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Clips From The Mailbag: Satchel #1

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In a series that could be coming your way weekly or bi-weekly, we answer Clipper-related questions that people send in via Twitter or email. This is the inaugural Clips From The Mailbag.

Annette Smith

In the famous words of Doctor Nick from the iconic cartoon show "The Simpsons," "Hi, everybody!" Welcome to the first edition of what is, in some ways, just a question and answer forum for fans who want to ask Clipper-related questions to any of us. All we do is answer them and encourage them to keep sending them in since interaction is one of the vital instruments of life. So sit back and enjoy this inaugural session.

What are the Los Angeles Clippers most anticipated games this season?

From a schedule standpoint, it’s quite clear that any game against the higher-ups in the Western Conference will be viewed as "anticipated." Beyond that, opening night is always anticipated as is the first home game of the year. For the Clippers, that means the season opening game on the road against the Sacramento Kings and then the following night at home against the Dallas Mavericks. After that, the first game on the road against the Mavericks – November 11th – will be big from a storyline perspective and the Christmas Day game against the Los Angeles Lakers will be a "must see" affair since it’s Christmas and it’s against the cross-hall brethren. Also, Martin Luther King Day games are ones you don’t want to miss and this year is no different as the Clippers will be at home to take on the Houston Rockets. There’s also road games against the Boston Celtics (February 10th), Brooklyn Nets (December 12th), Charlotte Hornets (December 30th), and Indiana Pacers (January 26th). Those games mark a return to old stomping grounds for Paul Pierce, Doc Rivers, and Lance Stephenson. Lastly, the Cleveland Cavaliers and LeBron James come to town on March 13th in what is scheduled to be a Sunday afternoon ABC game. Any game against the best player in basketball is big.

Any in-season trades you predict?

It’s hard to predict trades for any team before the season begins and it’s even tougher sometimes to predict trades for the team you cover. The obvious one is Jamal Crawford getting moved somewhere but there’s no way of knowing the team(s) that would want to trade for him and what the Clippers could reasonably get back in return. It seems easy to say, though, that with the track record Doc Rivers has put together in the last couple years with the Clippers, if a recent addition doesn’t pan out quickly then they could almost certainly be on the move – or even just outright waived – in any combination of deals. We’ve seen it with the likes of Jared Dudley, Spencer Hawes, Reggie Bullock, Chris Douglas-Roberts, and Jordan Farmar. The easy money is on Crawford being the guy traded this season, if in fact he is traded at all, but others could also go if they don’t work out right away. Doc Rivers’ job is also on the line here, so to speak, since these are moves he’s made and very few have panned out all that well. He’s got a road ahead of him and we’ll see how the team peruses the trade market.

Will Jamal Crawford last an entire season on the team?

In a way, we just touched on this but we’ll discuss it again. There’s no way of knowing whether or not Crawford will last the entire season on the team. The fact of the matter is that Crawford is more valuable to the Clippers than he is to another team but that value might have taken a hit this season with the additions of Lance Stephenson, Wesley Johnson, Paul Pierce, and Josh Smith. None of them have the raw scoring skillset of Crawford but they all do things in a much more efficient way when they’re playing the way they should play. Crawford is always an enigma. When he’s on, he’s mind-numbingly dazzling. When he’s off, he’s one of the worst players you can throw on the court. If Stephenson – who seems like he could take Crawford’s role off the bench as a distributor and creator – plays well early on, the need for Crawford diminishes greatly and a trade seems much more likely.

How do you feel about DeAndre Jordan being one spot behind Dirk Nowitzki on the Sports Illustrated Top 100 NBA Players of 2016 list?

While it might seem weird at first, one spot isn’t really that big of a deal if we’re being honest here. The two players are going in completely opposite directions as Jordan moved up from #38 just before the 2014-15 season all the way to #29 before the start of this upcoming season. Meanwhile, Nowitzki, who was #14 last year, is now #28 this year. One is a legend on the downswing of his career and the other is an in-his-prime center who is only getting better and better. One spot shouldn’t make people freak out but I’m sure some have. While Nowitzki had a rough year offensively – and "rough year" makes it sound worse than it really was since the guy still had an eFG% of 50.8 and a TS% of 56.0, which would be an awesome year for most – he still is a threat night-in and night-out whereas Jordan, quite frankly, isn’t. The ranking was fair.

How much 3 – small forward – will Josh Smith play this year?

