Los Angeles Clippers’ Depth a Major Asset
The Los Angeles Clippers are one of the deepest teams in the league.
In addition to top-flight talent in players like Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, the Clippers are stacked with an intriguing mixture of veterans and young athletes. While there won’t be enough minutes to go around when the team is fully healthy, the group’s positive chemistry should offset any individual gripes.
“I’ve talked to everybody about their role and accepting their role and what I expect from them,” Clippers head coach Vinny Del Negro said. “I don’t think there are going to be any surprises there. They understand it. Not everybody is going to like it at times because they’re competitive and they want to help their team. I’d rather guys play with a little bit of an edge.”
The Clippers have had many years where they’ve been on the brink of something special, but injuries have always seemed to creep in at the worst moments. To counter, management has loaded up the roster.
As long as the players buy in, the reduced minutes become an asset over an arduous 82-game schedule.
In addition to re-signing Chauncey Billups, who’s still recovering from an Achilles’ injury, the team traded for Lamar Odom and Willie Green. The Clippers also signed Jamal Crawford, Matt Barnes, Ronny Turiaf and Ryan Hollins. Odom has had a slow start getting into game-shape, nursing a knee injury. Hill is also out with a bone bruise on his knee.
ESPN analyst Kurt Rambis is impressed by the team’s potential this season. He likes the addition of Crawford, Hill, Odom and Barnes.
“Hopefully Hill can get healthy,” Rambis said. “Hopefully Billups can come back from his injury, even though Achilles’ surgery is a difficult injury to come back from. They have floor leadership, veteran presence, locker room presence and athletes. You can see that DeAndre Jordan has worked on his offensive game. It’s not as good as it can be and he’s going to continue to grow as a player.”
Jordan had a strong summer and while he’s not necessarily a low-post center garnering 20 touches a night, he’s determined to live up to his contract. He and Griffin are working together to be more vocal defensively. While it’s still a work in progress, they’re the most athletic pair of big men in the league.
“Hopefully Griffin can continue to develop not only his post moves but his facing-the-basket opportunities, whether its driving or knocking down the outside shot, to go along with his athleticism,” Rambis said. “They are a team that you could argue is the deepest, if not one of the deepest teams in the NBA, assuming everyone is healthy and everyone can play at a high level.”
Paul suffered a thumb injury over the summer, which gave extra preseason minutes to third-year guard Eric Bledsoe, who is emerging as a force off the bench for the Clippers.
“He’s grown a lot, the short amount of time he’s been with the Clippers,” Los Angeles Lakers head coach Mike Brown said of Bledsoe. “He’s extremely athletic. He’s long for a small guard. He’s very, very quick and explosive. He understands his role and his strengths. He’s a guy that can really come in and change the tempo defensively.”
After getting off to a slow start last season while recovering from knee surgery, Bledsoe broke through in the postseason when the Clippers faced the Memphis Grizzlies and San Antonio Spurs. Now, he’s someone Del Negro looks to get on the floor whenever possible.
“He’s been playing well,” Del Negro said. “His athleticism, his activity but we can’t always get away with that just because of the size factor and Chris is going to be out there.”
Paul is one of the game’s elite point guards. The two can play together if match-ups allow.
“He’ll pick up full court, he’ll turn the ball and get a steal or two here,” Brown said of Bledsoe. “He’ll get their bench group energized and get their starters on the bench excited and hyped to come back in.
“He’s a game changer in a lot of ways,” Brown continued. “He’s a problem. He’s good.”
That hasn’t gone unnoticed around the league. The Clippers have received plenty of inquiries regarding the former Kentucky guard, but sources say the team isn’t interested in exploring any move involving Bledsoe until they have Paul locked in on a long-term contract. It’s not likely to be a topic for this season.
“Eric deserves minutes,” Del Negro said. “That’s probably going to be the standard for a lot of guys on this roster because we do have a deep team. Even now, we’re deep with a few main guys out. It’s about sacrifice and what’s best for the team.”
Green has started in Billups’ stead with Del Negro keeping Crawford as firepower off the bench. Crawford already looks like the leading candidate for Sixth Man of the Year.
Once Billups is healthy, Green’s minutes will likely diminish. Barnes has been flourishing behind Caron Butler, something worth noting when Hill is healthy.
Both Billups and Hill could be back before December, but the Clippers are simply not in a rush. The depth they have is helping to carry the team. It’s more important to have their veterans at full strength for the second half and playoffs.
Paul is pleased with the team’s make-up.
“I told the guys on the team that I have the easy part,” Paul said. “All I have to do is pass it. They are the ones that make the shots.”
Paul has no incentive to sign an extension until he hits free agency. The Clippers can only offer him three additional years during the season but in July, they can pony up for a full five years.
A number of NBA executives have said they expect Paul to stay with the Clippers, but that won’t stop some from making aggressive overtures.
In the meantime, Paul is trying to get the Clippers to heights they’ve never climbed as an organization.
“We have so much depth,” Paul said. “And that’s what makes our team so special.”