Like we are currently seeing in the NFL, the 2011 NBA off-season is up in the air with a lockout looming. Free agency could be delayed and completely restructured depending on the new agreement reached by the owners and players. Still, The Sports Bank continues to break down all thirty NBA teams to see what areas they need to address in the off-season.
One player can completely transform a franchise. The Los Angeles Clippers are not yet a NBA playoff team but received an enormous boost this past season as Blake Griffin has superstar written all over him. Now the Clippers must surround the face of their franchise with improved talent this off-season.
By: David Kay
Los Angeles Clippers (32-50 last season)
2010-2011 Season Summary:
The wait was well worth it. After sitting out his first season in the league, Blake Griffin’s rookie year exceeded the already lofty expectations surrounding the 2009 first overall pick as he averaged 22.5 points and 12.1 rebounds per game and was unanimously selected Rookie of the Year. Besides pulling off ridiculous dunk after ridiculous dunk highlighted by him leaping over the hood of a car in the Dunk Contest, Griffin provided the Clips with a face of the franchise and someone who they can build around for the future.
Outside of Griffin, there were several other encouraging signs this past season. Despite missing 26 games due to a wrist injury, Eric Gordon raised his scoring average and proved to be a dangerous perimeter threat to compliment Griffin’s effectiveness in the paint. Third year center DeAndre Jordan also made a major leap, giving the Clippers a physical, rebounding, shot blocking presence inside as he replaced Chris Kaman who was limited to just 32 games because of injury.
In what seemed like a great move at the time, L.A. dumped Baron Davis and the two-years, almost $29 million remaining on his contract on the Cavs in exchange for Mo Williams. Unfortunately, the Clips also threw in their 2011 first round pick which ended up being the ping pong ball chosen for the first overall pick. Still, getting rid of Davis, who began the year on the bench because he showed up of shape, was an opportunity the Clippers could not pass up.
First round draft picks Eric Bledsoe and Al-Farouq Aminu showed flashes but lacked the experience or consistency to be difference makers as rookies. With time, they should improve and be valuable pieces for the future.
Despite the positives, the Clippers lacked the depth to overcome their injury issues and once again finished well out of the Western Conference playoff picture. Veterans like Ryan Gomes and Randy Foye are more than likely short term solutions at their respective positions but were counted on to play significant roles due to a lack of all-around talent.
2011-12 Projected Depth Chart:
C: Chris Kaman/*DeAndre Jordan
PF: Blake Griffin/^Brian Cook
SF: Ryan Gomes/Al Farouq-Aminu/#Jamario Moon
SG: Eric Gordon/Randy Foye/Willie Warren
PG: Mo Williams/Eric Bledsoe
PF-Craig Smith (UFA)
PF-Ike Diogu (UFA)
*C-DeAndre Jordan (RFA)
#SF-Jamario Moon (TO)
^PF-Brian Cook (PO)
’11-’12 Team Salary: approximately $44.9 million
1. Re-Sign Jordan:
With the growth he displayed this past season and the fact that he only turns 23 years old this summer, the Clippers should make re-signing DeAndre Jordan their top off-season priority. He is a true center and a great future frontcourt running mate for Blake Griffin. Jordan should be a pretty hot commodity this off-season and will probably cost a pretty penny to keep but L.A. has the option to match any offer he signs. With Chris Kaman in the final year of his deal, Los Angeles has a need for a long-term center though it is debatable as to which big man is the better fit alongside Griffin. Bringing Jordan back would make Kaman expendable and possibly land another key player or two via trade.
2. Small Forward:
Assuming they pass on the team option Jamario Moon has on his contract for next season, L.A. will once again have a rotation of Gomes and Aminu at small forward. While Aminu has potential, he is not yet ready to assume the full-time starter role and Gomes should not be starting for a playoff contender. If the Clippers can find an immediate up-grade at the three who can bring leadership and more versatility, it is something they should pursue. There are several veterans on the market like Tayshaun Prince, Shane Battier, Grant Hill, Caron Butler, or Andrei Kirelinko who could be had for a reasonable price and give the Clips a more dangerous starting five. If they do decide to deal Kaman, look for them to want a starting small forward in return.
3. Build Momentum:
The Clippers have been the red-headed step child of Los Angeles basketball for far too long and finally built some buzz due to Griffin’s presence. With the Lakers being swept out of the second round of the NBA Playoffs and undergoing a change at head coach, there is a small window for the Clips to gain even more momentum as a franchise and finally stop being the laughing stock of the league. They have talented young pieces and are in a great cap situation heading into the future. Let’s just hope Donald Sterling does not do anything to screw that up.
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David Kay is a senior feature NBA Draft, NBA, and college basketball writer for the Sports Bank. He also heads up the NBA and college basketball material at Walter Football.com and is a former contributor at The Washington Times Communities.