Through the first three weeks of the playoffs, no team has been more impressive than the Los Angeles Clippers. They matched up head-to-head with the defending champion San Antonio Spurs and outlasted them in a grueling seven-game series that forced them to win two games on the road — a task that is virtually unheard of in today’s NBA.
They have since taken a stranglehold on their series with the Houston Rockets with a 3-1 advantage as the series heads back to Texas. In the process, they have made the Western Conference’s number two overall seed look befuddled and out of place.
One thing has been painfully clear through the first few weeks–and really through much of the season. The Clippers have an absolutely terrible bench, and as such, Doc Rivers rarely uses it.
To put this into perspective, six players on the Clippers accounted for 93 percent of the combined number of total minutes played over the course of their series with the Spurs. So far in the Rockets series, that number has looked a little bit more in line with what you would expect from a contender, but that is mostly out of necessity with Chris Paul being one-legged and all. It also hasn’t hurt that the Clippers have typically been up big late in the game and are resting their starters.
Against the Rockets, the Clippers have spread that same 93 percent across nine different players–yes, even Spencer Hawes.
Even though Doc Rivers has lengthened his rotation, and even though his son has suddenly turned into the reincarnation of his 1986-self, it is impossible to overlook the type of players they are being trotted out onto the court. Let’s just say that Hedo Turkoglu doesn’t exactly instill fear in the hearts of his opponents.
Throughout their early-playoff dominance, one question continues to linger unanswered on my wondering mind; how good could this team have been had Doc “the GM” made a few changes in the process of building up this team?
To start, let’s get in our time machines and head back to last summer when the Clippers had (some) money to spend and a desire to complete a roster that appeared to be one or two players away from a championship.
They had a clear need at point guard after letting Darren Collison exercise his player option and walk without much in the way of resistance. They also had a need on the wings and wanted to add some additional depth to their frontcourt.
To address these shortcomings, what did they do? They signed Hawes with their full mid-level exception, and then added Jordan Farmar, Turkoglu and Chris Douglas-Roberts.
Now, if you have watched any of the playoffs, you will notice that two of those players (Farmar and Douglas-Roberts) are no longer on the roster. The other two have logged a total of 83 minutes through their first 11 playoff games. That’s fewer than nine percent of the total minutes played by their entire roster.
That’s $10 million worth of “talent” they paid this year to players that have insignificant or non-existent impacts on their current roster. Hawes is on the books for $5.3 million of those this year, and on an increasing scale for the next three, so there’s always that to hang their hats on.
All that said, given how impressively they outlasted the defending champions, and how dominant they have been against the Rockets, they may be the odds-on favorite to win it all. But, the amount of pressure being put on their starters, and how physically taxing all those minutes must be on them, you have to question how much better this team could have been. It’s a scary thought really.
It’s now well-known that Paul Pierce had an interest in reunited with Rivers, but felt compelled to wait and see what the Brooklyn Nets were going to offer him to return. That seems strange now given his recent comments disparaging that organization, even going as far to call it a “horrible situation”. What’s even more odd is how Rivers apparently made no meaningful move to try and woo Pierce. But even if it wasn’t Pierce, there were other options available for the Clippers.
They could have decided to spend more money on their backup point guard position. Shaun Livingston was there for the taking. Bringing him back to the place where he began his career could have been a beautiful fit. D.J. Augustin could have been an even cheaper option that still would’ve given them a significant upgrade at that position.
They could have focused their efforts on adding more depth on the wings. C.J. Miles was available. Kent Bazemore or Al-Farouq Aminu were available and would have given them much more versatility.
And if they were dead-set on adding depth to their frontcourt, certainly Kris Humphries or Ed Davis would have been better options than Hawes. They may not have had the ponytail game on lock like him, but both can actually play the game they get paid to play.
The point is, a team with Augustin and Humphries, or Miles and Davis would have looked incredibly scary right about now.
Of course you can never foresee how different players fit into various situations, and you can never predict things like chemistry, but having a rotation that was legitimately eight or nine deep would have made these Clippers virtually unstoppable.
Who knows? They may be anyway. After all, Austin Rivers is showing more “prove myself to my Dad” moxie than anybody since A.J. Soprano.
But it’s hard to deny the probability of this unit getting gassed by the time the Western Conference Finals roll around. And the lack of one or two more role players could end up being the difference between them lifting the Larry O’Brien trophy or trying to lift themselves off the ground when they lose DeAndre Jordan.
This summer could end up being a long one for Doc “The GM”.