2011 NBA Preview: Are the L.A. Clippers Ready to Become a Playoff Team?

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2011 NBA Preview: Are the L.A. Clippers Ready to Become a Playoff Team?

Last season the Los Angeles Clippers ascended from being L.A.’s “other team” to being a nightly feature on Sportscenter and a must watch for any NBA fan.

The immediate rise of forward Blake Griffin was more than a ray of hope for Clippers’ fans; it was a sign.

A sign that this team, a team that missed on number one picks, a team plagued by bad luck, a team deemed amongst the most dysfunctional franchises in all sports, may have just hit the jackpot.

While no one in the NBA provided more highlight dunks and sensational box score stat lines than Blake Griffin, there wasn’t much winning to go along with Griffin’s exciting rookie season, after all the Clippers did finish 32-50, good enough for 13th in the western conference.

Nonetheless, Griffin had one of the all-time great rookie seasons averaging 22 points, and 12 rebounds, meriting an all-star selection, and unanimous rookie of the year honors, but Griffin isn’t the only source of excitement for the L.A. Clippers.

Despite missing 26 games the previous season, shooting guard Eric Gordon was another bright spot for the Clippers averaging 22 points. A healthy Gordon could lead the team in scoring, and ultimately become one of the league’s best shooting guards, and the Clippers centerpiece at the wing positions.

Gordon’s game complements Griffin’s game very well as the Clippers possess one of the league’s better inside outside combos.

Will the Clippers make the playoffs next season?

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Second year men Eric Bledsoe and Al Farouq Aminu are still very raw at this point in their careers, but struggled mightily last season. The two second year men have much to improve on, Bledsoe shot 42 percent and struggled with turnover issues, while Aminu shot 39 percent and didn’t rebound as well as the Clippers had hoped.

Bledsoe was a solid spark off the bench averaging 6 points, and 3 assists in 22 minutes; Aminu was up and down averaging 5 points and 3 rebounds in 18 minutes.

Bledsoe is the supposed point guard of the future while Aminu was drafted 8th by the Clippers in order to be the answer at the small forward position. They are both superb athletes, and they may enter next season as the starters at their respective positions, but they are far from fulfilling their potential, the Clippers must be patient and let them develop.

With Bledsoe and Aminu still raw, the Clippers will presumably enter next season with a hole at the point guard and small forward positions, but point guard Mo Williams, acquired in a trade that sent Baron Davis and the Clipper’s first round pick to Cleveland should serve as a decent short term answer at the position.

As for the small forward position, many have reported that the Clippers have shown great interest in Sixers’ forward Andre Iguodala. Acquiring Iguodala would most certainly require the Clippers to give up Aminu and a draft pick, but Iguodala is a top 30 player who perfectly fits this Clippers team, and gives them a roster certainly capable of acquiring a higher seed in the western conference standings.

The Clippers have a problem on their hands delayed by the misery of the NBA lockout, which is the contract situation with DeAndre Jordan. Jordan emerged as the team’s starting center and a perfect pairing for Blake Griffin.

Even though Jordan doesn’t have much of an offensive game beyond the restricted area, he took huge steps last season towards becoming an elite defender. The Clippers cannot afford to overpay for Jordan as Griffin and Gordon will soon become free agents.

The Clippers must bring Jordan back, but at an affordable price which keeps the team financially flexible.

Overall the Clippers field a roster which is certainly capable of making the playoffs, but with the Clippers it never has been a question of talent. Many still question whether head coach Vinny Del Negro is the right man for the job, and the staple that is the dysfunctional ownership of Donald Sterling continues to loom over the franchise, but on the court the Clippers have the talent to make it to the post season.

Regardless of whether the Clippers make the post season or not next season, this team has a bright future. Not only do they have their franchise player to go along with a young roster, the Clippers own the Timberwolves first round pick as well as their own in next year’s draft, and are looking to add another impact player to the roster.

Despite the history and omen associated with the Clippers franchise, not only could they potentially become L.A’s team, but they may be the NBA’s team of the future.

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