Hopefully not a lot. Look, Smith’s best moments last season came with him at the power forward or even center spot for the Houston Rockets. The issue with Smith lies in the fact that he can’t play small forward anymore. It’s simply a waste of space – quite literally – and talent. The Detroit Pistons tried many times, and failed many times, to shoehorn Smith into the small forward spot alongside Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond. That never panned out since, in this era of the NBA, spacing is at a premium and that trio provides none of it. The trio played 174 minutes last year and had a Net Rating of -3.3. The previous season it was -8.0 in 1361 minutes. Smith at small forward doesn’t work and I doubt Doc Rivers even tries it unless he attempts to go "super big" defensively with a lineup of Stephenson-Johnson-Smith-Griffin-Jordan for whatever reason. Don’t expect Smith at the three.

Will there be enough minutes to go around? How do you see everyone's minutes per game shaking out?

There should be enough minutes to go around. There has to be. If things go according to plan, which they seldom do, then Chris Paul and Blake Griffin should actually see their minutes per game decrease this upcoming season. DeAndre Jordan and J.J. Redick, as well. Those four were the only players on the team to average at least 30 minutes per game last season and all four returned. But they all have help now. Paul and Redick could get spelled quite a bit more by Lance Stephenson, as well as Austin Rivers and Jamal Crawford, while Griffin and Jordan will get a break thanks to the increased forward rotation that now includes Paul Pierce and Josh Smith. Throw Cole Aldrich in there, too, if you want. There will also be spot minutes, presumably, to guys like Pablo Prigioni, C.J. Wilcox, Chuck Hayes, and Branden Dawson depending on how games are going.

As far as minutes per game goes, I think we’ll see the three-headed monster of Paul-Griffin-Jordan average around 33-34 minutes per game this year apiece while Redick sees his minutes dip to around 28. Pierce and Smith each probably get 20 minutes a night while Johnson gets 12-15, Lance gets 15-20, and then the rest fill in as needed. Crawford likely gets 15-20, as well. There will be a lot of jostling with lineups to get guys their minutes but it should all fit together in the end. At the very least, you hope so.

What will be the Clippers most potent lineup besides the starters?

The interesting part is that we don’t even know what the Clippers starting lineup will look like since there’s still a decision to be made as far as small forward goes. The current rumor going around is that Wesley Johnson would start at small forward in order to bring Paul Pierce off the bench and help save his legs for the playoffs. It would also allow Pierce to play a stretch four role off the bench, which is what he’s probably better suited for right now offensively and defensively. Operating under the assumption that this rumor is true and Johnson is the starting small forward, a lineup of Rivers-Crawford-Stephenson-Pierce-Smith could be an extremely potent lineup off the bench. However, if you want to mix starters in there, a lineup of Paul-Redick-Stephenson-Pierce-Griffin could be awesome to watch due to their spacing with Paul, Redick, and Pierce as well as the creativity offensively with Paul, Stephenson, and Griffin. That lineup could do some serious damage.

I know the Western Conference is competitive but do you see the Clippers being a Top 2 seed and taking home either a Most Valuable Player or Defensive Player of the Year award?

When evaluating the rest of the Western Conference, you have to remember that the defending champions – Golden State Warriors – and the team who won the title two years ago – San Antonio Spurs – are still out there as major obstacles. The Spurs added All-Star power forward LaMarcus Aldridge to the fold and certainly look scarier than they were a year ago when they were a mere victory on the last day of the regular season away from the two seed. Warriors return mostly everyone except for David Lee, who was shipped out to Boston and the Warriors ended up acquiring Jason Thompson a few days later. Oklahoma City Thunder should be better since they’ll, presumably, be healthy and the Houston Rockets added Ty Lawson for next to nothing. Memphis Grizzlies will always be a threat since they wear you down and the New Orleans Pelicans aren’t exactly a pushover since they feature one of the top players in the game; Anthony Davis.

Any team expecting to be a Top 2 seed in the West is basically fooling themselves because the conference is so tough at the top. Most people are banking on the Warriors and Spurs being the top two seeds, and that’s fine, but we just don’t know. As of right now, I can’t say the Clippers will be a Top 2 seed and I don’t see them taking home either of those awards. LeBron James probably wins the Most Valuable Player Award and Defensive Player of the Year likely goes to someone like Rudy Gobert. Clippers don’t need the individual accolades. They need to get to the playoffs in one piece and stay that way. Health and fatigue are the most important things for the team this season.