There might be a lot of people who may have to wait on that early delivery of handing the Cleveland Cavaliers and San Antonio Spurs the NBA title next season. Just a couple of weeks ago, the Los Angeles Clippers were getting a failing grade for their offseason transactions when it was thought the team would lose center DeAndre Jordan to free agency. That “F” has turned into an “A” now.
What looked like a scenario where the Clippers might slip back into mediocrity with the apparent bolt of Jordan to the Dallas Mavericks, has now turned into a squad looking to do serious business in the NBA’s Western Conference.
The pickup of hybrid forward Josh Smith just made the Clippers the most dangerous team in the Western Conference. Yeah, a lot of folks have already jumped ship to climb aboard the Spurs’ bandwagon after they picked up LaMarcus Alridge and David West during the free agency period this summer.
With that in mind, the Spurs are still an aging team with a couple of nice young parts added in. These are the same Spurs who were beaten by the Clippers in the first round of the playoffs this past season. The Clippers countered those moves by the Spurs by picking up Smith, Lance Stephenson and Paul Pierce to get deeper on the perimeter and allowing versatility to make the team even tougher to go up against.
The chips have been re-stacked in the Western Conference. By signing Smith, who averages 15 points and 7 rebounds in a high-volume career, the Clippers didn’t just salvaged an early rocky offseason following another disappointing second-round postseason, they’ve essentially re-loaded their roster. The biggest handicap of the Clippers last season was bench depth.
That should not be a problem next season. Smith, Pierce, Stephenson, along with Jamal Crawford and Austin Rivers, give the Clippers the most complete bench in the league. What the team lacked in scoring power and perimeter defense last year, they now have this upcoming season. That sting of losing to Smith and the Houston Rockets in the second round after being up in the series, 3-1, left an awful taste in the Clippers’ mouths.
Now, at least on paper, the Clippers look like a team that will bring the business to the rest of the Western Conference, which include the Oklahoma City Thunder and Golden State Warriors, the NBA’s reigning champs. Smith was the one player essential to the Rockets’ comeback against the Clippers, especially in Game 6 when L.A. held a 19-point lead in the third quarter of a possible closeout game.
Smith and the Rockets rallied to win that contest and the series, and the Clippers received another rude exit from the postseason. Smith is no longer the opponent. Now he’ll be lacing up his sneakers in the same locker room as Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and Jordan. It’s funny how things work out.
Just a couple of weeks ago, shooting guard J.J. Redick called out the Clippers for the team’s offseason transactions when it was thought that center Jordan would be lost to the Mavericks. It’s been a mighty turnaround since then. Jordan decided to re-sign with the Clippers, upping the Clippers’ stock as title contenders. The signings of Smith, Pierce, Stephenson and Rivers during the free agency period just fortified the Clippers’ chances of making it to the NBA Finals.
You might say that the stars seem to have all aligned themselves in the Clippers’ direction. A couple of weeks ago, the Clippers didn’t have a bench that wouldn’t scare anybody. A couple of weeks later, the Clippers just climbed to the top of the list as the team to beat in the Western Conference. At the very least, they will be great position to be one of the teams to beat.