LOS ANGELES (AP) The Los Angeles Clippers bulked up their roster with nine new players in a bid to win a championship that has so far eluded the franchise.
Coach Doc Rivers is in the process of figuring out how to use everyone while also getting better defensively.
”This is clearly the most talent that we’ve had since I’ve been here,” said Rivers, starting his third season. ”I don’t even think it’s close.”
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The Clippers won at least 56 games in each of Rivers’ two previous seasons. Last season, they were eliminated in the Western Conference semifinals for the third time in four years, blowing a 3-1 series lead against Houston.
”We have to put it all together,” Blake Griffin said, ”and it’s on all of us to make sure that happens.”
Rivers, as president of basketball operations, brought in nine newcomers over the summer, while retaining center DeAndre Jordan and his own son Austin Rivers. Jordan came close to leaving for the Dallas Mavericks – even telling owner Mark Cuban he was on board – before a well-documented change of heart.
Among the newcomers is Paul Pierce, who returned to his hometown to likely finish out his career and reunite with Rivers, his coach in Boston; along with Josh Smith and Lance Stephenson, who is looking to restore a flagging reputation.
”I know that Paul’s a great teammate and a veteran in this league who has done something that none of us have done,” Chris Paul said, referring to the NBA title that Pierce won in Boston, when he was MVP of the Finals.
Some things to watch for this season with the Clippers:
HACK-A-D.J.: Is this the year the big man finally improves his abysmal free throw shooting? He averaged 39.7 percent from the line last season, making him a fourth-quarter liability for his team and an easy target for repeated fouling by opponents. Hack-a-Jordan proved a popular late-game strategy last season and although Jordan kept his cool, he didn’t convert often enough to discourage opponents from trying it.
SECOND UNIT: How well do former Sixth Man of the Year Jamal Crawford and the newcomers blend off the bench? With the Clippers now three-deep at every position, playing time will be at a premium among the reserves corps, which features more ballhandlers than ever before – including his son. Keeping everyone happy and productive will be one of Rivers’ biggest tasks.
ANOTHER PAUL: Pierce has something the Clippers’ franchise desperately wants: an NBA title. He and Rivers won the 2008 Finals together in Boston. Now Pierce, who recently turned 38, will lend his voice to a locker room long dominated by the Big Three of Griffin, Paul and Jordan. How much playing time the 10-time All-Star gets could also determine how well he blends into the team.
KILLER INSTINCT: The Clippers need to prove they’ve learned how to close out games after the embarrassing loss to Houston last season. They’ve failed to advance past the second round of the playoffs for the third time in four years. There were times during the regular season they built comfortable double-digit leads only to blow them in the fourth quarter and lose or barely hang on.
STARTING OVER: Stephenson joins the Clippers from Charlotte, which traded him after one season. He’s best known for blowing in the ear of LeBron James while with Indiana during the 2014 Eastern Conference Finals. Stephenson had a promising career going with the Pacers before it went off track.