Are the L.A. Clippers title contenders?
Yes, Chris Paul throwing lobs to Blake Griffin will be entertaining, but will that dynamic duo be enough for the Clippers to start dreaming of a championship parade this season?
Our panel of experts weighs in.
Are the Clippers contenders for the 2012 NBA championship?
J.A. Adande, ESPN.com: No way. The Western Conference isn't going to get caught up watching those CP3-to-Griffin lobs. The Clippers need to experience the pain of a playoff loss -- or losses -- before they are ready to challenge for a title. That's the way it works in the NBA.
Marc Stein, ESPN.com: No. Not without a better bench and another quality big man. Not until they actually have some time to mesh and taste the experience of a deep playoff run, too. But they've already snagged the title of Most Watchable Team in the NBA on this scorecard ... before a single lob is thrown.
Tim Legler, ESPN: Yes. To me, "contender" means top four in your conference. The Clippers can get there this year if their core stays healthy. With a point guard like Paul leading them on the floor, a star scorer and rebounder like Griffin, a young dynamic center in Jordan and veteran additions like Chauncey Billups and Caron Butler, the Clippers' window of opportunity starts now!
Ric Bucher, ESPN The Magazine: No. Defense remains a vital component to playing for titles and the Clippers don't have a single player who can dominate his position defensively. They're going to be better, not among the best.
Beckley Mason, HoopSpeak: No. This team might have a championship-level offense next year, but I still thing its young frontcourt has too far to come defensively for it to reach the Finals. Also, I simply can't fathom a world in which Vinny Del Negro coaches the best team in the league.
Daniel Nowell, Magic Basketball: Yes. They're not the best team in the West, and not a sure bet for a deep playoff run, but they have more than a puncher's chance against any team in the league with Paul's savvy and the talent around him. That's called contending.
Arash Markazi, ESPN Los Angeles: No. The Clippers are a good playoff team. They have four point guards and very little depth on the front line right now. When you take into account players like Chris Paul, Caron Butler and Blake Griffin have missed significant time due to injury during their careers, you can't expect their starting lineup, as stacked as it looks, not to get hit during a condensed season.
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Jose Roberto Zaracho Zarate: In my opinion they're not yet. Even the Miami Big 3 and the Knicks with Melo, Amare and Chauncey couldn't win a ring in the first season they got together. So I don't think the Clips could get it done this season. There's a high-risk on Butler getting injured for a long time again this season.
Scoop Jackson, ESPN.com: No. They have to figure out (the always omnipresent and obligatory): Who's team is this? They are still in need of a defensive specialist/stopper for series against the Mavericks, Lakers and Thunder. As long as they play in those hideous script-lettered unis, they can never be taken seriously.
Tom Haberstroh, Heat Index: Yes. Remember: The Clippers aren't done dealing. With a glut of point guards, they can upgrade at the 2 by the trade deadline (Eric Bledsoe for J.J. Redick?). Also: Did anyone predict the Mavericks would win it all before the playoffs started? No, but was it seen as possible? Same goes for Lob City.
Jeremy Schmidt, Bucksketball: No. If a team isn't jam packed with stars -- and despite Paul's addition, the Clippers still have only two -- it better have the chemistry of the Dallas Mavericks last season. The Clippers don't have enough experience playing together to make up for their lack of a third star. And a 66-game schedule won't give them enough time to jell.
Andrew Kamenetzky, ESPN Los Angeles: No. Too many good teams in the West and too many question marks, including how Blake Griffin will perform in his first postseason. But I bet they'll be a scary draw.
Brian Kamenetzky, ESPN Los Angeles: Yes, but on the fringes and thanks to flexibility in acquiring more pieces. Right now they're a solid playoff team with potential for more. But think what it means to even ask the question for a feature not attached to an article in The Onion. Incredible moment for the Clippers.
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Ethan Conway: The Clippers will be able to contend this year. I think they are comparable to the Bulls last year. You have a top-five point guard, an All-Star power forward in Griffin (who by the way is better than Boozer and still hasn't reached his ceiling), a good all-around center, a playmaking small forward, and veteran talent off of the bench. Not championship caliber yet, but a contender.
