, PG. If you watched the Olympics, then you watched this young guy tear it up for Spain. He's been playing professionally over there since he hit puberty, and a lot of people have high expectations for him in the NBA. Do the Clippers still pick him even though they already have Baron Davis at the point? If they get the 2nd pick, I think so.
Stephen Curry, PG. Curry can score, and could bring some real firepower to the offense. Perhaps more importantly, he can play the 1 or the 2.
James Harden, SG. James Harden isn't the big name of any of the previous guys, but he can get things done. Efficiency and work ethic would be good additions to this team - the trouble is that he'd sit while Eric Gordon starts.
DeMar DeRozen, SG. DeRozen has perhaps the most potential to be a superstar. Freakishly athletic, he'll help push the ball. If he lives up to his potential at all, then it doesn't matter who else is playing his position on the roster.
Hasheem Thabeet, C. I’m not as hot on Thabeet as some. With Kaman, Marcus Camby, and DeAndre Jordan on the roster, you only take Thabeet if he’s truly the best player on the board.
Resigning free agents. Number-one priority is Steve Novak. He's a pure shooter that had a breakout second half of the season. In the final stats, he made more 3-pointers than anyone on the team besides Eric Gordon, and shot a higher percentage. He's not going to attack the basket, but he gives the Clips some opportunity to play an inside-outside game, especially if they draft an inside presence like Griffin. He also could turn into a solid B-option in clutch, game-winning situations.
Fred Jones is an experienced 2 guard that can probably be resigned for cheap. Ricky Davis sat a lot of this season with a knee injury, but should get his groove back and be a solid bench player.
Biggest needs? Solid backups at the 2, 3, and 4. I'd love to see them make a play at stealing Trevor Ariza (SF) away from the Lakers. Shawn Marion would be a dream pick at the 3 to start alongside Randolph, but also worth noting is Kyle Korver, who has an early termination option from the Jazz. At the 2, Von Wafer has had a breakout postseason for the Rockets, though that might make them determined to keep him. Think Allen Iverson would sit as a backup to Eric Gordon?
Off-the-court issues. Somebody's got to rein these kids in. Randolph sat a two-game suspension this year for punching Louis Amundson in a game against Phoenix, then sat out two more at the end of the season for being nailed for DUI. Ricky Davis was suspended five games for drug use. Not only do these suspensions mean they lose a player for a few games - they're hugely detrimental to the team's vibe. Randolph's antics, if they keep up, may prove a bigger liability than his bloated contract.
Apathy. The most important one, and a perennial. The Clippers got booed by their own fans after a home loss to Minnesota in April. They’re not expected to win. They don’t have a fan base to please. Can a new coach get this roster to care? Can a new star inspire his teammates to victory?
25 years of precedent say no. But I’ll wait and see.