2011 NBA Preview: Can the Los Angeles Clippers Contend?

Shady BotrosAnalyst IDecember 23, 2011

With the lockout dispute resolved and the 2011 season on the brink of its inception, one team in particular, the Los Angeles Clippers took the NBA by the storm after a completed blockbuster trade bringing point guard Chris Paul to the City of Angels.

The price for acquiring Paul was rather steep. The Clippers gave up their leading scorer in Eric Gordon, young talent in Al-Farouq Aminu, a veteran center in Chris Kaman and a potential top five draft pick—but Paul brings the Clippers unprecedented star power.

About four months ago I had written an article posing the question whether the Clippers were playoff bound; of course, the team was coming off a 32-50 season. Now I ask whether the addition of Paul ascends this team to a potential contender in the Western Conference.

Last season served as a huge step in the right direction as Blake Griffin enamored NBA fans and brought to the Clippers an element of excitement and flash the team had never experienced before.

Last season was, however, the honeymoon period; this upcoming season will be where the challenge awaits the Clippers. In the NBA, the tough part isn’t playing the role of upstart franchise, but maintaining success and progressing in the right direction. Many NBA teams show promise at very early stages, however more often than not, high expectations meet stagnant results.

Ironically Paul’s old team, the New Orleans Hornets was in a very similar situation a few years ago; Paul led a young Hornets team to a 56-26 record before losing to the defending champion Spurs in an epic seven game series. Since 2008, the Hornets have seen a gradual decline leading to the recent end of the Chris Paul era.

Earlier I had predicted that the Clippers would finally reach the playoffs after a six year absence, but to what extent does the addition of Chris Paul elevate the Clippers?

Chris Paul, arguably the top point guard the league has to offer, instantly provides the Clippers with a floor general also capable of taking over a game offensively.

As a point guard Paul possess the perfect balance between pure point guard skills and offensive ability. More importantly, Paul has the ability supply the team with instant offense during the latter period of games.

Also factor in how Paul fits with his new team. The Clippers gave up their top man in the backcourt, Eric Gordon, to pull of the trade, meaning Paul can assert all control of the backcourt and run the offense as he sees fit.

PLAYA VISTA, CA - DECEMBER 15:  Chris Paul holds up his jersey at a press conference introducing him as a member of the Los Angeles Clippers on December 15, 2011 at the Los Angeles Clippers Training Center in Playa Vista, California.  (Photo by Stephen Du
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

Paul has a myriad of offensive options at his disposal, whether it be backcourt partners Chauncey Billups, Mo Williams, and Eric Bledsoe, recent addition Caron Butler on the wing, or big men Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan inside.

Presumably Paul’s presence should significantly increase each player’s offensive output, especially the two big men in Griffin and Jordan, who have never played with a lead guard at Paul’s level. Former point guard Baron Davis acted as more of a shoot first point guard in contrast to the pass first style Paul utilizes.

The minute Paul steps onto the floor, he instantly becomes one of the greatest players to ever grace a Los Angeles Clippers uniform.

With Paul feeding him the ball inside, Blake Griffin is poised to perform at an MVP level. With a Paul-led backcourt and a frontcourt anchored by Blake Griffin, the Clippers could possibly field the league’s most exciting offense.

When comparing the Clippers to the Western Conference’s upper crust, based on pure talent alone, the Clippers fair very well. Top to bottom, this roster may be the best roster in the West in terms of talent, even when compared to the Oklahoma City Thunder.

The reigning champion Dallas Mavericks will be a year older, and they failed to retain Tyson Chandler. The Los Angeles Lakers face great uncertainty regarding a new coach implementing a new defensive system, Pau Gasol’s status with the team, and most importantly Kobe Bryant’s health. Meanwhile, the San Antonio Spurs appear to be all but done.

But it could be the Clippers’ youth which prevents them from breaking through in year one of the Blake Griffin-Chris Paul era. As I stated earlier, playing the role of upstart franchise is the easy part. It’s uncertain how a young team, with a young unproven head coach in Vinny Del Negro will fair with potentially daunting expectations.

Youth both on the court, on the bench and in the front office could hinder the Clippers. Every team the Clippers would have to go through possesses more experience. Remember, the Oklahoma City Thunder have endured a few years of losing seasons along with playoff heartbreak.

The addition of Chris Paul certainly solidifies the Clippers as a playoff team, but turning a 32-50 team into a contender for the Western Conference title likely won’t be done in one season.

With the Chris Paul acquisition, the Clippers will be exciting, entertaining and improving, however it may be one more year and a long-term answer at the small forward position before the Clippers begin to threaten for an NBA finals appearance.