2011 NBA Offseason: Los Angeles Clippers

Written by Paul Banks of the Washington Times, David Kay and Peter Christian of the The Sports Bank. Send Paul an e-mail here: paulb05 AT hotmail DOT com.
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Los Angeles Clippers (Last Year: 32-50)

2011 NBA Draft Team Grade:

There are a few more Clipper fans on Georgia’s campus now. I will give the Clips this; they got great value for two players who have first-round talent. Trey Thompkins might be able to back up Blake Griffin right away and provides needed frontcourt depth. I am not sure how Travis Leslie fits into the picture except trying to give Griffin some dunking tips so he can defend this Slam Dunk title. (Team Grade: Makes sense)

Live 2011 NBA Draft Grades:

37. Trey Thompkins, PF, Georgia
I had the Clippers addressing their need for a backup to Blake Griffin and Thompkins fits that need. He also adds insurance in case DeAndre Jordan leaves via free agency. (Pick Grade: Makes sense)

47. Travis Leslie, G, Georgia
Quite possibly the most freakish athlete in the draft, Leslie is just not a true basketball player. With their second pick of the round though, it’s worth the risk here. Plus, Leslie and Blake Griffin would have some exciting dunk contests at practice. (Pick Grade: Meh)

*** 2011 NBA Offseason Needs and Free Agents listed below this comment box. ***

2010-11 Season Summary:
The wait was well worth it. After sitting out his first season in the league, Blake Griffin’s rookie year exceeded the already lofty expectations surrounding the 2009 first-overall pick as he averaged 22.5 points and 12.1 rebounds per game, and was unanimously selected Rookie of the Year. Besides pulling off ridiculous dunk after ridiculous dunk highlighted by him leaping over the hood of a car in the Dunk Contest, Griffin provided the Clips with a face of the franchise and someone who they can build around for the future.

Outside of Griffin, there were several other encouraging signs this past season. Despite missing 26 games due to a wrist injury, Eric Gordon raised his scoring average and proved to be a dangerous perimeter threat to complement Griffin’s effectiveness in the paint. Third-year center DeAndre Jordan also made a major leap, giving the Clippers a physical, rebounding, shot-blocking presence inside as he replaced Chris Kaman who was limited to just 32 games because of injury.

In what seemed like a great move at the time, Los Angeles dumped Baron Davis and the two years, almost $29 million remaining on his contract on the Cavs in exchange for Mo Williams. Unfortunately, the Clips also threw in their 2011 first-round pick which ended up being the ping pong ball chosen for the first-overall selection. Still, getting rid of Davis, who began the year on the bench because he showed up of shape, was an opportunity the Clippers could not pass up.

First-round draft picks Eric Bledsoe and Al-Farouq Aminu showed flashes but lacked the experience or consistency to be difference-makers as rookies. With time, they should improve and be valuable pieces for the future.

Despite the positives, the Clippers lacked the depth to overcome their injury issues and once again finished well out of the Western Conference playoff picture. Veterans like Ryan Gomes and Randy Foye are more than likely short-term solutions at their respective positions but were counted on to play significant roles due to a lack of all-around talent.

2011-12 Projected Depth Chart:

C: Chris Kaman/*DeAndre Jordan

PF: Blake Griffin/^Brian Cook/Trey Thompkins

SF: Ryan Gomes/Al Farouq-Aminu/#Jamario Moon

SG: Eric Gordon/Randy Foye/Willie Warren/Travis Leslie

PG: Mo Williams/Eric Bledsoe

NBA Free Agents:

PF-Craig Smith (UFA)

PF-Ike Diogu (UFA)

*C-DeAndre Jordan (RFA)

#SF-Jamario Moon (TO)

^PF-Brian Cook (PO)

2010-11 Team Salary: Approximately $44.9 million

NBA Offseason Needs:

1. Re-Sign DeAndre Jordan: With the growth he displayed this past season and the fact that he only turns 23 years old this summer, the Clippers should make re-signing DeAndre Jordan their top offseason priority. He is a true center and a great future frontcourt running mate for Blake Griffin. Jordan should be a pretty hot commodity this offseason and will probably cost a pretty penny to keep, but Los Angeles has the option to match any offer he signs. With Chris Kaman in the final year of his deal, Los Angeles has a need for a long-term center though it is debatable as to which big man is the better fit alongside Griffin. Bringing Jordan back would make Kaman expendable and possibly land another key player or two via trade.

2. Small Forward: Assuming they pass on the team option Jamario Moon has on his contract for next season, Los Angeles will once again have a rotation of Gomes and Aminu at small forward. While Aminu has potential, he is not yet ready to assume the full-time starter role and Gomes should not be starting for a playoff contender. If the Clippers can find an immediate upgrade at the three who can bring leadership and more versatility, it is something they should pursue. There are several veterans on the market like Tayshaun Prince, Shane Battier, Grant Hill, Caron Butler and Andrei Kirelinko who could be had for a reasonable price and give the Clips a more dangerous starting five. If they do decide to deal Kaman, look for them to want a starting small forward in return.

3. Build Momentum:: The Clippers have been the red-headed step child of Los Angeles basketball for far too long and finally built some buzz due to Griffin’s presence. With the Lakers being swept out of the second round of the NBA Playoffs and undergoing a change at head coach, there is a small window for the Clips to gain even more momentum as a franchise and finally stop being the laughing stock of the league. They have talented young pieces and are in a great cap situation heading into the future. Let’s just hope Donald Sterling does not do anything to screw that up.

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