Authors note: Through the generous contributions of fellow SB Nation writers, I am embarking on a Pacific Division preview series in which I get expert opinions on each of the non-Lakers teams by people who cover them on a daily basis. Next up in the series, the Los Angeles Clippers.
For their existence, the Los Angeles Clippers have, and potentially always will, continue to fight their way out from underneath the stifling shadow of the Lakers.
Yet this has not exactly been the case in recent history. Through the star power of Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, and DeAndre Jordan, or the “Lob City” Clippers, L.A.’s red-headed stepchild franchise has actually been the better professional basketball team in Los Angeles, posting better records than the Lakers for six consecutive seasons.
This era though may soon be coming to an end though, with the combination of all three members of “Lob City” now donning new uniforms, and more prominently, with the arrival of LeBron James across the hall.
To help dissect the new chapter of Clippers’ basketball, and it’s potentially exciting future, Managing Editor of SB Nation’s Clips Nation, Robert Flom, joined Silver Screen and Roll to talk about the team’s upcoming season, Kawhi Leonard, Jimmy Butler, and of course give his Lakers’ season predictions:
SS&R: This will be the first season in eight years where the Clippers will not have any member of “Lob City” on it’s roster. How has this impacted enthusiasm surrounding the team heading into the season among the fanbase?
Flom: I think a lot of fans have certainly migrated away from the Clippers with the departures of Paul and Griffin in particular. There’s no doubt fewer people are going to games and watching them on TV. As for the fans who remain, the base is largely split.
Quite a few are unhappy with the departures of the Clippers’ stars, and already long for the days of Lob City and contention. Others are excited for a new team that’s younger than it has been in nearly a decade. I’d say enthusiasm for the team is definitely down compared to last year, but the vibes are on the whole mostly positive with the preseason just a couple weeks away.
SS&R: The Clippers have infused youth into the roster by adding Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Jerome Robinson, yet they still have multiple capable veterans on the team. What direction is the team trying to head in? Do you think this is the right approach?
Flom: They are trying to compete while remaining flexible for the future. The hope is that by demonstrating that the franchise remains competitive and a legitimate force in the Western Conference, they will be able to land a big free agent (or two, really) next summer.
That approach is nearly right to me. I don’t think the Clippers out and out tanking is truly an option. Ballmer doesn’t want it, and in a macro perspective, I think he’s right that any tanking season, especially running concurrently with LeBron as a Laker, could be disastrous for the Clippers’ fanbase.
I was perfectly fine with bringing back guys like Montrezl Harrell, signing a couple stop-gap veterans, and trying to win games this season. The part I have an issue with is the extent of their veteran signings.
SS&R: What were the team’s main strengths and weaknesses last season? Do you expect them to change?
Flom: It’s very simple. The team was quite good offensively last season (eighth in offensive rating), and pretty bad defensively (19th in defensive rating).
I do expect this to change somewhat. Full seasons of Patrick Beverley and Avery Bradley should boost the defense substantially, as should the return of Luc Mbah a Moute. DeAndre Jordan’s departure will be a big blow in this area, but the improved defense on the perimeter is more important than ever in today’s NBA, so the Clippers might come out slightly ahead there.
On offense, however, DJ’s presence will be greatly missed. His ability to draw defenders on the pick and roll and secure second opportunities for the Clippers will not be replaced by Marcin Gortat, or even Montrezl Harrell.
SS&R: What is the most interesting Clippers storyline to follow this season?
Flom: I think the most interesting storyline is probably just the rotation decisions that Doc Rivers will have to make. He has an abundance of guards, and figuring out which of them to play, and what combinations work best might take up a lot of the early part of the season.
Does he roll with the “Clamp City” duo of Beverley and Bradley? Or swap out Bradley for Lou Williams to get some offense in the starting lineup? Do Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Jerome Robinson get minutes at the expense of veterans, or do they ride the bench for the early part of the season?
SS&R: What impact, if any, does LeBron signing with the Lakers have on the Clippers? Where do you predict the Lakers end up in the Western Conference standings this upcoming season?
Flom: LeBron signing with the Lakers will definitely have a negative effect on the Clippers. The Lakers will always be the dominant presence in Los Angeles, but LeBron James’ arrival (along with the final departure of Lob City) will tip the scales in the Lakers’ favor to an extent not seen since 2010, when the Lakers were champions and Blake Griffin hadn’t played an NBA game yet.
As for the Lakers, I think they end up somewhere in the 6-8 range in the Western Conference. Unless LeBron gets injured for a significant stretch they should make the playoffs, but I don’t think they have the talent to challenge for home court advantage.
SS&R: Do you think there is a better chance Kawhi Leonard ends up with the Clippers or Lakers if he leaves Toronto next summer?
Flom: I don’t know what to think, mostly because the information about what Kawhi wants or doesn’t want has been murky and conflicting for over a year now.
Does he want more marketing and brand awareness? If so, the Lakers are the easy call. Is winning a championship the priority? That’s probably also the Lakers, though it depends how they look this season and what the Clippers do next July.
If Kawhi really does care about blazing his own trail, and not playing in anyone’s shadow, well, there’s not many better teams for that than the Clippers. I tend to be a pessimist about such things, and I think when push comes to push, playing with LeBron James and earning that Lakers’ marketing money will be a bigger factor than it might seem right now. So while it pains me to say it, I still think the Lakers are the favorite right now.
SS&R: Recent reports have indicated Jimmy Butler has his eyes on the Clippers as a preferred trade destination. What would a potential trade package look like in your opinion? Do you feel the team should be aggressive in their pursuit, or possibly wait to try and sign Butler outright in free agency?
Flom: One potential package could be something like Danilo Gallinari, Jerome Robinson, and protected future first-rounder.
I think Clippers should be aggressive. They will probably have a good shot at Butler next year, but if you can ensure you nab him, you do so. Especially since Clippers have a good, strong organization, and should be confident in re-signing him.
With youth, potential max-caliber players on the horizon, and a new home arena on the way, the Clippers may finally be poised to step out of the Lakers’ shadow, and make a name for themselves.
A special thanks again to Robert for helping preview the team. For more Clippers coverage this season you can follow him on Twitter at @RichHomieFlom . As always you can find me on Twitter at @AlexmRegla.