Hollinger's Team Forecast: Los Angeles Clippers
Otherwise, it was another forgettable year for a franchise that produces one of those about every 12 months or so. The Clips lost Brand to a torn Achilles before the season, and although early estimates had him returning in February, he didn't make it back until the final eight games. With point guard Shaun Livingston already missing the season after wrecking his knee the previous spring, and management once again unwilling to spend enough money to build a decent bench, the Clippers were shorthanded from the get-go.
W-L: 23-59 (Pythagorean W-L: 19-63)
Offensive Efficiency: 98.8 (28th)
Defensive Efficiency: 106.4 (19th)
Pace Factor: 90.4 (29th)
Highest PER: Corey Maggette (19.43)
L.A. might have been able to hold down the fort if their other players hadn't been dropping like flies too. Starting center Chris Kaman missed 24 games, top scorer Corey Maggette missed 12, key reserve Tim Thomas 19 and point guard Sam Cassell 17 before being bought out at midseason. As a result, the Clippers on many nights were sending lineups onto the floor featuring the likes of Josh Powell, Dan Dickau and Brevin Knight in primary roles.
At least they kept their fans optimistic for a week before crashing, starting the season with a shocking 4-0 record thanks in part to a much-improved Kaman. He put together a huge first half before breaking down late in the season, taking advantage of Brand's absence by becoming L.A's go-to post scorer and dominating on the glass.
Unfortunately, he and Maggette were the team's only two effective offensive players, and that wasn't nearly enough to keep the Clips in games on many nights. L.A. finished just 28th in offensive efficiency, and for a fairly straightforward reason: Nobody could shoot. The Clippers ranked 29th in 2-point shooting, 3-point shooting and overall field-goal percentage. About the only thing they did well was get to the line, attributable almost solely to Maggette's insane foul-drawing skills, and that moved them all the way up to 27th in true shooting percentage.
Despite having Kaman in the middle, the Clippers were also a horrid offensive rebounding team. He was often the only Clip anywhere near the basket, because coach Mike Dunleavy preferred to spread the floor with the likes of Thomas or rookie Al Thornton at power forward. As a result, L.A. boarded only 23.1 percent of its missed shots, placing it 28th in the NBA.
Give Dunleavy credit for holding together the defense, though. Often a team going nowhere like this one will blatantly mail it in at the defensive end, but the Clips competed all year. Even with the injuries and personnel issues, the Clips were 15th in defensive efficiency at the All-Star break; for the year they finished 19th, as things went rapidly downhill once Kaman started missing chunks of games in the second half of the season.
Dunleavy also got into an interesting war of words with Clippers owner Donald Sterling, essentially daring Sterling to fire him after Sterling told a newspaper he was disappointed with the team's coaching. Dunleavy also alleged that the Clips' owner and his underlings had nuked several personnel moves he'd concocted, including potential trades for Mike Miller and Jason Terry. Of course, this only had the effect of emasculating current general manager Elgin Baylor, because it only seemed to cement what everyone suspected: Dunleavy was calling all the shots on personnel and doing an end run around the GM.
Ultimately, however, the feud passed. With three years and $17 million left on Dunleavy's deal, few expect the notoriously frugal Sterling to cut the cord just yet.
Biggest Strength: ReboundingThe Clippers were among the league's worst rebounding teams last season, but that's likely to change in a major way this year. The addition of Camby alongside Kaman puts two of the best rebounders in basketball alongside each other in the frontcourt; it also builds in some redundancy should either miss time with injuries, which given their respective histories is extremely likely.
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Sliding everyone else down a spot should also improve the rebounding numbers. Thornton was a poor rebounder for a power forward but is fine if he's playing the 3; same goes for Thomas, who occasionally had to play center last season but now will be a combo forward.
Adding Baron Davis should also help. He's a good rebounder for a point guard, and the Clippers got very little from their point guards in that respect last season.
Biggest Weakness: The wingsThe trio of Kaman, Camby and Baron Davis isn't a bad one to start with, but at the wing positions the Clippers are just hoping to get passable production from the combination of Ricky Davis, Thornton, Gordon and Cuttino Mobley.
Of these four, two have to start, but it's tough to find any of them who are really starter quality. The best hope is probably Thornton, who had an erratic rookie season but picked up his play toward the end and could provide some decent scoring from the small forward spot. At the same time, he turns 25 in December, making him about half a decade older than many of the league's other second-year players, so one shouldn't expect the same kind of year-to-year growth.
Mobley is the incumbent starter at the 2, largely because he's the best defender of the quartet, but he's 33 and steadily slipping. At this point in his career he should be playing 20 minutes off the bench, but the Clips don't have a replacement. The hope is that Gordon can eventually fill the role -- which would also cure the Clips' chronic lack of 3-point shooting -- but at best he seems a couple of years away.
Finally, there's Ricky Davis, who had been productive everywhere he'd been until last season in Miami. However, he's frustrating with his inattentive D. That's the same thing that consistently put Maggette into Dunleavy's doghouse, and he isn't nearly as good as Maggette.
The Clippers are hoping their revamped frontcourt and the addition of Baron Davis at the point can add up to a playoff berth, but that seems unlikely unless they're unusually healthy and youngsters like Thornton and Gordon contribute more than expected.
Health could be the major bugaboo. I projected the Clips with Camby averaging 30 minutes a game and Baron Davis and Kaman 33, including time out for injuries; if two of those three can get into the high 30s the outlook improves significantly, but given their histories that doesn't seem like the smart way to bet.
And while L.A. has some useful bench players in the sense that they can handle a 10- to 15-minute role, as far as star power goes this is basically a three-man team. Thornton is the best hope of expanding the list to four; but at the same time several Clippers have downside risk based on their age and recent declines in production, Camby among them.
Should L.A. falter, one other thing to keep an eye on is its cap situation. Camby, Mobley and Thomas all have deals that expire in 2010, which could potentially get the Clips way under the salary cap and make them players in the LeBron James-Dwyane Wade-Chris Bosh sweepstakes. Alternatively, they could trade those players to a contender for somebody with a large expiring contract and get into the market in 2009.
Either way, their future cap position looks a lot more promising than their present outlook. But isn't that always the case with the Clippers?
Prediction: 30-52, 4th in Pacific Division, 12th in Western Conference
John Hollinger writes for ESPN Insider. To e-mail him, click here.
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