The Los Angeles Clippers made great strides in the face of adversity during 2013-14. With head coach Doc Rivers at the helm, the Clips actually managed to win a playoff game beyond the first round for the first time in the Chris Paul era.
Despite their accomplishments, a second-round exit is not what L.A. covets. CP3, Blake Griffin and Co. want to win a title. That was never clearer than after the Clippers clinched the Pacific Division. According to ESPNLosAngeles.com's Arash Markazi, Rivers was not aware of the achievement, and Griffin said, “It’s an accomplishment and something to be proud of but by no means is that what we’re aiming for. We have much bigger goals.”
In order to attain the Larry O’Brien Trophy moving forward, the Clippers need to establish the perfect mix of bench guys to complement the All-Stars within the starting five. L.A. won’t be able to conquer the Western Conference elites without the second unit taking pressure off and providing depth.
Retain Darren Collison
According to the Los Angeles Times’ Broderick Turner, Rivers’ alter ego as Clippers president of basketball operations made it cryptic yet quite clear that he wants Darren Collision back next season.
“You know our first guy, I’ll be honest, is one of our guys that opted out,” Rivers said. “He’s a little guy. That’s very important to us.”
While the point guard position may not seem like a huge need for the Clippers since they have Paul on board, Collison established himself as a valued commodity under Rivers.
During his first year in L.A., the 26-year-old played 80 games (35 starts). He averaged 11.4 points, 3.7 assists, 2.4 rebounds, 1.2 steals and shot 37.6 percent from three-point range.
Aside from the numbers he put in the box score, Collison carved a niche due to his versatility. According to 82games.com, the UCLA product played 24 percent of his minutes at shooting guard. The team’s offensive production skyrocketed with him playing beside Paul at the 2.
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At an even 6'0", Collison isn’t an ideal candidate to fill the shooting guard role. Nevertheless, having two ball-handlers on the court at once opened things up offensively for Rivers’ crew.
That’s not a luxury he plans on losing.
Keeping Collison is Rivers’ No. 1 priority, but that isn’t the only move that needs to be made.
Improving the Frontcourt
The Clippers didn’t do themselves any favors on draft night by selecting Washington shooting guard C.J. Wilcox at No. 28.
In fact, Bleacher Report’s Adam Fromal gave the Clippers a draft grade of F—the lowest for any team graded. He explained that mark as follows:
Not only are J.J. Redick, Jared Dudley, Willie Green and Jamal Crawford on the roster (though not all are true shooting guards), but the team drafted Reggie Bullock last year, and he fills the exact same role as Wilcox.
I’ve steadfastly maintained that heads should roll in the LAC front office if someone other than a big man is taken at No. 28, and here we are.
Even though Willie Green has since been waived, per Markazi, the Clippers still have a glut of shooting guards—especially since Collison spent of chunk of time there last season. Meanwhile, Los Angeles had zero depth behind Griffin and DeAndre Jordan down low. They failed to address that glaring need in the draft.
The Clippers sorely need interior towers to provide Griffin and Jordan with rest. The other frontcourt position—small forward—has also become an area of contention.
As Turner writes, “It’s no secret Rivers wants to upgrade his small forward position and that he has been trying to trade starting small forward Matt Barnes.”
If Los Angeles hopes to acquire an improvement at the 3 when compared to the 34-year-old UCLA product, it will likely have to package him with a first-round pick to make that a reality.
Barnes didn’t have a great year, but he’s still a capable two-way player. Perhaps the Clips could improve by adding Paul Pierce—Rivers’ former captain with the Boston Celtics—or by targeting a different free agent like Evan Turner, Caron Butler, C.J. Miles or Mike Miller.
There’s no guarantee, however, that they’d be true upgrades.
As for mixing in depth, well, it’s difficult to envision the likes of Danny Granger, Hedo Turkoglu and Glen Davis returning. The former two are but a fraction of the players they once were, while Big Baby made negligible contributions after being brought aboard in late February.
Replacing those guys with fresh faces has to be management's resolution.
What’s the Perfect Mix?
Unless the Clippers are able to move Barnes—which could still happen—Rivers will continue to rely upon Paul, Griffin and further growth from Jordan to be successful.
Redick and Crawford will hold down the shooting guard spot once again, presumably with Collison entering the fray. Aside from that, depth is the biggest concern.
Los Angeles spent the 2013-14 campaign rolling the dice on washed-up veterans: Granger, Turkoglu and Stephen Jackson. Free agency provides an outlet for Rivers to do some shopping.
Bullock or Wilcox could play a role next year, but only if said player is featured in small-ball rotations.
Jared Dudley was a reliable role player with the Phoenix Suns, but he lost all of his confidence (and playing time) throughout the course of the year. Putting him in positions to succeed has to be on Rivers’ coaching agenda, because JD will make more than $4.2 million next season, per ShamSports.com.
The Clippers’ ideal rotation, however, will continue to be up in the air until they target backups for Griffin and Jordan. Ryan Hollins simply won’t cut it.
Chris Andersen, Drew Gooden and Chris Kaman are a few names that come to mind. All three will likely try and land with a contender, which is a variable the Clippers can offer.
In any case, Rivers has plenty of work to do. Pressure will continue to weigh on Paul and Griffin, but the coach/president has to get them some help this summer.
If he fails to do so, they'll be lucky to avoid another second-round exit.