Predicted finish: 3rd in the West (2nd in the Pacific, 4th in the power rankings)
Last seasons conference finish: 2nd in the West
Well, last season’s Los Angeles Clippers have to go down as one of the most disappointing groups in NBA history. Full of preseason championship hype and even pre-playoff championship hype, the team couldn’t even reach their first conference finals in franchise history. Now, with a a new head coach in Ty Lue, upgrades in Serge Ibaka and Luke Kennard to go with a healthy and refocused Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, the Clippers should be seen as title contenders again right? With flashbacks of Nuggets fourth quarters still stuck in all our heads, it seems we as a collective NBA fanbase and media, cannot get over how bad it ended last season though. George even signed a max contract last week and it was mocked on twitter like he wasn’t a top 3 MVP candidate just a season ago. As much as I recognize the obvious biases we have against this team from that Denver series, I too cannot get over it. They still have a massive whole at point guard and Lou Williams and Patrick Beverley give me serious chemistry concerns after all the stories that have come out on last season. Still though, this team is as talented as any and needs to be respected, even if we can’t get past three successive disastrous fourth quarters when it mattered most.
The big question for the franchise: Was last year’s playoff flameout an aberration or should it be the expectation?
There’s just a fact of life now that George has consistently failed in playoff situations. Beyond just him though, Marcus Morris was bad all playoffs long and so were Beverley and Williams. Even Leonard was a shell of himself at a time when just a season prior it felt like he confirmed that was when he was made for. So now we all have to collectively ask ourselves if last season was a one off disappointment thanks to the unique set of bubble circumstances or, it was with a flawed group that just isn’t built for the playoffs so why should this be any different? For me, I unfortunately lean the latter. Ibaka and Kennard are upgrades for sure but to me, the real reason they failed was because they lacked a guard who could get them into a half court set down the stretch of games and they still haven’t acquired that guy. Beverley is a defender, not a true pg, Williams is just a scorer and as great as Leonard and George are, that just isn’t either of their games. Until they fix that, to me at least, the 2020 playoffs feel much more rule than aberration when it comes to the Los Angeles Clippers.
One move I want to see them make: Add a real point a guard
For me what was most concerning down the stretch of games even in the Dallas series was this team just lacked a dude who could settle things down and run the offence. It’s no coincidence they went so hard after Rondo and it’s also no coincidence why Kawhi was reportedly furious with that position after last season. After playing with Tony Parker, Kyle Lowry and even Fred VanVleet, Kawhi clearly has an eye for legitimacy at that position, something they’ve yet to address even still. Until they fix that spot, I just struggle to see much of anything changing for this franchise in this season’s playoffs.
Offseason Grade: B
As I said, my main goal for them would’ve been a guard and they failed at that. Similarly, Williams would’ve been out of the door right with Montrezl Harrell after the debacle of their simultaneously bad attitudes and abysmal playoff performances. However, the Ibake addition is a big upgrade over Harrell and Kennard is a fun addition for this team over Shamet. I’m also a big fan of the Nicholas Batum signing as well and think the Ty Lue hire was exactly what this franchise needed. With limited assets, they improved their team and if nothing else come into 2020 better, I just don’t think it’s enough better without the guard.
Young player I’m excited for: Luke Kennard
As I’ve kind of eluded to throughout, I’m excited to see what Kennard brings to this team. Last season he showed some real shot creation progress after a great playoff series against Milwaukee the season prior. If he can return to that form coming off an injury, I think he adds a really interesting angle that’s an upgrade over Shamet. Kennard is definitely first-team all-way-better-than-you-think-he-is and in this new more competitive situation I think he’ll be able to show that.
Last season was a failure, plain and simple. Now this team has a shot at redemption and it starts with Leonard and George. As obvious as the hole at point guard may still be, Leonard and George have to learn from the other duo in LA. Those two guys were so good in the bubble it didn’t particularly matter too much who else was on their team. If the Clippers want to avoid a two year run of disappointment, their duo will need to have a similar type of impact.