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Everything You Need to Know About the L.A. Clippers' 2015-16 NBA Season

Josh Martin@@JoshMartinNBANBA Lead WriterOctober 7, 2015

Los Angeles Clippers' DeAndre Jordan, from left, Blake Griffin, Chris Paul chat on the court before an NBA preseason basketball game against the Denver Nuggets, Friday, Oct. 2, 2015, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

After dancing with disaster time and again, the Los Angeles Clippers are looking to make that all-important leap from good to great.

Their last two campaigns ended in heartbreak and disappointment. During the 2014 playoffs, Chris Paul fumbled away what would've been a Game 5 win in Oklahoma City before the Thunder secured a spot in the Western Conference Finals in Game 6.

This past spring, the Clippers were almost over the proverbial hump. They survived a classic first-round series against the defending champion San Antonio Spurs by the skin of their teeth and seemed to have a trip to the third round, opposite their rival Golden State Warriors, in the bag. But Doc Rivers' squad, already low on gas, let the Houston Rockets off the hook—and let a 3-1 series lead and 19-point advantage in Game 6 slip away.

The Clippers came close to yet another disaster this past summer, when DeAndre Jordan decided to sign with the Dallas Mavericks. Fortunately for L.A., Jordan had second thoughts and opted, instead, to rejoin the Clippers for his eighth season, and his fifth alongside Chris Paul and Blake Griffin.

This team has been through the fire of failure before and nearly saw its hopes for title contention go up in smoke during the offseason. Now, with those troubles in the rear view, these Clippers have their sights set on hanging a banner of their own in Staples Center. 

Key Additions/Subtractions

Jae C. Hong/Associated Press
  • Additions: Lance Stephenson (trade), Paul Pierce (free agent), Josh Smith (free agent), Wesley Johnson (free agent), Chuck Hayes (free agent), Pablo Prigioni (free agent), Luc Richard Mbah a Moute (free agent), Branden Dawson (draft)
  • Subtractions: Matt Barnes (trade), Spencer Hawes (trade), Glen Davis (free agent), Hedo Turkoglu (free agent), Ekpe Udoh (free agent), Dahntay Jones (free agent), Jordan Hamilton (free agent)

Inking Jordan to a long-term deal was Item No. 1 on the Clippers' offseason agenda. Item No. 2? Beefing up the roster's versatility.

"You’re going to have injuries during the year. When you have guys that can play different positions, you can slide guys over almost per game," Rivers explained at Clippers media day. "If you’re playing a team that has a bigger 3, then you can slide Wes [Johnson] there or Paul [Pierce] there. When they’re smaller and athletic, you put Lance [Stephenson] there. I just think it gives us more options."

Where once the Clippers were thin on the wings and off the bench, they're now stocked with veteran playmakers. From wily veterans like Pierce and Jamal Crawford to fresher legs like those of Stephenson and Josh Smith, the Clips have great depth. Johnson, meanwhile, has so far been Rivers' choice to start at small forward.

The onus will be on the incumbent core, namely Paul, Griffin, Jordan, J.J. Redick and Crawford, to show the ropes to the recent arrivals.

"They know how to play," Rivers said at a recent practice, "but the way they play can make the new guys play that way better."

Storylines to Watch

Jordan unwittingly became a headline-grabbing star this summer when he spurned the Dallas Mavericks for an L.A. return. Now the Clippers will be paying Jordan like a star—$87.6 million over four years—and expecting him to perform like one on both ends of the court.

"DJ’s role has to keep growing," Rivers said at Clippers media day. "DJ’s still really young. Every year, we ask him to get better and better and better. So as he gets better on both ends, then he’ll be useful."

As a stopper, there's not much more that Jordan, a first-team All-Defense selection in 2014-15, can do. He led the league in rebounding for a second consecutive season and finished fourth in blocks per game while serving as the backstop in Rivers' frenetic-but-leaky scheme.

It's on the other end where Jordan could truly blossom. In addition to his usual diet of lobs and putbacks, he will get to show off the low-post skills he spent so much time and sweat honing over the summer.

When Jordan isn't busy playing old-fashioned bully ball next to Griffin, he may either be party or witness to a series of smaller, more lethal lineups. The Clippers plan to use Pierce as a stretch 4 at times this season and have already allotted Smith, a wing-forward by trade, plenty of time at center in training camp. That way L.A. can more easily keep up when squads like Golden State and Oklahoma City decide to downsize.

X-Factor: Paul Pierce

Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

Can't teach an old dog new tricks? Try telling that to Pierce. The 37-year-old star is facing a series of firsts in this, his 18th NBA season.

His first professional residency in L.A. and, in turn, the Western Conference. His first go-round as a regular among his team's reserves. His first first pitch at Dodger Stadium.

