The Clippers set the franchise win mark with a 57-25 record during the 2013-14 regular season, yet failed to capitalize on it in the playoffs.
The 2-4 series loss at the hands of the Oklahoma City Thunder was a devastating blow to head coach Doc Rivers' squad. What makes it worse is that off-the-floor issues beyond their control likely contributed to their downfall.
This time around, the Clips' focus is all about chasing the Larry O'Brien Trophy and letting nothing stand in their way.
A favorable ruling for all
On July 28, the Clippers got perhaps the best news of the offseason when a Los Angeles judge cleared the way for the sale of the team. Steve Ballmer's $2 billion offer to the Sterling Family Trust will go through as a result.
This was after a court battle threatened to delay the transaction indefinitely as Donald Sterling fought in the courts to prevent the sale from taking place.
Instead, the Clippers could have new ownership by season's end given the ruling. Everyone in Clipper Nation has a reason to breathe a sigh of relief.
The NBA was pleased too. It released the following statement on the ruling: “We are pleased that the court has affirmed Shelly Sterling’s right to sell the Los Angeles Clippers to Steve Ballmer. We look forward to the transaction closing as soon as possible.”
With Paul and Rivers considering sitting out the season if Sterling was still the owner of the team by the start of the season, the court's decision couldn't have come at a better time.
This is especially true of a team that was distracted and potentially ousted in the playoffs as a result of the off-the-floor distractions involving Sterling.
Now, X's and O's can be the focus, and fortunately, the Clippers found some help in that regard over the summer.
The missing piece
Spencer Hawes is going to make things easier on both Griffin and Jordan. In terms of the Clips' frontcourt, his versatility could make him the final piece to Los Angeles' postseason puzzle.
Depth was an issue at the 4 and 5 spots last season, as no backup forward or center posted a player efficiency rating greater than the league average of 15.
Here's how Los Angeles' reserve bigs fared last season in terms of PER:
The 26-year-old is entering the prime of his career and should have a prominent role in the Clippers rotation given his intelligence and feel for the game.
Another reason he'll earn plenty of playing time is his acumen on the glass. He's averaged a monstrous 16.6 boards per 100 possessions in seven seasons, and he'll be asked to do more dirty work underneath as the primary backup to Jordan.
In addition, he can slide over to the power forward spot to equally affect the game behind Griffin. As a stretch 4 who shot a career-best 44.8 percent from beyond the arc last season, that's a welcome addition.
Most importantly, it's a dimension the Clippers never had consistently at that either post position last season. Hawes can do everything a big man needs to in the NBA, and the Clippers ought to benefit because of it.
Filling a void
Los Angeles couldn't afford to lose the production that left along with departed free agent Darren Collison. Fortunately due to the signing of Jordan Farmar, who simply had to switch locker rooms this offseason, it may not have to.
Here's how the two compared last season:
|Jordan Farmar (w/ LAL)||41 (5)||10.1||4.9||2.5||41.5||43.8||15.0|
|Darren Collison ( w/ LAC)||80 (35)||11.4||3.7||2.4||46.7||37.6||16.2|
Backing up Paul is going to be paramount late in the regular season and into the playoffs. Given the superstar's injury history, his backup needs to be capable of not only filling in where needed, but spot starting in stretches.
Farmar battled injuries of his own last season with the Los Angeles Lakers, but he's trending in the right direction. The numbers suggest he should be able to pick up where Collison left off.
The former UCLA star had a short but productive stretch with the New Jersey Nets in 2011-12 in 39 games. He averaged 10.4 points on 46 percent shooting from the field and 44 percent from the three-point line before choosing to play overseas the following year.
In limited duty with the Lakers last season, he did more of the same with 10.1 points and a career-high 2.5 rebounds per game while shooting 43.8 percent from deep in a reserve role that included five starts.
Entering his age-28 season, there's no reason to think he's reached his ceiling. In addition, his experience being a part of two NBA championship squads will be another valuable asset, especially at the point guard position.
What it all means
The 2014-15 Clippers are built to win a title and won't be concerned with regular-season success alone. As a result, the 57-win mark won't be of any significance. Rivers won't hesitate to rest his stars down the stretch a la Gregg Popovich with the NBA's ultimate prize in sight.
The only thing that matters will be getting through the postseason to an NBA Finals berth. To do that, they'll have to navigate a difficult Western Conference and competitive Pacific Division with every major component, namely Paul and Griffin, as healthy as possible.
This is the Clippers team that can do it. With some key pieces in place and reinforcements in tow, Rivers' group should reach its goal of avenging last year's Western Conference Semifinals loss.
There will be no Sterling saga to divert them. The importance of that matter can't be understated. Though it's difficult to quantify, that incident devastated the Clippers' chances to contend for a championship and came at the worst possible time.
This year, they're better and should have fewer challenges off the floor. That translates to a more favorable result in the postseason and a likely trip to the NBA Finals.
Prediction: 51-31, 1st in the Pacific Division, Western Conference champions