With free agency almost over, every team is close to finalizing its roster for next year. And this is the part of the year when most team’s fans can talk themselves into a scenario where their favorite team wins the championship. Maybe it’s too hard for fans of the Nuggets and 76ers to imagine their team winning the title, but there are several teams that can look like contenders if you squint hard enough.
Before the season actually comes around and spoils everyone’s fun, let’s take our time to embrace optimism and tell you why your team will win the title. We start with the Los Angeles Clippers.
Los Angeles was on the verge of the conference finals before a catastrophic meltdown against Houston sent the team home in stunning fashion. Then, it looked like DeAndre Jordan would leave to become a Maverick, and the title window of the Clippers would be officially shut.
By now, everyone knows Jordan had a change of heart and returned to Los Angeles, filling what would’ve been a huge void. The team still has two of the 10 best players in the game to pair with Jordan and returning sharpshooter J.J. Redick. Plus, the team replaced Matt Barnes with a much better offensive option in Paul Pierce.
The biggest issue with the Clippers last season was the bench. The Clippers’ bench had the second-worst Efficiency Recap Difference among all teams, according to Hoopsstats.com. Efficiency Recap Difference highlights both teams’ offensive efficiency, assists, rebounds, steals and blocks, meaning the Clippers weren’t getting much production from the bench at all.
Even without any stats, it was plain to see the enormous drop-off when any of the Clippers’ starters had to sit. And there’s reason to believe that’ll change this year.
Doc Rivers wisely bought low on Lance Stephenson. Stephenson was atrociously bad last season, but was a key contributor on a good Pacers team prior to that. He’s a solid playmaker when he’s not hoisting up threes, and is a better defender than expected when he wants to be. If he embraces the role off the bench, he could be a lethal weapon.
Josh Smith was so maligned the past few years that he seemed like a toxic player, until he helped lead the Rockets to the conference finals. There’s no way his three-point shooting for some of the playoffs is sustainable, but he’s another good playmaker and defender, and he gives the Clippers a backup big above replacement level.
Cole Aldrich looked the part of a rotation big for much of last season with the Knicks and will have a chance to do so on a contending team this season. Aldrich won’t be asked to do much, but will be an upgrade over last season as the fourth big.
Combine these three with the returning Jamal Crawford, and all of a sudden the Clippers’ much-maligned bench actually has some talent. Even Wesley Johnson and Austin Rivers can be useful if not asked to do too much. If the unit can even be around league average, Los Angeles will be a real contender next season with the elite starting lineup. This may be the year Chris Paul finally breaks through and wins a ring.