From the moment Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce drenched Doc Rivers with an on-court Gatorade shower in the waning seconds of the NBA Finals, no team in the association has had a roster turnover like the Los Angeles Clippers.
Only four players remain from last year’s 23-59 squad that finished 12th in the Western Conference (Chris Kaman, Al Thornton, Cuttino Mobley and Tim Thomas). They’ve added 10 players through the draft, free agency and trades, most notably All-Star guard Baron Davis, their 2008’s NBA Draft seventh pick, rookie Eric Gordon, and former Defensive Player of the Year Marcus Camby.
Elton Brand, the face of the franchise since 2001, inked a deal with the Philadelphia 76ers and spurned the marriage of a formidable one-two punch with Davis. The Clippers signed the home-grown, UCLA grad Davis in anticipation of building a winning nucleus in a win-50-or-go-home conference.
The field general has shown glimpses of magic in the past and runs an offense as efficiently as the likes of Chris Paul, Deron Williams and Steve Nash. Fans will be anticipating for Davis to fuel a high-octane offense similar to his years as a Golden State Warrior. What remains to be seen is how Head Coach Mike Dunleavy will utilize Davis’ strengths with an unfamiliar team that’s yearning for chemistry and continuity.
Dunleavy is notorious for his reputation as an enigma while having his share of clashes with players over basketball ideology. Most recently, it was last year’s leading scorer Corey Maggette, who has since packed his bags and left for Golden State. Over the summer, he alienated relationships with Brand and former General Manager Elgin Baylor, two mainstays who no longer represent the team. Barring injury, there should be no reason for the Dunleavy-ran Clippers to be a non factor again this year.
The Clippers used the free agent market to solidify a diminished bench that was ripped apart due to injuries last year. They signed Ricky Davis, a veteran streaky scorer who’s entering the back end of his career. The addition of former first-round Clippers’ draft pick Brian Skinner will help the front line as an injury-prone Camby gets his health back and Kaman recovers from an injury sustained late last season. They also added depth by trading for guard Jason Hart (Utah Jazz) and forward Steve Novak (Houston Rockets).
The second-year stud, Thornton, will continue to develop into an offensive weapon after a stagnant start to his rookie year. However, even though they have a solid pick in Gordon and will count with a rejuvenated Kaman, the newly-grouped Clippers are still a year away from reaching the playoffs.
The problem for this team will not be talent nor depth, they are stacked in those departments. The problem is Dunleavy. The day he guides the Clippers above mediocrity will be the telling tale of a team that’s long overdue for respect and contention.