Kevin Durant's decision to flee Oklahoma City to join the Golden State Warriors may have not have had a major effect on how certain teams approached the offseason, but it has cast a sort of pall over the rest of the league. Regardless of what moves other clubs make this summer the Warriors are always going to be looming as the odds-on favorite to bring the title back to Oakland next season.
The Clippers' approach to this offseason isn't entirely different from the way they've gone about it in years past. With so much money committed to three players, Doc Rivers and company have had to get creative with how they fill out the roster. Typically, that's meant trying to nab cheap veterans willing to accept fringe roles. They struck gold with that method last year, landing a capable wing defender (Luc Mbah a Moute), a decent two-way winger (Wesley Johnson) an excellent rim-protecting backup center (Cole Aldrich), all with minimum deals.
This summer, with Pablo Prigioni, Jeff Green and Aldrich all having moved on, Rivers has had to do the same dance again. He seems to have done a solid job - especially considering the way money is flying around - in snagging Raymond Felton, Marreese Speights and Brandon Bass all at minimum price. Retaining Jamal Crawford, Austin Rivers, Johnson and Mbah a Moute effectively keeps most of last season's core intact.
The front office also made the decision to essentially swap two young bench parts (C.J. Wilcox, Branden Dawson) out for two newer, younger ones (Brice Johnson, Diamond Stone). Johnson figured to be capable of contributing right away, though the moves for Bass and Speights make his role look less definitive. We'll probably only see Stone in blowouts, barring some sort of injury catastrophe.
In a world in which Timofey Mozgov and Miles "the not-so-great Plumlee" Plumlee combine to bank $116 million, grabbing the Felton-Bass-Speights triumvirate from Dollar Tree is wonderful business for the Clips. LAC will have one final roster spot to fill if they jettison Michineau into the sun (or stash him in Europe, as it were), and they'll probably add to their depth on the wing. If Paul Pierce retires, they'll have yet another open space.
If you count Brice Johnson and whichever veteran they add with their final spot, the Clips figure to have 13 guys capable of playing actual minutes. 14 if Pierce calls it quits. There obviously aren't enough minutes to go around to where they'd all see regular time, but having that many playable pieces hopefully will give the Clippers the versatility they've lacked in recent seasons.
We're headed into the most important season of the current Clipper era. The club's brass has resisted the idea of tinkering with the core with the hope that it'll all come together for them at some point, much like it did for the Mavericks in 2011. Have they been stubborn in hoping against hope that it'll pay off in the end? That largely depends on what happens this season.
The Warriors are the only team in the league with realistic championship pressure, but the Clips are under a different kind of microscope. This is a team absolutely built to win now. The clock is ticking on this LAC core, and we're only guaranteed one more season of it before Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and J.J. Redick can each decide to bail. This certainly isn't to say that they're all on their way out the door, but this is the last guaranteed year of the "Core Four." They've fought close with Golden State in the two years since GSW transformed into a juggernaut, but the Dubs have still won seven of the eight regular season meetings. Close can only get you so far.
Nobody's expecting anybody to beat Golden State, but the best chance any non-LeBron team seems to have is to attack them in numbers. #StrengthInNumbers, which, ironically, has been the Warriors' battle cry over the last couple of seasons, is the method the Clips will apparently try and replicate. Hope is a strategy, as well, you know.
The Clippers should know as well as any other team that trying to win with a short roster can result in disaster (see: the 2014 Western Conference Semifinals). The Warriors won't be as shallow as that Clipper team thanks to a slew of ring-chasing veterans joining them at pennies on the dollar, but no team is invincible. And that's a lesson the holdovers from last season's Warriors know all too well.
In keeping this group together, the Clippers have gone all-in on 2016-17. Rivers has tried repeatedly to find the right talent around which to surround Paul, Griffin, Redick and DeAndre Jordan, and this will be the third straight season that the bench looks considerably different than the one from the season prior.
This season has an air of finality about it for the Clippers as we know them. Either it'll all finally come together in a glorious convergence of perseverance and pluckiness, or they'll be panicked sellers at the deadline. There is an in-between here, too, but it's murky. There's no telling which of the aforementioned free agents-to-be will stick around if things don't work out as the Clippers would hope. If they come up short again, the best era in the history of the franchise could dissolve in a year with nothing but a few 50-win seasons to show for it.
The parallels with the 2011 Mavs are strong. While most of the other Western Conference powers have shuffled the decks, the Clips have stayed on the warpath with the same primary core. In order to reach their ultimate goal they'll almost surely have to go through the league's newest Axis power, much like Dallas did in the first season of the Flying Death Machine Heat. As was the case with Miami, Golden State figures to have some growing pains as they try to sort things out with so many new faces coming in. The Warriors will be amazing, of course, but could also be vulnerable.