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LA Clippers Season Preview: Tough as Nails, But Lacking Star Power

Here’s your big preview for the Clippers 2018-2019 season!

Los Angeles Clippers Media Day

The Lob City Era is finally, definitively over for the Clippers, and they’re now in a full-on retooling phase led by Lawrence Frank and Jerry West. Their short-term goals are clear: remain competitive, maintain future cap space, and build a competent, smooth-running organization. They have a tough, gritty team filled with competent veterans, and have faith they can make the playoffs this season after missing out last year. Whether they can actually pull a postseason berth off in a stacked Western Conference, however, is up for debate.

Team Name: Clippers

Last Year’s Record: 42-40

Key Losses: DeAndre Jordan, Austin Rivers, Sam Dekker

Key Additions: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Jerome Robinson, Luc Mbah a Moute, Marcin Gortat, Mike Scott

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

The Clippers flipped starting guard Austin Rivers for center Marcin Gortat to replace the departing DeAndre Jordan, who joined the Mavs in free agency. They also stocked up on veteran role players, bringing in Luc Mbah a Moute and Mike Scott, and re-signing Avery Bradley and Montrezl Harrell. In an interesting off the court move, the Clippers also brought journalist Lee Jenkins into their front office as a Director of Research, presumably as a play for big-time free agents next summer. Other player losses included Sam Dekker and C.J. Williams.

2. What are the team’s biggest strengths?

The Clippers’ biggest strengths this season are their depth and toughness. Outside of a couple unknowns in rookies Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Jerome Robinson, they run 12 deep with rotation players, all of whom are capable of playing 15+ minutes a game on a good team. This means that even if the Clippers sustain a couple injuries, they should be able to plug in other players and do just fine. Their bench should also be one of the best in the NBA, with reigning Sixth Man of the Year Lou Williams being joined by the promising Alexander, the deadly Harrell, and the highly competent Scott and Mbah a Moute.

Outside of Alexander, their projected rotation are all seasoned veterans with a tendency towards the tenacious and gritty. Led by bulldog point guard Pat Beverley, the Clippers are going to take a “never say die” attitude this season, a quality they displayed last season even with Pat out for most of the year. Per Beverley, they are “tough as nails”, and looking up and down their roster, it’s easy to see a team that will compete hard every single game this season. That’s no small thing in a league where teams often take games off due to laxness or exhaustion.

3. What are the team’s biggest weaknesses?

In a sad twist, the Clippers’ strengths and weaknesses have flipped from their Lob City days of glory. Rather than a star-laden squad furnished with little support, they boast a deep roster that lacks star power or standout offensive creation. While Tobias Harris, Lou Williams, and Danilo Gallinari are talented scorers, none of them are true stars, capable of carrying a team to the playoffs on their own. This lack of star power makes the Clippers a theoretically less dangerous team than others looking to lock up one of the bottom seeds in the Western Conference playoffs, such as the Nuggets, Spurs, Blazers, or Pelicans. This should play out most noticeably on the offensive end: when push comes to shove against tough defenses, will the Clippers be able to get good shots off? The NBA is a star driven league, and at least right now, the Clippers lack one. Therefore, their biggest x-factor is Tobias Harris, who’s the only player with a legitimate chance to make that leap to All-Star status this season.

4. What are the goals for this team?

The Clippers no longer have dreams of true contention, or a title run. Again, Chris Paul and Blake Griffin are long gone. Yet the Clippers believe they can make the postseason with their tough, veteran roster, and think that their ability to do so will have a large, positive impact on their ability to snag a star free agent next summer. They will therefore do all they can to make the postseason, as acquiring a star (or two) in 2019 is their most important near-term goal. If the playoffs are out of reach, the Clippers will turn more towards youth development, as their other potential golden ticket would be one of their younger players having a standout season.

5. Who’s the biggest breakout candidate on the Clippers?

It has to be Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. Shai was selected 11th by the Clippers in the 2018 draft, and they gave up two future picks to get him. He dominated in Summer League, showing smarts, poise, and craft beyond his years. Throughout training camp praise was heaped on Shai from coaches, teammates, and media members alike. Then, in his first preseason game, he looked like he belonged with the rest of the Clippers, getting several nice steals and making several gorgeous plays on the offensive end. Shai has the scoring, passing, and shooting skills to make an impact on offense from day one, and his length and quicks make him at the very least a steals-fiend on defense. It appears that Shai will get rotation minutes from day one, and could well move to a starting role if he plays well enough. The Clippers’ best chance of surprising this season is not through a trade, but through Gilgeous-Alexander having a standout campaign. And while a Donovan Mitchell type of season is highly unlikely, Shai is fully capable of having a special rookie season.

6. Who’s the most likely Clippers’ player to get traded during the season?

I’m not sure anyone but perhaps Gilgeous-Alexander is truly safe on this Clippers’ team, though I do think Tobias Harris and Jerome Robinson are very likely to remain put as well. I still believe that Milos Teodosic is the Clipper most likely to get moved this season (it could even happen before the regular season begins). The Clippers need to clear two roster spaces, and the position of their greatest depth is at point guard. Even if Milos makes the “final” roster, he’s clearly behind Pat Beverley, Bradley, and Lou in the guard rotation, and it seems quite possible that Shai has wormed his way ahead as well. Milos is a capable veteran, and would be a boon to any team that needs a competent backup point guard. He just doesn’t have much a role on this Clippers team, despite his large positive impact in the 2017-2018 season. And unlike a Jawun Evans or Ty Wallace, Milos actually has some trade value, making a trade that much more probable.