Editor's note: When we looked to expand the contributor staff at Clips Nation recently, one suggestion from the readership was to try to find someone who could provide an outsider perspective. Kevin Nesgoda is the managing editor of Sonics Rising, an NBA blog without an NBA team right now. Many Sonics fans, Kevin included, have adopted a rooting interest in the Clippers given the many Seattle connections on the team. Still, he should be able to let us know what the Clippers look like to the outside world, and he'll stop by from time to time to share his thoughts. — Steve
When the temperatures of Los Angeles dip into the mid 80s, ticket prices drop at Disneyland drop a bit, the media is usually going nuts about Kobe, the Lakers, how they are going to be chasing another championship, and everyone would wonder how the Clippers will blow their lottery pick this year.
This season things are different. It'll be the Lakers in the lottery (unless they drop out of the top five and then their pick goes to the Suns) and everyone is lumping the Clippers into the championship talk. There were murmurs of them potentially playing spoiler and sneaking into the Western Conference Finals last year, but the season ended with distraction-laden series against the Oklahoma City Thunder in the second round. The Thunder would lose to the eventual champion, Spurs, in the Western Conference Finals. The Spurs and Thunder were expected to be there, the Clippers not just yet.
This season appears to be different though. Kevin Durant is out for at least the first two months of the season (update: Westbrook's down for the count too now) and he might not be at his usual MVP-caliber self, then you have to look at the Spurs and wonder when Father Time will finally beat them.
Are the Clippers ready to ascend to the pinnacle in the West?
Talent-wise there is no argument. They are potentially the deepest team in the all of the NBA, one through twelve. They have the best point guard of our generation in Chris Paul, a legit superstar in Blake Griffin, one of the better coaches in the league in Doc Rivers, and two-time Sixth Man of the Year, Jamal Crawford. Not to mention the reign of terror and oppression of the Sterlings are over. Their new owner, Steve Ballmer...
Too often last season, the team would not be focused on the game or the team at hand. They would be looking forward to the next, more challenging game (see a November road loss to Orlando), just coming out flat and expecting the team to roll over (see the opening night loss to the Lakers), or just losing focus in general by letting bad calls get to them.
Teams that are on a championship level do not participate in any of those activities. Each regular season game is viewed as the same, it's all a warm-up for the playoffs. There are no off nights, each game is a chance to get better; no team should be viewed any differently than any other. They all want to prevent the Clippers from winning the game and from ultimately winning the championship at the end of the season.
The Clippers opened the season against an injury-riddled Thunder team, missing three starters and who lost Russell Westbrook after only nine minutes of play to an injury. Despite a clear advantage across the board the Clippers came out flat and played down to the level of Perry Jones and Sebastian Telfair. The fact that the Thunder had a chance to tie on the final shot of the game is a flat out joke. The starters should have all been out of the game and the bench should have been emptied all the way down to C.J. Wilcox and Reggie Bullock.
The Clippers were outrebounded by 14, they shot under 40% for the game, Paul missed clutch free throws, they gave up 32 points to Jones, couldn't capitalize on the 22 forced turnovers and at points it looked like they didn't care. That is not a championship look.
This could have just been first night jitters, even so there is no excuse for not ripping the Thunder's throat out early, burning their body and winning this game by at least 25 points. Right now I can't say this team is ready. Maybe the next three games against teams who will be selecting in the first eight picks in the upcoming draft will change my mind.