Commentary

Clippers fans have reasons to worry

Before we get too excited about Blake and CP3, let's look at how it could all go wrong

Updated: December 17, 2011, 1:14 PM ET
By D.J. Foster | Special to ESPNLosAngeles.com

There are people who see the glass as half-empty, and there are people who see the glass as half-full.

And then there's the sports fan that deems the contents of the glass irrelevant because it's going to shatter into a million pieces anyway.

It's insane and illogical to think this way, yet we all do it. We worry about the announcer jinx (he hasn't missed a free throw yet!) and truly believe our innermost thoughts have the power to make everything fall apart.

There's just something uncomfortable about having unguarded optimism, and there's an awful lot of that in Clipperland (Lob City?) these days. It's about time to consider the problems that could be headed their way.


Unhappy Campers?

It sure seems like somebody is destined to have his feelings hurt -- and it isn't going to be Chris Paul.

[+] EnlargeChris Paul
AP Photo/Mark J. TerrillBefore we anoint the Clippers as the kings of L.A., there's a lot of work to be done.

Chauncey Billups threatened to do everything short of poisoning the water of any team that claimed him off the amnesty waiver wire. Was that posturing and idle threats, or is he really unhappy playing somewhere he didn't choose to play?

Mo Williams seems to be an even likelier candidate for disgruntled employee of the year, as he has already expressed confusion to ESPNLA's Ramona Shelburne about the Clippers acquiring more point guards.

Clippers vice-president of basketball operations Neil Olshey has built a fantasy roster, but there are always problems with that. Players need real minutes and real shots, and in a crowded backcourt that features four point guards (five if you count Randy Foye), the Clippers might struggle to provide that.

Where's the beef?

A thin frontcourt is an even bigger issue than a potential logjam in the backcourt. The starters look good with Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan manning the 4 and 5 spots, but the bench is the definition of soft. Rookie forward Trey Thompkins projects to be a perimeter-oriented player and for veteran Brian Cook, anything inside the 3-point line might as well be smoldering hot lava.

The Clippers need to hire some muscle. Teams will continue to try and bully Griffin into fights and technical fouls, and since Griffin refuses to contest shots (Eric Bledsoe had the same amount of blocks per 36 minutes last year), his best buddy Jordan will have to serve as the protector of both him and the rim. That's a lot on his shoulders, even for a guy who is set to make $10 million this season.

If and when Jordan gets in foul trouble (4.5 fouls per 36 minutes last season), the Clippers can't get away with depending on Cook or a bargain-bin signing like a Collins twin again -- they'll need a nasty enforcer and rim protector, or else they'll be exposed on that end relentlessly.

Ideological Split

Last season the Clippers were a team largely dependent on running the fast break. Assistant coach Marc Iavaroni, a disciple of the Seven Seconds or Less Phoenix Suns team, really emphasized getting out in transition and playing fast. The Clippers, with all their exciting young athletes, did just that, playing at the league's 12th highest pace.

You would think getting Chris Paul would be like adding fuel to a fire, but Paul is actually a very different point guard than you might expect.

Yes, he's a very effective lob thrower and his passes lead to a lot of dunks, but he's also one of the league's most methodical players. Make no mistake, Paul can definitely hack it in transition -- it just seems he prefers to function in the halfcourt setting where he can see everything, digest the information, and then pick you apart.

With Paul as their point guard, the Hornets finished 29th in the league last season in pace. In previous seasons, the Hornets had finished 28th and 26th with Paul guiding the way.

It will be interesting to see what wins out -- the Clippers' running ideology or Paul's history as a half-court technician.

Injuries

It reads like the recipe for a Molotov cocktail -- Chris Paul has no knees, and now he's a Los Angeles Clipper. The potential reward is well worth the risk, but expecting the worst is means for survival for the Clippers. As of right now, they're not prepared for a worst-case scenario. Paul injuring his knee again would be devastating, just like it was last year when Eric Gordon went down with a wrist injury.

Perennially injured starting small forward Caron Butler, fresh off a season-ending knee injury, would force Ryan Gomes into starter's minutes if he were to miss time.

And of course, there's this: Griffin plays basketball like he's wearing full body armor, hurling himself recklessly at opponents and the basket.

That's the one problem with the Boston Celtics/Miami Heat model -- one significant injury and you're toast.

Looking Forward

As it stands right now, the Clippers are a slightly injury-prone team with potential chemistry problems that lacks the frontcourt depth and defensive talent to be considered truly elite.

Of course, it's important to remember the Clippers aren't done making moves yet and that free agents are going to be lining up like it was Black Friday for the chance to play alongside Chris Paul and Blake Griffin.

As enticing as it may be to give Paul and Griffin some shiny new offensive toys to play with, what they really need is the basketball equivalent of getting socks for Christmas. Give Paul and Griffin the essentials with depth and defensive protection, and Clippers fans will be able to uncross their fingers a bit.

D.J. Foster writes the ClipperBlog for ESPN's TrueHoop Network.

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