The Clippers were pretty much set to move on. They were up three to one over the Rockets needing to win just one of the next three games. They even got one on their home floor with a chance to end the series and advance to the team’s first ever Western Conference Finals. Instead, Doc Rivers is explaining how his team fell apart at press conferences and the front office is gearing up for the offseason. This seemed like the Clippers best shot at a championship unfortunately. There will be some turnover surrounding this team in the coming months. The question that is being floated out there is how much needs to change for LA?
The answer is not so simple. Let’s start with free agency. The Clippers have six unrestricted free agents set to hit the open market this summer. Most of them are role players but among them is DeAndre Jordan. Jordan will likely demand some pretty big money from the Clippers or another team if Los Angeles cannot get the deal done. The Clippers are slated to have the sixth largest cap number in the NBA heading into next season with very little financial flexibility.
However, with the cap set to skyrocket in 2016, the Clippers could find a way to backload Jordan’s deal and wait until they have more flexibility to start paying him. The only other free agent that scored more than four points a game is Austin Rivers and with his dad coaching the team, I think this will be where he continues to play. The Clippers are not losing anyone significant heading into next season.
The Clippers have a lot of the pieces needed to compete. They have an All-Star point guard and a secondary scorer. They have tons of athleticism. They also have a good deal of chemistry as this unit has been playing together for basically two years. They have elite three point shooting. In fact, the Clippers were the second best shooting team in the league behind only Golden State. There are a couple of things that the Clippers are desperately missing though from really competing.
Despite having the association’s best rebounder on a night-to-night basis in Jordan, the Clippers ranked 20th in the league in total rebounding. They tied with the Lakers for rebounding differential at 16th as well. The Clippers desperately need some rebounding from their bench and on the offensive end. Los Angeles ranked 28th in offensive boards and Spencer Hawes was the top rebounder off the bench with 3.5 per game.
For some comparison, the Rockets, who are another middle of the road rebounding team, had four bench players come up with more rebounds per night than Hawes. On top of all of that, Los Angeles was outrebounded 120-80 in Games 5 and 6. Without a doubt, there needs to be some more depths on this squad in terms of rebounding for them to compete.
Another point of emphasis this offseason has to be finding a replacement for Matt Barnes at small forward. At 36, Barnes is a good player who knows his role but he is really much better suited to come off the bench. He only average 7.8 points per game with 5 rebounds, 1.5 assists and 1.6 steals in the playoffs. He always seemed to be carrying a lot of fouls as well. Not to mention that his shooting percentage tanked to 38 percent from the field. He did have an ankle injury late in the Houston series but he was struggling before that.
If LA could have Barnes make his effort plays coming off the bench, that would be a huge asset for them. However, him contributing that much as the starting small forward is not enough. If somehow DeMarre Carroll, Tobias Harris, Draymond Green, Jimmy Butler or even Jae Crowder slip away from their current clubs, LA should pounce.
Overall, this team really is not broken. It just needs some tinkering. Doc Rivers has this team headed in the right direction but their championship window is definitely closing. Chris Paul is not getting any younger and his contract, along with Blake Griffin’s and J.J. Reddick’s, is set to expire in 2018. Keeping the band together past that point is not too likely. The Clippers are not out of time but the clock is definitely ticking a little louder now.