At the surface level, the 2014-15 Los Angeles Clippers won't look a whole lot different than they did a season ago.
They'll still field one of the most talented rosters in the league and will be well-coached. In addition, the Clips will probably navigate their way through the grind that is the Western Conference as one of its top three playoff representatives.
But somehow, things will be vastly different than they were last year.
The facts are clear. Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan remain the cornerstones of a team that managed to put together the best regular season Los Angeles has seen to date. A 57-win effort led them to a first-place finish in the Pacific Division and the No. 3 seed out West.
A look deeper into the framework of the organization from the top down will yield a glance into what could become the most exciting era of Clippers basketball in franchise history. There will be changes, and that's a good thing for any fan.
The Ballmer effect
With the sale of the team complete to former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer following the ouster of Donald Sterling, the Clippers were already positioned for addition by attrition. Going from the likes of Sterling to Ballmer is the front-office equivalent of hitting the lottery from the perspective of anyone who cares about the betterment of the franchise.
The best news of the record-setting transaction, however, is that Ballmer appears to be a true man of the people. As such, he'll be an owner who's good for the entire league.
Having a fan-friendly owner is something strange and exotic to Clippers fans, sort of like a foreign language would be to most of us.
Better still is that none of it is an act. He's really wired this way.
Given Ballmer's energetic introduction as owner during the Clippers' Fan Festival in Los Angeles Aug. 18, it's not a surprise he's already drawn comparisons to Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban:
In fact, Cuban was nothing but complimentary of Ballmer in a recent interview with ESPN Dallas 103.3 FM's The Afternoon Show with Cowlishaw and Mosley, per ESPNDallas.com's Tim MacMahon.
"I've known Steve for a long time, going back into my twenties, and he's always been this way," Cuban said. "So this isn't Steve Ballmer getting hyped just for the Clippers. This is just the way he is. He's going to be great for the league."
If the mercurial Mavs owner is right, it's going to be a fun ride in Los Angeles during Ballmer's tenure. The culture change that's sure to take place begins this season.
X's and O's
Given the team's offseason free-agent acquisitions, Spencer Hawes and Jordan Farmar, the bench will get a makeover that will change Los Angeles' approach late in games. Hawes will give the Clips some much-needed versatility inside, where he can shift to either the 4 or 5 spot.
That means that in the fourth quarter, the Clippers will have more opportunities to keep teams honest should Jordan become a liability at the free-throw line given his career 42.5 percent mark. Hawes can rebound capably enough to fill in for the 2013-14 champion of the glass while giving the Clippers an improved 70.3 percent career free-throw shooter at the pivot.
In addition, per ESPNLosAngeles.com's Arash Markazi, the Clippers completed a trade that sent Jared Dudley and a protected 2017 first-round pick to the Milwaukee Bucks for Carlos Delfino, Miroslav Raduljica and a 2015 second-round pick. How they plan to use the two newest additions is uncertain, but Dudley had his worst season to date with a PER of 8.9, well below his career mark of 13.8, per Basketball-Reference.com.
Again, we could be looking at another gain via loss here.
Delfino would be the de facto replacement for Dudley. Though injuries derailed his return to Milwaukee in 2013-14, the Argentinian proved serviceable in his last full season with the Houston Rockets in 2012-13 with averages of 10.6 points, 3.3 rebounds and 2.0 assists per game in 67 contests, including five starts.
Since there's no apples-to-apples comparison for what Dudley and Delfino did last season in terms of shooting, here's a quick comparison into the shot charts of each player in each's last full season.
One assumption here is that Delfino can become something close to the player he was two seasons ago following a foot injury that could still linger:
The thing that sticks out with respect to Delfino is that he's consistent and can score from all three levels. Whether that manifests itself into production with the Clippers this season remains to be seen.
But it could happen, at least early on, as Rivers tries to figure out his rotations.
Less flash, more substance
Nearly every NBA fan enjoys the Clippers' acrobatics coupled with the Lob City moniker:
Although Griffin declared Lob City dead less than a year ago, it clearly stuck around. While the highlight-reel plays will remain, the addition of a high-IQ talent like Hawes will lend itself to better execution and floor balance.
J.J. Redick, who played in just 35 regular-season games in 2013-14, will be healthy to start the season. Delfino will attempt to provide the shooting acumen that Dudley couldn't.
Even Griffin, the virtual grim reaper of the now-ancient metropolis, is working on perfecting his mid-range shot. That's a necessity for a power forward in today's NBA.
Thomas Johnson of The Washington Post summed it up neatly:
Even with last season's improvement, the 25-year-old Griffin has a fair amount of room for improvement. Griffin made strides with his jump shot, but for him to take the next step, he has to become an above average shooter from other locations on the floor besides the left elbow. Similar to how Karl Malone progressed over the course of his career.
Everyone knows Griffin needs to improve his outside shot, but the eye-catching moment in this piece is looking at where Griffin needs to improve. His shot chart from 2013-14 illustrates the point further:
It doesn't take an expert to see all the favorable coloring situated on the left side of the floor, as Johnson pointed out. Though the left elbow is just one spot, it's one of Griffin's favorite areas to pull up from. As indicated by the yellow area at the top of the key, he has a high comfort level with shooting the ball just beyond the free-throw line.
All of this alone won't translate into fewer dunks, but it will give the Clippers more versatility on a league-leading offense from a season ago that averaged a hefty 107.9 points per game.
The big-picture conclusion? The Clips will have more depth on all fronts, both figuratively and literally, in 2014-15. From Ballmer's genuine childlike enthusiasm to subtle moves to bring in savvy veterans who know how to play such as Hawes, this year's team will provide a refreshing new look throughout the organization.
In fact, they're all welcome changes, and Los Angeles will be better for them.
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