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|Chris Paul and the Clippers try to take another step forward in the third year of the Lob City Project.|
What's in store for the Los Angeles Clippers? Our panel of five looks back at the offseason moves (and non-moves) and forward to what lies ahead in the 2013-14 NBA season.
Kevin Arnovitz, ESPN.com: A-minus. The organization nailed the big tasks. The Clippers acquired a coach who commands the highest respect of NBA players, and found two wings who understand how to function in the offense and can shoot the ball from distance -- one of them at a real bargain. They're a little thin up front behind Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, and they don't really have a shutdown on-ball defender in the backcourt, but overall it was a very productive offseason.
Jovan Buha, ClipperBlog: A-minus. They lose points for not adding any defensive-minded big men to a frontcourt for which depth has been an issue the past two seasons. Still, re-signing Chris Paul and Matt Barnes, and acquiring Doc Rivers, J.J. Redick and Jared Dudley through trades is as close to a perfect offseason as possible.
D.J. Foster, ClipperBlog: A. Locking up Rivers and Paul earns an automatic "A," but there are smaller nits to pick. The failure to secure a legitimate third big man could be risky business, and there's a decent chance that trading Eric Bledsoe will be viewed as a mistake in hindsight. Big picture, this was still an incredible offseason.
Andrew Han, ClipperBlog: A-minus. Doc Rivers, J.J. Redick and Jared Dudley are all upgrades over their predecessors; some more than others. The only issue to be addressed is how big a role the third big man will have. And if you're really nitpicking: Phoenix could have given up more for Eric Bledsoe.
Arash Markazi, ESPN LA: A. They locked up Chris Paul, their franchise player, for the next five years after locking up Blake Griffin for five years the previous summer. They acquired Rivers and made him the highest paid coach in basketball. They also added quality pieces like Jared Dudley, J.J. Redick, Darren Collison, Antawn Jamison and Byron Mullens. Not to mention re-signing Matt Barnes and Ryan Hollins to the bench. You really couldn't have asked for a better offseason.
Arnovitz: Whether they can establish an elite defense. Doc Rivers brings with him the league's most effective defensive system, one designed by former assistant Tom Thibodeau. The question is whether the Clippers have the personnel to implement it in Bostonian fashion. They might, but it isn't a certainty. Meanwhile, Eric Bledsoe spearheaded some very stingy lineups off the bench, numbers the 2013-14 reserves will have a difficult time matching.
Buha: Can they defend at an elite level in the postseason? Don't let last season's ninth-ranked defense fool you. The Clippers had the 21st-ranked defense after Feb. 1, which ultimately cost them their season. Rivers' strongside defensive system should coax initial improvement, but it'll have to hold up for the Clips to have a deep playoff run.
Foster: Can the whole become greater than the parts? Can the defensive system compensate for the personnel? The Clippers should no longer be at a schematic disadvantage come playoff time, but utilizing a defensive anchor (Kevin Garnett) may prove to be much easier than creating one from scratch.
Han: How important is a system? After a season lacking in consistent defensive schemes, the overriding focus has been on whether the two young bigs for the Clippers can elevate the frontcourt, the bedrock of team defense. If the last team to transition from Vinny Del Negro to a Tom Thibodeau-designed defense is any indicator (Chicago Bulls), positive results should be expected.
Markazi: They have to develop chemistry in a hurry. That's one of the reasons Doc took the team down to San Diego for the first week of training camp. The core of the team might be the same but the coaching staff and half the roster is new so they'll have to get on the same page soon. There's also not a lot of depth in the frontcourt.
Arnovitz: Blake Griffin. Rivers defines Griffin's role in the Clippers' offense differently than the previous coaching administration. He sees the 24-year-old power forward as a heady, one-dribble playmaker from the elbow who should rarely play with his back to the basket, a guy who can become a unique kind of power-finesse big man.
Buha: DeAndre Jordan. If he takes the next step in his developmental process and excels with a larger role and more minutes, the Clippers will be as good as any team in the league. If he's the same player he's been the past couple of seasons, the Clips will remain a step or two behind the NBA's elite.
Foster: Blake Griffin. Structure can often breed a higher level of creativity than chaos can. Giving an intelligent player like Griffin more responsibility will only make him harder to guard. With a little more design and misdirection, Griffin's sustained display of skill should be just as impressive as his athletic outbursts.
Han: Blake Griffin. Griffin's taken a good deal of unwarranted criticism the past two seasons. While his raw numbers may have dipped, Griffin's per-36-minutes production has remained consistent. With a new motion offense installed by Alvin Gentry, Griffin could be poised to take flight again.
Markazi: DeAndre Jordan. Rivers lavished Jordan with praise during the team's training camp in San Diego, calling him the best player on the floor and a candidate for defensive player of the year. If Jordan can be as good as Rivers is advertising, they could be scarier than previously thought.
Arnovitz: If you have faith in Rivers' predictive powers, then Jordan will contend for defensive player of the year. Physically, Jordan has the prototypical attributes you'd want in an elite defensive big man. He's long, bouncy and uncommonly mobile for a guy his size. Can he put the package together and do that Tyson Chandler and/or Joakim Noah thing?
Buha: They will win at least 60 games. They won 56 games last season, and upgraded their head coach, starting wings and overall 3-point shooting. With an actual defensive system in place, and more variance and coherence offensively, a four-win bump seems logical, if not inevitable.
Foster: With upgrades at both wing spots and another year of development in the books for Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, the Clippers will have the league's best starting lineup in terms of point differential.
Han: The Clippers will be in the top six in defensive efficiency. NBA defense is largely about knowing where to go, showing up and being disciplined. Of course, there are some players who can do this intuitively, but they are a rarity. If all Doc Rivers does is convey defensive execution to the roster, the Clippers will be troublesome.
Markazi: The Clippers will win a franchise-record 60 games. They won 56 games last season. They were 32-9 through the first half of the season before finishing 24-17 in the second half after a rough patch where they were playing .500 ball after the break. I don't think they have a slump like that under Doc, who's worth a four-game improvement on his own.
Arnovitz: If the defense comes together, it's easy to see them in the conference finals, and possibly beyond. If it's merely pretty good, hovering at 10th or 11th in defensive efficiency rankings, then they'll have a much tougher time, especially in a conference where Oklahoma City, San Antonio, Houston, Memphis and Golden State have the potential to notch 50-something wins.
Buha: The NBA Finals, but I won't say if they'll win or lose yet. With the Thunder and Spurs likely regressing, if only slightly, the top of the West is wide open. There are several other contenders, but the Clippers have more talent than any of them, and their coaching staff has the wherewithal to help them fulfill their potential.
Foster: Western Conference finals. The Clippers have the core talent to win a title, but the learning curve of the defensive system may be steep. The Finals window should fully open up once everything jells and there's a little extra fine tuning done to the roster next season.
Han: The Clippers will exceed 60 wins in the regular season, be a top-two seed in the West and at least make the Western Conference finals. Given OKC's setback, if you feel like the Clippers underachieved last season, there is not much less that can be expected. They may also end world hunger and cure cancer.
Markazi: The Clippers will advance to the Western Conference finals for the first time in franchise history but fall one win short of reaching the NBA Finals. It will be a solid first step in the direction of a team that is in position to win a championship in the near future with a solid, sustainable foundation.