Keith M. Lipscomb, ESPN.com: Yes, because I define a contender as a team that's among the top three or four in its conference. The Clippers now have an elite point guard and power forward, an athletic defensive force in Jordan and strong veterans like Billups, Butler and even Foye (who I think is being somewhat forgotten) to help expedite the process of coming together as a team.
Colin McGowan, Cavs: The Blog: No. The Clips have the best point guard in the league (Paul), a great young forward (Griffin), a solid starting center (Jordan) and deficiencies everywhere else. The addition of CP3 is a start, but not nearly enough to overcome the Lakers, Thunder, Heat, Celtics or Bulls come playoff time.
Henry Abbott, ESPN.com: Yes. Fear Chris Paul. (Bill Russell was undersized and banged up, too.) Last year's Hornets made noise, and these Clippers are better at every position except coach. Paul and Blake Griffin could -- like Steve Nash and Amare Stoudemire and the Wonder Twins before them -- combine to have magical powers.
John Hollinger, ESPN.com: Not serious ones, no. They're a Western Conference playoff team right now, and presuming they trade Mo Williams for a real shooting guard they will be in the heap of teams vying for seeds 3 through 8 in that conference, just like we have every year. But I don't think this has Miami or Oklahoma City quaking in their boots.
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Jacob Hackford: In a regular 82-game season no, but we learned a lot in 1999 when a baby-faced Duncan won it all. Youth wins a lockout-shortened season. Everybody was predicting the Jazz to win it all and they didn't make it out of the second round. Back then it was the Spurs and the 8th-seeded Knicks. I expect the playoffs to be just as crazy this time around. Crazy enough to consider any team (except maybe the Bobcats) as a contender.
LZ Granderson, ESPN.com: No. That's premature infatuation. For all of Blake Griffin's dunks equated to less than 30 wins. Adding CP3 adds excitement, and Chauncey and Caron bring toughness but none of them are pure shooters, which is what you need when smart defensive teams pack the middle. Plus Kobe has a bionic knee and a bruised ego.
Darius Soriano, Forum Blue and Gold: No. An imbalanced roster and suspect depth at every position save point guard means the Clippers aren't yet true contenders.
Larry Coon, ESPN.com: No, but this is a great step in the right direction. The team still has some work to do -- the Clippers have to resolve their backcourt and add more depth behind Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. They need some experience playing together -- three of their projected starters weren't Clippers last year, and the fourth wasn't a starter when the 2010-11 season began. They also need playoff experience -- they have guys who have been to the big dance, but Blake Griffin has yet to play a playoff game. They're a much better team now, a virtual lock to make the playoffs for the first time in seven years, and are likely to make some noise once they get there.
Matt Moore, Hardwood Paroxysm: Yes. Look, the Heat are incomplete, the Celtics old, the Lakers imploding, the Mavericks reshuffled, the Spurs faded, the Bulls questionable. I simply can't believe Chris Paul plus Blake Griffin plus shooters plus a viable center isn't enough, no matter who the coach is. Not favorites, but contenders.
Chris Palmer, ESPN The Magazine: Yes. Why? Four words. Chris Paul. Blake Griffin. The Clippers' two All-Stars represent the best one-two punch in the Western Conference. Any time you've got the two best players in a conference, contending for a title is a more than reasonable goal despite however woeful a franchise's history might be. At the very least these Clips will take somebody to seven games in the second round.
Justin Verrier, ESPN.com: No. Not this season, anyway. Chris Paul may be a magician with the rock, but he can't pull the whole animal kingdom out of his hat. The Clips still need a 2-guard, Caron needs to stay healthy and "being Blake's good buddy" needs to move down from the top line of DeAndre Jordan's résumé.
James Herbert, Hardwood Paroxysm: No. Not as presently constructed, anyway. Pairing Chris Paul and Blake Griffin should land them in the playoffs regardless of the supporting cast, but this team needs a bit more depth to contend for a championship. If the Clips can turn Mo Williams into a quality backup big, that'd help.
