Sitting in last place of the Western Conference is, no surprise, the Los Angeles Clippers. It's been five years (more like a lifetime) since Elton Brand led the Clips to a playoff appearance. Unfortunately, the Clips haven't managed a season above-.500 since.
(Note: Did you know the Clippers have managed only three seasons at .500 or above? They happened to make the playoffs all three of those years, and even made it to the postseason while going 36-46 in the 1996-97 season. All the Clippers have to do is break even on wins and losses and they have a good chance at making it to the playoffs.)
To make a Bill Simmons-esque pop culture reference, I'd compare this Clippers team to Ocean's Twelve: a lot of hype, but turned out to be a huge let down from right out the gate. (How did that movie make $125 million in the box office? It's shouldn't have gotten half of what Ocean's Eleven made, which was a little over $180 million).
GM Neil Olshey can be Terry Benedict. Olshey tries (again) to round up a star studded team in order to, in this case, make the playoffs. Unfortunately, that's about as far as I can go with this pop culture reference.
Regardless, I'm impressed with Olshey's attempt to put together a young, talented team. It may not help right now, but Clipper fans have to be patient; Olshey designed a team for the future.
I like almost every aspect of this team. Their GM is not afraid to spend money. (Right now, though, I think he's a little too focused on signing young players). I don't want to hear that Olshey failed to re-sign Elton Brand. Brand was clearly frustrated, opted out of his last year, and Philadelphia merely made a better offer.
The Clips' starting lineup is actually a fairly solid one. Blake Griffin and Chris Kaman (when healthy) can battle with almost any big man combo in the country. Griffin is a monster and is good for 20 points and 10 boards every night. Kaman, on the other hand, is not much of a scorer, but more useful on the boards and defensively.
Despite what others say, Eric Gordon was not a disappointment in his first two years of the NBA. The guy finished fifth in Rooke of the Year voting in the 2008-09 season. For two straight years he averaged 16 points a game while shooting around 45% from the field and 38% from three each year. Sorry if this kid wasn't Earl Monroe-like in his first two years in the league; that doesn't make him a disappointment.
(I almost feel it's necessary to give Eric Gordon a nickname. "Air Gordon" is extremely unoriginal and of bad taste. "Silent Assassin" has some potential. I feel like Gordon strings together a number of quiet baskets, and, before you know it, he's got 20. That's my best one so far. I'm trying to contact Bruce Weber for his suggestions...then again, they probably wouldn't be appropriate for Bleacher Report.)
Then we go to Ryan Gomes at small forward. This kid's only claim to fame is his striking resemblance of Kevin Durant. He's kind of out of place at small forward: he can't shoot from the outside and he's not exactly a stellar ball handler. Unfortunately, he's too small to play power foward. He only averages about three rebounds per game as it is! I think we may be seeing Al-Farouq Aminu overtake this starting spot very soon.
Speaking of Aminu, why is he only playing 18 minutes a game?!?!?? Just another reason why Vinny Del Negro is nothing more than an average NBA coach (two straight 41-41 seasons with Chicago...need I say more?). Aminu is bigger than Gomes. He shoots it better than Gomes. He's a better defender than Gomes. He has a better name than Gomes. He went to a better college than Gomes.
For a minute, I almost considered adding Aminu to my fantasy team; then I looked at the fact that he's only playing about a third of the game each night. This guy could be a fantasy basketball sleeper, too. His FG% and 3FG% is solid for a SF. He generates a lot of steals. He could probably do a lot more on the boards if given the chance. I think Del Negro just likes to mess with fantasy owners. He is the Todd Haley of the NBA.
Now to the point guard. Arguably the most important position in basketball. The head coach on the floor. The Clippers' PG? The highly overrated Eric Bledsoe. Don't get me wrong, Bledsoe has unbelievable speed and solid court vision, but he's not a starter in the NBA. Not right now at least. Bledsoe should still be at Kentucky along with the other knucklehead that left too early, DeMarcus Cousins.
(I think Cousins and Bledsoe were cling-ons to John Wall at UK. Can't you picture the two walking inches away from Wall, answering to his every command? "Eric, I need a research paper for history class tomorrow...you on it?" "Sure thing, John. First thing tomorrow." Come on. It's actually not that hard to believe. I mean they do play for John Calipari where cheating is encouraged rather than frowned upon. Wait, nevermind. Bledsoe was the one with academic problems. Disregard this paragraph.
Anyways, as soon as Wall announced he was going to split for the pros, these two followed right in his footsteps. They could've been great college players. Maybe, even gone all the way. Nah. One and done is obviously the more logical choice.)
Like I said earlier, the point guard is, in my opinion, the most important position on the floor. The past four NBA champions have had solid point guards: the Lakers had Derek Fisher when they won two straight (a clutch shooter and pesky defender), the Celtics started Rajon Rondo in '08 (well, you know how great of player he's become), and the Spurs were led by Tony Parker in '07 (an All Star team member that year).
So, my grades for the Clippers' starters are as follows:
POINT GUARD: D- (BLEDSOE, NOT BARON DAVIS)
SHOOTING GUARD: B
SMALL FORWARD: C-
POWER FORWARD: A-
CENTER: B- (WITH KAMAN)
CENTER: D (WITHOUT KAMAN)
My overall grade for the Clips would have to be a C-. I figure that in order to be a playoff contender, a team has to have at least a B- average. The Boston Celtics, who I predict will be making the NBA Finals this year, has grades reading:
POINT GUARD: A-
SHOOTING GUARD: B+
SMALL FORWARD: A-/B+ (DEPENDING ON THE PAUL PIERCE THAT SHOWS UP)
POWER FORWARD: B-
CENTER: C (SHAQUILLE AND JERMAINE O'NEAL COMBINED)
Celtics' Overall Grade: B+. I may be a little harsh in my grading, or a little lenient, but I feel that I'm correct in that the Celtics are far superior to the Los Angeles Clippers
Unfortunately Clipper fans, this mediocre play should continue all season. This team is too young and too inexperienced. Until this team matures or adds a veteran to their roster that isn't plagued by injury (cough Baron Davis cough), it could be the case for a while.