Clippers’ Season Comes to a Close
The San Antonio Spurs finished off the Los Angeles Clippers on Sunday night 102-99, advancing to the Western Conference Finals to face either the Oklahoma City Thunder or Los Angeles Lakers. Given the Thunder’s 3-1 lead going back to Oklahoma City, they appear to be the Spurs’ likely opponent.
The Spurs took an early lead, but the Clippers were competitive with Chris Paul’s best game of the series and an explosive performance from Eric Bledsoe (17 points on 8-10 shooting). The game would come down to the wire with a chance for Paul to save the Clippers, and he just couldn’t deliver.
Hampered by groin and hip injuries, Paul has struggled against the Spurs. The Clippers never really had a chance without Paul at his best and, while both Games 2 and 3 were winnable, the series is complete.
“I had two opportunities, being in that situation all season long, a lot of times I was able to come through,” said Paul. “So to let my team down in that situation is probably the toughest part of the season and something I’ll think about for a while.”
Paul refused to blame his health.
“I messed up. Bad decisions. Bad decisions,” said Paul. “I should have shot it and I missed the shot. It’s all on me.”
Clippers head coach Vinny Del Negro was more forgiving.
“He doesn’t have that extra burst that he usually has,” said Del Negro. “We’re not in the second round of the playoffs without Chris Paul.”
Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich spoke highly of the Clippers and Del Negro.
“In a really quick season, without a real training camp, I thought they did a great job,” said Popovich. “Vinny has got them playing great.”
Of course it remains to be seen which direction the Clippers go from here. Del Negro is going into the final year of his contract, but it’s a team option.
Perhaps the Clippers look to go in a different direction but so fresh off of the loss, that’s just not clear yet.
The organization has to consider the long-term prospects of keeping Blake Griffin and Paul. Griffin will be eligible for an extension this summer. Paul is going into the final year on his deal and can either extend or hit free agency in 2013 and sign a new deal with the team.
“I haven’t given it one ounce of thought,” said Griffin on an extension. “That’s been the furthest thing from my mind, honestly. I’ll get to that when it comes.”
How Paul and Griffin feel about Del Negro probably holds sway over his future.
“I think coach did an outstanding job,” said Paul. “Also, [Vice President of Basketball Operations Neil Olshey] and all them in the front office … I think the way they managed everything was great.
Of course Chris isn’t happy that the Clippers’ run has been extinguished.
“We had a good season,” said Paul. “We still feel we should be playing.”
Statistically, the Clippers need to improve on the boards; they were out-rebounded by 5.2 a game through 11 postseason appearances. Additionally, the Clippers shot just 66.7 percent from the line including a combined 51.5 percent from DeAndre Jordan, Reggie Evans and Griffin.
“I need to improve in a lot of areas,” said Griffin. “Shooting the basketball, that’s obviously something I’m going to work on. Defensively, just studying the game and watching things and trying to improve really in every area. There’s a ton of room for improvement.”
“Coming into camp next year, we’re going to expect more – a lot more,” continued Griffin. “It’s going to be a big summer for all of us. I need to get better. Everybody has to get better.”
Del Negro is confident in his young All-Star.
“He’s going to work on his shooting … free throws and shooting in general,” said the Clippers coach. “People tend to forget this is Blake and DeAndre’s first playoffs. They’re just starting their careers. They’re young kids.”
The Clippers have a number of offseason concerns to address in addition to Del Negro’s contract.
According to Ramona Shelburne of ESPNLosAngeles.com, Mo Williams will not opt out of the final year of his deal at $8.5 million.
It will be interesting to see who the Clippers can afford to keep, how they’re able to improve the team and if they’ll be hesitant to climb above the luxury tax threshold. Already the team, with Williams, has about $58.5 million in guaranteed contracts next season and the tax threshold is expected to be $70.3 million.
“We have to do a good job moving forward putting certain types of players around Chris and Blake,” said Del Negro. “That’s the next step obviously and that will help ease some of the strain and some of the things he had to deal with this year in terms of carrying us at times especially in the fourth quarters.”
“You have to get shooters. [Paul] can control the game and he can score when he needs to (obviously when he’s healthy),” continued Del Negro. “We’ve got to get some shooters and space the court for him a little bit. It will help Blake. It will help our spacing.”
Randy Foye, Nick Young, Kenyon Martin, Chauncey Billups, Reggie Evans and Bobby Simmons will all be free agents this summer.
“I don’t want to go anywhere. I love this playoff atmosphere,” Young said. “It’s great to walk around the city and keep your head held high, and the fans see how hard we worked.”
How do the Clippers keep the roster together, add to it and avoid the luxury tax?
Still, times have clearly changed for the Clippers. Their last postseason appearance in 2006 went seven games into the second round and while this postseason didn’t last as long, the current squad looks to have a brighter, more long-term future than that one-hit wonder.
“It was the start of something very good here,” said Del Negro. “[I] look forward to improving the roster and the team as we move forward.”
It remains to be seen just exactly what that looks like for both the Clippers and Del Negro.