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Los Angeles Clippers 2015-2016 Season Preview

The Clippers are reloaded and ready to rumble.

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Team Name: Los Angeles Clippers

Last Year's Record: 56-26

Key Losses: Matt Barnes, Glen Davis, Spencer Hawes

Key Additions: Lance Stephenson, Paul Pierce, Wesley Johnson, Josh Smith, Cole Aldrich

1. What significant moves were made during the off-season?

It has been a busy off-season. The Clippers retained DeAndre Jordan by holding him hostage, lured Josh Smith away from the Houston Rockets, and won the Paul Pierce sweepstakes over the Washington Wizards, Boston Celtics, and retirement. The team also added Wesley Johnson and bought low on Lance Stephenson by trading Matt Barnes and Spencer Hawes to the Charlotte Hornets. The team is now defensively anchored and has a plethora of options for small forward.

The team also made some depth-related moves by adding Cole Aldrich and Pablo Prigioni. While neither of these two figure will likely garner a lot of attention, they still represent important reserves for the bench.They are not here to ride the bench and cheer (i.e. Trey Thompkins). Aldrich is the only real big on the bench and should see use in games against big men with legitimate inside game. (The Clippers are otherwise looking at either Josh Smith or even Paul Pierce to play some backup minutes at power forward.) Prigioni is a savvy veteran point guard that could see emergency spot starts if Chris Paul becomes injured.

2. What are the team's biggest strengths?

Two stick out:

First: the consistently top notch starting lineup's core. The Clippers' starters, with their four core players of DeAndre Jordan, Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, and J.J. Redick, were the most efficient starting lineup in the entire NBA. This core returns and remains in its prime.

Second: the new strength for the Clippers will be its depth. While the team so far this the preseason has not looked great, the talent and options exist. The Clippers' roster now boosts probably the deepest team that Doc Rivers has ever had. The team is no longer left to praying that their starting SF is both effective and healthy. The task is finding what rotation/mixture of the bench players works best. This contrasts with last year's team when the options just did not exist. The Clippers' bench last year played the least amount of minutes of any team in the NBA. (A few times Jamal Crawford was forced to play SF with the starters.) Now the Clippers have an assortment of bench players that can be looked to for contributions. The real task is finding a way to have the reserve offense happen within ball movement and not a bunch of isolation plays.

3. What are the team's biggest weaknesses?

For all its talent, the Clippers lack a backup "point" guard. Unfortunately Austin Rivers is not the answer for that role. Austin has potential to be a scoring guard that provides good offensive spark off the bench. However, he does not have good court vision. Jamal Crawford is a better passer than Austin and he is probably not the solution either. The Clippers brought in Pablo Prigioni to potentially be that pass-first point guard off the bench, but it remains to be seen how he plays out and how many minutes he can play per game. A possible alternative, or at least temporary solution, is to have the team utilize multiple ball handlers on the court with no specific point guard. This option is possible because there are players that are familiar with the ball in their hands. However, as the preseason has highlighted so far, it is one thing to handle the ball and another to actually distribute it within a team offense. The Clippers' second preseason game exemplified how bad things could be in a disjointed reserve offense: 6 assists, 18 turnovers. Ouch.

4. What are the goals for this team?

The immediate goal is for Doc Rivers to determine the rotations for the bench and starters. He could proceed by just experimenting and seeing what combination of players works best. Alternatively, Doc could just assign roles and give the players spelled out roles that they will adapt around. Whatever route he takes, Doc needs to sort out the bench ASAP. The Western Conference this year is extremely rough and every game will matter in the standings.

The seasonal goal should be making the Western Conference Finals. While it is reasonable to think of the Clippers as a championship or bust kind of team, people need to accept the current reality of the Western Conference. The first reality is how absurdly stacked it has become. There are about six teams in the Western Conference that could legitimately contend and win an NBA title: (in no order) the Spurs, Grizzlies, Clippers, Rockets, Thunder, and Warriors. Any of these six teams placed in the East would become the instant favorite to win the conference (sorry Cleveland, you are just a benefactor of the easiest strength of schedule). This year the Western Conference will have two first round pairings display a match ups that are essentially equivalent to a semifinal, if not Western Conference Finals match up. The West will be ugly, unfair, and unforgiving. Any team that suffers a notable injury may instantly see its path to the NBA title game become Mount Everest. The Clippers have yet to make a conference final. So for now they should aim to merely make the Western Conference Finals. That would be a first and unquestionably a step forward.

5. Which team do the Clippers not want to see in the playoffs?

In the past I would have said the San Antonio Spurs. They're a savvy group of players that have defied father time. Their execution is second to none. Coach Popovich is the only coach in the NBA that I would rate as better than Doc Rivers. Their addition of LaMarcus Aldridge and David West only makes them tougher. Yet the Clippers beat the Spurs last year in the playoffs. The psychological fear of an invincible juggernaut has been replaced by the mere knowledge of the Spurs being a really really good team.

Instead, the Clippers probably want to avoid the Golden State Warriors in the playoffs. The Warriors are young /healthy, well coached, and won an absurd 67 games last year. (It makes you wonder how many games they would've won had they played in the Eastern Conference.) Just as the Spurs had an aura of invincibility, the Warriors seem to have that aura now given their lights out shooting led by Stephen Curry. No lead against them seems safe.

Prediction: The Clippers will win 55 to 60 games and secure the second seed in the Western Conference. By securing the second seed, the Clippers will get a favorable match up in the first round and advance to the Western semifinals in relatively healthy shape. After surviving a tough six game series against a worn out opponent, the Clippers advance to  the Western Conference Finals against the defending champions, the Golden State Warriors. This epic Battle for California will end in seven games after a five hour long Game 7 that witnesses DeAndre Jordan shoot 60 free throws. The Clippers lose Game 7 and in predictable fashion the NBA finally changes its rules after the season to once again address a rule that screwed the Clippers over the year before.