In many ways, though, this season will be nothing new for the Truth. He's from L.A., he's played for Rivers before and the role he'll be playing—that of small-ball 4, crunchtime killer and all-around oracle—is the same one he's filled for the past few seasons at each of his stops.

If the old and the new come together for Pierce and the Clippers in a big way during the coming months, this could be the last anyone sees of the former Boston Celtics stalwart in uniform.

As Pierce proclaimed at Clippers media day, "If win it this year and win championship, I’ll probably be done with basketball, just to be honest."

Making the Leap: Lance Stephenson

PLAYA VISTA, CA - SEPTEMBER 25:  Lance Stephenson #1 of the Los Angeles Clippers poses for a portrait during media day at the Los Angeles Clippers Training Center on September 25, 2015 in Playa Vista, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges
Juan Ocampo/Getty Images

As low-risk and high-reward as it was for the Clippers to ship Spencer Hawes and Matt Barnes to Charlotte for Stephenson, doing so still required a roll of the dice. After all, Hawes had grown close to some of L.A.'s key constituents, Barnes had served as the team's backbone and Stephenson, for his part, was fresh off an abysmal season with the Hornets, during which he hit just 17 percent of his threes.

The Clippers won't need Stephenson to be the sort-of playmaker that made him a rising star with the Indiana Pacers. Instead, they hope to recast him as a lockdown defender who can slash from the wings and be a terror in transition.

"If he gets a rebound, we want him to push the ball up the floor," Rivers said. "If he doesn’t have a rebound, we want to throw it ahead to him because now he’s got his speed and power."

The Clippers can easily cut bait with Stephenson, who has a team option for 2016-17, if he doesn't work out this season. But if Born Ready bounces back from his sad sojourn to the Tar Heel State and lives up to his nickname, L.A. could have a real gem on its hands. 

Best-Case Scenario

LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 2:  DeAndre Jordan #6, Chris Paul #3, and Blake Griffin #32 of the Los Angeles Clippers celebrate against the Denver Nuggets during a preseason game on October 2, 2015 at STAPLES Center in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: U
Noah Graham/Getty Images

All of the new pieces, Stephenson included, fall into place and find the right niches to fill. The bench turns out to be as deep and as versatile in practice as it appears on paper, giving the Clippers a superb second unit and the starters the relief they'll need to survive another long slog.

This squad, described by Rivers as "clearly the most talent that we’ve had since I’ve been here," has enough gas in the tank to outlast the West's best on the way to its first Western Conference Finals and, after that, its first NBA Finals. Once there, the Clippers dispatch the East's biggest beast to bring a Larry O'Brien Trophy of its own back to L.A.

Worst-Case Scenario

Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

The parts populating the Clippers' revamped bench don't fit together. Stephenson struggles at his second stop in as many seasons. Pierce and Crawford age rapidly. Smith's attempt to play center falls flat.

A faltering bench forces Rivers to lean as heavily as ever on his starters, leaving the whole team vulnerable to another epic postseason collapse and, perhaps, a breakup of L.A.'s star-studded core.

"We’re right on the borderline," Rivers told Grantland's Zach Lowe. "I have no problem saying that. I’m a believer that teams can get stale. After a while, you don’t win. It just doesn’t work. We’re right at the edge. Oklahoma City is on the edge. Memphis, too. We just have to accept it."

Prediction

Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

The Clippers will score a ton of points, as they always have, and won't have to wait as long for their defense to kick into gear now that they're testing out a more conservative, less tiring scheme. A deeper, more versatile bench and a wider array of crunch-time playmakers will help push L.A. closer to the top, but there are still plenty of obstacles they'll have to overcome.

As Zach Lowe put it:

The Clippers need more things to flip right than the Warriors and Spurs, and perhaps one or two other teams in the West. They need to answer questions about their defense, their bench, Stephenson’s fit, Pierce’s durability, and their readiness for the next big playoff moment. They have a smaller margin for error than Golden State and Cleveland, but if enough of those questions turn the right way, the Clips have the goods to contend.

Trouble is, there are so many other teams out West that have the goods, too. Golden State, fresh off its first title since 1979, could be even better with their young core in year two under head coach Steve Kerr. San Antonio, only two years removed from its last triumph, will be right back in the mix with LaMarcus Aldridge and David West joining an ever-improving Kawhi Leonard up front. Houston reloaded with Ty Lawson. Oklahoma City still has the best tandem in the game in Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.

The Clippers can hang with any one of those squads, but fending off all of them will be a tall order, even for this veteran group.

  • Final Record: 57-25
  • Division Standing: Second in Pacific
  • Playoff Berth: Yes
  • Playoff Finish: Eliminated in Western Conference Finals

All quotes obtained first-hand unless otherwise noted.

Josh Martin covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter.

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