LA Clippers: Can They Ever Win a Championship Under Donald Sterling?
After watching Blake Griffin dunk on everyone in the NBA in 2010-11, Clipper fans are starting to get a little bit cocky.
When together with my Clipper buddies in Los Angeles, I'm beginning to hear chatter about the playoffs. Some fans have even gotten so caught up in it that they are talking about contending for a championship as well as bringing in A-listers like Chris Paul and Dwight Howard.
Is any of this possible?
Or is it a giant pipe dream concocted from sucking that thin air from the 300 level in Staples?
Well, I've decided to look at all the NBA champions of the past 20 years to see what attributes they've shared.
With this, myself and other Clipper fans, who obviously have no idea what a champion looks like, can begin to learn and assess our team for these prerequisite attributes and likelihood of ever attaining them under the Evil-King Donald Sterling.
Is it possible that the Clippers can win a title while owned by Donald Sterling?
Read on to see the 10 prerequisites required to become a champion and whether or not the Clippers meet those prerequisites or have a chance to with The Donald holding the purse strings.
Qualification No. 1: At Least Two Star Players
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So, the question here is two-fold.
1. Do the Clippers have two stars?
and if not,
2. Will they be able to get two stars under Donald Sterling?
The answers are maybe and maybe, respectively. It's not likely that Donald Sterling will spend the big bucks to bring in a free agent like Dwight Howard or Chris Paul, even if they were willing to come to town.
However, they can still get the prerequisite two stars.
We know Blake Griffin is a superstar. It's possible that Eric Gordon, who averaged 23 points last year, can become a star as well.
The Clippers hold Minnesota's No. 1 draft pick next year. There is a very good chance this could be a top-three pick, and if it is, they could snag themselves a superstar.
Though they won't likely sign a star through free agency, it is possible they could trade for one. With Chris Kaman (an All-Star with an expiring contract), the Minnesota No. 1 pick and young budding talents like Eric Bledsoe and Faruq Aminu, they have the pieces to make a play for guys like Howard and Paul, who will both be on the block this year.
All in all, two superstars on this team, under Sterling, is a real possibility.
Qualification No. 2: Strong Defense
The adage in the NFL goes like this, "Offense gets you to the playoffs, but defense wins championships."
I believe that's a bunch of bunk. Other than the Ravens and the Bucs, I don't recall any team winning a Super Bowl with an average offense and great defense. But many teams have won with average defenses and great QB play.
The adage finds more truth when applied to the NBA.
In the NBA, you can't win without some big time scorers; we all know that.
However, when you get to the playoffs, the teams you'll be facing will undoubtedly have their own big time scorers.
The winner will be the team who can figure out how to stop the other's star scorers.
This is the reason why the Phoenix Suns teams and Don Nelson teams and Mike D'Antoni teams, have never won championships.
They are built to score a ton of points, and they win a lot of games during the season.
However, they don't play D. Thus, in the playoffs, they are unable to stop other elite scorers.
So, do the Clippers have a strong defense?
Not right now. But they have potential.
Eric Gordon is one of the best perimeter defenders in the league. In the paint, DeAndre Jordan is a budding young superstar. Faruq Aminu has the tools to be a premiere defender.
However, thus far, Blake Griffin has been average at best on D.
For the Clippers to win a title, they need to re-sign DeAndre Jordan, they need Blake Griffin to drastically improve his defense, and it would be nice if Sterling could bring in a lock-down defender
Qualification No. 3: Strong Lockerroom Leadership
This one doesn't need much explanation.
The NBA season is long and grueling, and NBA athletes have a lot of distractions going on in their lives.
To win an NBA title, the team needs strong locker room leadership.
Do the Clippers have this?
I think so.
Blake Griffin, in his second year, needs to become this guy. He is the star of the team, and he has the best work ethic of anyone on the team. Not only that, but he's the kind of guy who will dive for a loose ball, even if it means risking potential injury.
In a game against the Laker's last year, with the Clippers having already sealed up the victory, Lamar Odom became frustrated with Blake Griffin because Blake was still playing hard, trying to get an offensive rebound and put-back in the game's final seconds.
This is the type of leader whom others will follow.
He already leads by example. If Blake learns to be the vocal leader, he will provide the necessary leadership that a champion needs.
Qualification No. 4: Playoff Experience
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Nearly every NBA champion in history has gotten there in steps.
First, a playoff appearance or two and then the run to a title.
All NBA title teams have players with at least some playoff experience, and almost all NBA title teams have guys with Finals experience.
The Clippers have neither.
In fact, Moe Williams is their only starter with any playoff experience at all, and Chris Kaman is the only man off the bench with any kind of significant playoff experience.
Therefore, it would be highly unlikely that the Clippers would win it all this year, no matter who they sign in the offseason. It's going to take them a few years to gain the necessary experience needed to build a champion.
First order of business is make the playoffs this year and get Blake Griffin, Eric Gordon and Eric Bledsoe some playoff experience.
