September 23, 2017
The new-look Clippers open training camp Tuesday at the University of Hawaii with a great many questions to be answered after an exceptionally busy offseason, and with an equal number of reasons to wonder what’s next for a franchise that appears to have reached its peak.
There are new faces on the court and in the executive suite. There also are new roles for players, coaches and management. Is so much change so quickly healthy for the Clippers? Buckle up, because it’s going to be an entertaining ride in 2017-18.
These and other questions will be answered in due time.
The Clippers didn’t (read: couldn’t) keep Paul during the offseason, so they traded the All-Star point guard to the Rockets for a package of players that included Patrick Beverley, a dramatic move that overhauled their roster for the coming season(s). Then they re-signed Griffin for five seasons and $173 million, which more or less makes him the first Clipper for Life in the franchise’s lackluster history. Then they signed Milos Teodosic, a dynamic Serb who was renowned as the best player not playing in the NBA, in order to pump new life into Lob City.
Beverley said at his introductory news conference, “I am not Chris Paul.” All right, so who is Beverley, the man tasked with replacing Paul as the Clippers’ point guard? Well, Beverley spent the past five seasons with the Rockets and was a first-team all-defensive team performer in 2016-17, when he averaged 9.5 points and 4.2 assists while playing alongside James Harden. Beverley is a tough, annoying guy to play against. If that sandpaper element was absent in the past, then the Clippers addressed it by acquiring Beverley.
Griffin? Danilo Gallinari? Beverley? Lou Williams? Austin Rivers? In the past, the obvious answer to that question was Paul or Crawford. Opponents knew it, too. Now, things will be different and that might be a good thing. Unpredictability could make the Clippers more difficult to defend when time is short and the game is on the line this season. Griffin figures to be a go-to guy, but will he be the only go-to guy game after game, night after night? If not Griffin, then Gallinari, Beverley, Williams or Rivers could be options.
Clippers owner Steve Ballmer made a bold offseason move by limiting Rivers’ duties strictly to coaching for this season, which many league observers took to mean that it’ll be far easier to fire Rivers if things don’t go well in 2017-18. So, it seems imperative for Rivers to get the Clippers to buy into his vision for the team from the opening day of training camp. The one thing all great teams have in common is an ability to band together to win, putting aside egos and personality conflicts. Can the Clippers pull in the same direction?
Or more to the point, are the Clippers facing an inevitable decline after five consecutive 50-win seasons? It’s easy to forget that the Clippers had their (long)shots at their first NBA championship before the Golden State Warriors emerged as the league’s newest super team, winning two titles in three seasons and setting a record with 73 regular-season victories in 2015-16. Maybe the better question for the Clippers this season is to ask whether they can simply maintain their status after so much change during the offseason. It won’t be easy.