With Paul gone, Clippers very much Blake Griffin’s team
Los Angeles Clippers forward Blake Griffin (32) makes a slam dunk over the Toronto Raptors during the second quarter of a preseason NBA basketball game, Tuesday, Oct. 3, 2017, in Honolulu. (AP Photo/Marco Garcia)
By Steve Dilbeck, Associated Press
LOS ANGELES (AP) — It’s a very different and uncertain Clippers team that will open the upcoming season.
Los Angeles sent Chris Paul to the Houston Rockets in the offseason and the Clippers are now very much Blake Griffin’s team.
Griffin and center DeAndre Jordan will be surrounded by three new projected starters and nine new players on the roster.
That’s a lot of turnover, creating numerous questions with very few early answers. That’s been exacerbated by all three new starters — forward Danilo Gallinari and guards Patrick Beverley and Austin Rivers — fighting nagging injuries and being unable to finish the preseason playing together.
“I jokingly said before camp the one thing you don’t want to have is injuries to key guys in training camp,” said coach Doc Rivers. “It’s not a joke anymore.”
Paul is one of the NBA’s finest point guards and replacing him creates numerous challenges. Rivers said he doesn’t necessarily need a traditional point guard, just two guards effective at passing. Still, the primary responsibility figures at first to go to Beverley, who came over in the Paul trade and served in that role with the Rockets.
Beverley averaged 9.5 points per game for Houston last season and 4.2 assists. Should he falter in LA, the Clippers have an intriguing option in Milos Teodosic, the all-everything player from Europe once dubbed the best player not in the NBA.
Teodosic is a passing wizard but he’s also 30 and not exactly heralded for his strong defense.
“His core vision is crazy,” said fellow new Clipper Wesley Johnson. “The way he passes the ball, it’s been fun to see.”
How fun a rebuilding team coming off five consecutive 50-win seasons is without Paul remains unclear.
Here are some other things to watch for with the Clippers:
CRUNCH TIME: When the game was on the line in the closing seconds, there was never any doubt the ball would be in Paul’s hands. And most likely he would take the final shot.
Now that he’s gone, does the game-winning attempt fall to Griffin, Gallinari or sixth-man Lou Williams?
RIVERS’ JOB: Rivers enters his fifth season with the Clippers and the team has not progressed under his leadership. Vinnie Del Negro won 56 games as their coach prior to Rivers’ arrival, and Rivers topped that only once (57 in his first season).
When Steve Ballmer purchased the team for $2 billion at the end of the 2014 season, he inherited Rivers. The former Microsoft CEO could want to move on if Rivers is unable to mold this young squad into at least a playoff team.
NEW SCORERS: The Clippers not only have to replace Paul’s leadership but his 18.1 points per game. Only three of their top 10 scorers from last season have returned. Gone are not only Paul but J.J. Redick and Jamal Crawford, who both averaged over 12 points per game.
They will look to Gallinari (18.2 points last season with Nuggets), Williams (17.5 with Rockets, Lakers) and Beverley to fill the points gap.
JERRY WEST IN THE HOUSE: As difficult as it may be for long-time Lakers fans to accept, their Hall of Fame guard and former NBA Executive of the Year now works for the Clippers.
Jerry West has a nebulous adviser’s title. But two months after he came on during the summer, Rivers stepped down as team president. West will have an impact, though exactly how much is unclear.
ELEVATING JORDAN: Jordan lived for the Paul lob and now could struggle to match the 12.7 points per game he averaged each of the last two seasons. He will have to be consistent without the deft Paul passing.