Qualification No. 5: Strong Front Office
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Putting together a champion requires a solid front office who is capable of making good personal choices.
Neil Olshey, thus far, has shown promise.
Most his moves seem to have been good. The Baron Davis plus a first round pick for Moe Williams is a bad trade only in hindsight, as there was no way to predict that the Clipper pick was going to be the first overall pick.
How they deal with this offseason (if there is an off-season), what they do with DeAndre Jordan and Chris Kaman, and how they fill the SF position, will go a long way towards showing us if this front office is capable of putting together a champion.
Another question in the front office is whether or not Donald Sterling and his wallet will allow them to put together a champion, or will he stand in the way of progress by not signing contracts.
Qualification No. 6: High Field-Goal Percentage
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Though it may not seem like an important statistic, shooting a high percentage from the field, during the playoffs, is the singular statistic that has the highest correlation to winning.
The Clippers shoot a decent field goal percentage, but it must improve, especially from their SF position.
It is up to Neil Olshey and owner Donald Sterling to sign a SF to contribute to this team.
The guys are out there; guys like Tayshaun Prince and Grant Hill and Shane Battier and Caron Butler. The question's are:
1. Can the Clippers talk one into coming to LA?
2. Will Donald Sterling pay them fair market value?
Qualification No. 7: Strong Closer
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The Celtics had Bird.
The Lakers had Magic, and later Kobe.
The Bulls had Jordan.
The Spurs have Ginobili and Duncan
The Pistons had Chauncey.
The Heat had Wade (speaking of 2006)
The Mavericks have Dirk.
Those are the champions of the past few decades. What do all these guys have in common?
They are all closers.
All championship teams have a go-to guy at crunch time when they need a bucket to win it.
It's the singular biggest reason why the Mavs won this year and the Heat lost.
The Dallas Mavericks knew, at the end of games, that they were running their offense through Dirk, and more than likely, he would get them a bucket.
The Heat didn't know if their go-to guy was Wade or Lebron, and consequently, they came up short in the final two minutes, several times.
What are the characteristics of a good closer?
A closer can take it to the hole, shoot from outside, make a play off a dribble and create his own shot.
He's got to be a guy who wants the ball in his hands at the end of the game. He's got to have confidence, and he's got to have the confidence of his teammates.
Nobody better defined this role than Michael Jordan, and Jordan won six titles in six tries.
Do the Clippers have a closer?
Eric Gordon can do all those things. However, he hasn't had many opportunities to fill the role.
This past season, in one game at Utah, the Clippers were down six with a minute to go. Gordon defied the odds by not only scoring three buckets, but he also made a couple steals to create possessions.
In that game he showed that he has it in him.
However, there were other games, too many in fact, when he'd dribble the ball off his leg and out of bounds, at the end of games, trying to make a play for the winning bucket.
Time will tell if this is something he can do with any consistency, and if he can do it when the stakes are higher, as in the NBA Playoffs.
Qualification No. 8: Steal to Turnover Ration and Offensive Rebounding
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Basketball is a possession game. The team who gets the most shots will win unless the opponent shoots a much higher percentage.
Therefore, statistics like steals, turnovers and offensive rebounding, are very highly correlated to winning in the NBA playoffs.
The Clippers are a very good offensive rebounding team.
However, they turn the ball over at a very high rate.
Until they figure out how to protect the ball, they will never contend for a title.
Qualification No. 9: Staying Healthy
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To win a championship, a team's key components must stay healthy.
The Clippers have been unable to do this in most of their recent history.
Blake Griffin, Eric Gordon, Shawn Livingston, Chris Kaman, Baron Davis, Elton Brand.
What do all these players have in common?
They have all been Clippers in the past five years, they were all all-star level talent, and they have all missed a half-season or more due to injury.
Can the Clippers stay healthy?
Or maybe the karma of Donald Sterling will bring more bad luck to the health of the Clippers.
Qualification No. 10: Coaching
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There is no doubt that the NBA is more of a player's league than a coach's league. However, a team won't win the Finals without having a coach who knows how to win, how to manage NBA egos and how to keep a locker room together.
Hence the 11 titles for Phil Jackson.
Though we can't know for sure, I don't believe Vinny Del Negro is a guy who can do all these things.
He is credited with being able to coach young talent based on how he brought Chicago to a .500 record.
However, the year after he left, Chicago put together the best record in the East.
Is it possible Del Negro held them back?
I think so.
Also, for all his praises, regarding his ability to develop young talent, the Clippers young talent seemed to regress during the course of this past season.
Faruq Aminu started the year on fire; he had one of the highest three-point shooting percentages in the league. He finished the year with a bad percentage and had virtually no confidence shooting from deep.
Eric Bledsoe, who thrived in the absence of Baron Davis, saw his minutes drastically reduced when the PG came back, and he wasn't the same player.
And Blake Griffin peaked in the month of February. After that, his points and rebound began to decrease by the week.
Maybe VDN is the guy, but from what I've seen, I don't think so.