The majority of the media attention in Los Angeles has been around the Lakers since landing Steve Nash from Phoenix and Dwight Howard from Orlando this offseason. Strengthening an already strong roster housing Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol has put the Lakers in an almost unassailable position to take out the Western Conference this year, if not for many years to come. Whilst all this transpired, just down the Staples Centre hallway, LA’s ‘other’ team quietly had one of the better off-seasons in the NBA.
After emerging as a playoff threat last season for the first time since 2006 behind the trade for Chris Paul, the Los Angeles Clippers have gone about strengthening their roster around linchpins Paul and dunk machine Blake Griffin. Most recently having added journeyman Matt Barnes this weekend, the Clippers have focused on adding to one of the weaker bench units that was exposed by the injuries last season to guards Chauncey Billups and Eric Bledsoe. Trading for Wizards knucklehead Nick Young at last season’s trade deadline added scoring power to an anaemic scoring unit containing Mo Williams and Randy Foye. However the team was never quite the same after Billups went down on February 6th, being swept by the San Antonio Spurs in the 2nd round of the playoffs.
The Clippers decided to start scratch this season with their bench unit, axing Young and sending Foye and Williams to the Jazz and trading backup tall Reggie Evans to the Nets, retaining only Bledsoe, guard Travis Leslie and forward Trey Thompkins. In picking up Barnes from the Lakers and veteran Grant Hill from the Suns, the Clippers have two of the better wing defenders going around and will go a long way to keeping opposition guards out of the paint. Both are proven on the ball defenders and in the twilight of their careers are still searching for their first ring. In Barnes, the Clippers receive a proficient rebounder (5.5rpg in 2011-12) and a tenacious defender, even if he has a history of behavioural issues. Hill revived a career plagued by injury in Phoenix and will provide steady scoring from the baseline or off the dribble averaging 17.1ppg for his career.
Having guards consistently in the paint is a recipe towards having your power forwards and centres get in foul trouble game after game, and this was the case for Griffin and DeAndre Jordan last season. Only having Reggie Evans as a backup until picking up Kenyon Martin at the trade deadline, Del Negro had to rely on Thompkins getting more minutes than expected as his two starters regularly would have to sit early in quarters. This season marks Lamar Odom’s return to the franchise after beginning his career here back in 1999. Odom will be looking to revive his career after struggling to adjust from the Triangle offense he played in under Phil Jackson at the Lakers, which led to a falling out with Mavs owner Mark Cuban resulting in Odom sitting for the remainder of the season.
Joining Odom are former Heat centre Ronny Turiaf and former Celtic centre Ryan Hollins to bolster Del Negro’s supply of bigs. Both men played valuable minutes during the playoffs last season for teams both lacking in big men, especially Hollins. After spending the majority of his career as a bench warmer, Hollins will relish the chance to play more minutes for a playoff contender and hopefully will continue to grow into a reliable backup for the Clippers.
In picking up former 6th man of the year Jamal Crawford, the Clippers now have a genuine scorer to lead the bench unit. Combined with the defence of Barnes and Hill behind him, Crawford will be able to roam more defensively, getting in the passing lanes and looking to ignite the fast break whilst giving the Clippers another 4th quarter performer. Adding Willie Green from the Atlanta Hawks also gives them another offensive option while giving other players incentive to perform as the Clippers now have a plethora of backups capable of performing on any given night.
Lob City fans have plenty of reason to make noise about their team, which should challenge for the championship this season. This year’s reserves are a massive improvement on the previous unit, which so often had to rely on taking bad three-pointers last season. That however, wasn’t their fault, as coach Vinny Del Negro hasn’t been able to formulate an efficient offense yet. Having the team rely on individual brilliance from Paul, setting up Griffin and Jordan for the lob or penetrating the defence to kick out to the open shooter isn’t going to win championships, especially going up against teams like the Lakers, Thunder and Spurs in the west. But the Clippers can now take comfort in the fact that they have the talent to compete with their neighbours down the hall after only their 2nd winning season in a decade.
Ben Sathananthan is a first year student at Latrobe University studying a Bachelor of Journalism (Sports). You can follow his twitter at @bensathsports