Towards the end of free agency it looked as if the Clippers might fall from the top of the Western Conference hierarchy into a lower tier playoff team with the potential loss of center DeAndre Jordan to the Mavs. Ever since his sudden change of heart, the Clippers have built a championship contender with depth and versatility off the bench to go along with a lethal starting lineup.
The signing of athletic forward Josh Smith at the minimum adds talent off the bench for a Clippers team in desperate need of it. Future Hall of Fame swingman Paul Pierce will help ease the loss of forward Matt Barnes. Both veterans are versatile and bring a whole different look offensively and defensively.
Retaining combo guard Austin Rivers was another key move, as he can play next to Jamal Crawford off the bench. Signing second-round forward Branden Dawson as a defender, rebounder and athlete was another underrated move by the Clippers, as he can give energy and effort off the bench immediately.
The Clippers also brought in swingman Lance Stephenson, and if he can turn back the clock to Indiana Pacers Stephenson, he’ll be another quality ball handler and facilitator off the bench.
It’ll take time for these personalities to come together, as Stephenson, Rivers, Smith and Crawford all are at their best with the ball in their hands. Head coach Doc Rivers will have his work cut out for him, trying to figure out the best combination of players. At least the Clippers have options, as they lacked any relevant options off the bench last season outside of Crawford.
Of course, the key cogs that make everything work in unison remain in athletic power forward Blake Griffin, elite point guard Chris Paul and coach Rivers. These three are staples that allow the Clippers to do what they do. Now, it looks as if they might have surrounded the core with an even better supporting cast. Will that be good enough in a loaded Western Conference? Time will tell.
A starting five of Paul, Pierce, Griffin, Jordan and J.J. Redick certainly looks good on paper, but how much does Pierce have left in the tank after seriously considering retirement after last season with the Washington Wizards? That remains to be seen. All Pierce has to do is stretch the floor and play solid defense, possibly even playing some stretch 4 like he did last year.
Will the moves be enough to beat a healthy Golden State or San Antonio in the playoffs? Even a healthy Oklahoma City or Houston team will be a threat to knock them off come playoff time.
For as good as the Western Conference was last year, even the best teams have improved their talent from top to bottom, setting up another season full of NBA excitement. The Clippers will be among those teams fighting towards the top of the West, and with an experienced coach utilizing a talented and deep roster, don’t count Los Angeles out of a potential Finals appearance.