As impressive as it was, Doc Rivers’ summer haul was incomplete.
The Clippers’ president of basketball operations brought in Paul, Lance, Josh, Cole, Wesley, Chuck, Branden and Pablo while retaining DeAndre and Austin.
There was not a Larry in the bunch.
Of course, that doesn’t mean that what might go down as the best roster in Clippers history won’t be able to give team owner Steve Ballmer what he covets more than a massive spike in Microsoft stock.
“When you get Larry,” Ballmer said at his welcome rally last year, referring to the Larry O’Brien trophy given to the NBA champions, “I think you get the parade, right? Isn’t that how it works?”
Pretty much. It helps that the band’s back together after DeAndre Jordan’s eenie-meenie-miney-moe free agency and the deeper bench will have more to work with than just some string and a frayed piece of duct tape.
But how will it all fit together as the Clippers try to integrate eight new players on their roster? Here are the major questions facing the team heading into media day Friday:
Is Doc Rivers’ work done now that he’s put together such an impressive roster?
Hardly. Constructing a team is only half of his job description; there’s also the matter of coaching it.
Rivers must handle more moving pieces than a “Lego” movie animator. The Clippers have seven forwards and three point guards, none of whom will gladly suffer a Did Not Play — Coach’s Decision. Oh, and did we mention one of those point guards happens to be Rivers’ son?
There’s also the need to manage Paul Pierce’s minutes after the veteran small forward turns 38 next month. And Rivers will have to keep close tabs on newcomers Josh Smith and Lance Stephenson to make sure they can refurbish — and not reinforce — spotty reputations.
How is a second unit featuring Jamal Crawford, Austin Rivers and Stephenson going to work?
It might not. All three players like to operate with the ball in their hands and that obviously isn’t going to be possible when they are on the court together.
The chemistry between Crawford and Stephenson will be especially intriguing to watch, particularly after Crawford alluded to dissatisfaction with his situation on Twitter over the summer. But Crawford, one of the league’s most affable and professional players, probably will do his best to mask any unease once the season starts.
If things become chaotic, the Clippers will probably seek a trade to restore order.
Whose voice will be the most revered in the locker room?
Chris Paul and Blake Griffin are no longer the unambiguous leaders after the arrival of Pierce, a Finals most valuable player and 10-time All-Star who has long held the respect of Doc Rivers. Now he’ll have to win over a new set of teammates.
“The fact that he’s really been through every situation that you can come up with, from surviving with his life [during a stabbing] to winning a world championship to being on a terrible team to being on a great team to losing a Game 7, I think all those experiences will be great for him to share with some of our guys,” Rivers told The Times in July when Pierce was introduced.
Has Jordan improved his free throws?
It’s impossible to know until the season starts, but his form looked identical to last year during USA Basketball’s minicamp last month in Las Vegas.
In other words, not really. So get ready for more intentional fouls involving the career 41.7% free-throw shooter, not to mention games that last nearly three hours.
What will be the tangible benefits of a deeper bench?
For one, Griffin will no longer need to spend halftime in a hyperbaric chamber after averaging an absurd 39.8 minutes per game in the playoffs because his coach had so few trusted backups.
In all seriousness, the Clippers going at least three deep at every position should help prevent fatigue-related injuries and give Rivers more opportunities to rest his starters and get creative with things like small-ball lineups.
What will it take for the Clippers to win it all?
Here’s the Cliffs (Paul) Notes’ version: Stephenson and Smith must revert to the borderline All-Star form they showed before their careers veered off track, the second unit must avoid civil war and the Clippers must learn the art of the closeout after horrific playoff collapses in back-to-back seasons.
If everything goes right, Ballmer could get his Larry, just as Doc ordered by bringing in nearly everybody else.