Jared Wade, 8 Points, 9 Seconds: Yes. The Mavs lost their defensive cog, the Thunder's best players still need to figure out how to co-exist in crunch time, the Lakers lost Lamar and the Spurs are 700-years-old. There is no West favorite so the Clips can potentially make the Finals. And if you can make the Finals, you're a contender.
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Anthony H.: Whatever happens, L.A. is the center of the basketball universe and I love it.
Brendan Jackson, CelticsHub: Yes, by definition all playoff teams are contenders and the ClipShow is definitely a playoff team. That being said, newly assembled teams hardly ever win a chip on their first try (Re: Heatles) and who outside of rookie Trey Thompkins is a big man off the bench?
Dave McMenamin, ESPN Los Angeles: No. Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan haven't even played a regular-season game that matters yet, let alone a playoff game. As a Philadelphia Eagles fan, I know better than to anoint a team a champion just based on how their new pieces look on paper.
Rashad Mobley, Truth About It: Yes. The Lakers lost Lamar Odom to the Mavericks, the Mavericks lost Tyson Chandler to the Eastern Conference, and Oklahoma City is emerging quickly, but still young. The combo of Chris Paul and Blake Griffin automatically make the Clippers playoff contenders. The weakened Western Conference elevates them to potential championship status.
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Ryan Robinson: Not contenders this year, no. Entertaining? Yes. Best-case scenario, I'd put them 4th in the West, after Mavericks, Thunder, Lakers. The contenders to me are those three (yes, I think the Lakers are still a top-tier team even if they don't get Howard) plus the Heat, Bulls, and Celtics in the East.
Brett Hainline, Queen City Hoops: No. The Clippers need time to mesh -- remember how LeBron and Wade struggled to adapt early last year? It takes time to integrate new teammates. Plus, while saying "defense wins championships" is rather silly (outscoring your opponent four times in seven games, multiple times, does), the young Clippers still have some work to do on that end. Age, and with it experience, will help.
Sam Holako, Raptors Republic: No. Even though they got the best player in the deal, they lost depth on the wing and size up front. You need big men in West to make noise, and Paul's brilliance really only buys you two or three playoff wins in the first round.
Chris Broussard, ESPN The Magazine: Yes. I'm not saying they are the favorites but in a declining West, they could be as good as anyone. The Lakers are clearly not as good as they were even last year when they were one round and done; the Mavericks dropped off a bit by losing Tyson Chandler and J.J. Barea; and OKC is still young, with its four best players all under 24 years old. With CP3, Blake, DeAndre Jordan, Caron Butler, Mo Williams, Chauncey Billups, Ryan Gomes and Randy Foye, the Clips have youth, energy, experience and depth. CP improves teams by leaps and bounds -- all by himself. Last year, he won 46 games in New Orleans with David West missing half the season. Under CP, the Clips could experience the type of revival the Clippers-East (New Jersey) had when they traded for Jason Kidd.
J.M. Poulard, Warriors World: Yes. Paul has carried his teams with Magic Johnson-like performances during the playoffs throughout his career; and thus, there is no reason to think that with a roster like the Clippers he wouldn't be able to make them a championship contender. This is his best team ever.
Spencer Percy, Queen City Hoops: No. The Clippers are a four seed in the West to me right now on paper. Addition of Paul undoubtedly makes them better, but the amount of success they are able to achieve this season will depend on how quickly this team meshes together. A lot of new faces, a short period of time to grow.
Jeff Caplan, ESPN Dallas: No. But, and this is significant, the Clippers are now L.A.'s glamour team, what with Kobe and the Lakers nearing a nervous breakdown. The infectious personality and riveting play of Chris Paul together with Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan and veterans Chauncey Billups and Caron Butler make this one heck of a fun team to watch.
Kyle Weidie, Truth About It: No. People do remember that Blake Griffin needs a LOT of work defensively, right? OK, good. Also, DeAndre Jordan is not yet a defensive anchor for a contender; Randy Foye could go M.I.A. at any moment; Caron Butler will be harder to integrate into a free-flowing offense than one would think when paired with Chris Paul; and Chauncey Billups was born in 1976.
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