The Clippers had another news conference Wednesday, this time with a familiar face in Blake Griffin, unlike Tuesday’s event at which they introduced all the new players. The meet-and-greets were pleasant enough but failed to answer this fundamental question: How good will the new-look Clippers be?
Under coach Doc Rivers the last four seasons, there always were expectations for a top-four finish in the Western Conference and hopes of contending for an NBA title.
Now the future is murky, and where they might finish this season is uncertain because of a variety of reasons.
Griffin’s health is the key to the Clippers’ fortunes. He has been rehabilitating a right toe injury that Griffin says won’t keep him out for the start of the regular season.
The Clippers have nine new players — a lot to add to any team.
They lost the offensive firepower of Chris Paul (traded to Houston), J.J. Redick (signed with Philadelphia) and Jamal Crawford (traded to Atlanta; signed with Minnesota after a buyout from the Hawks).
So a Clippers team that has finished no lower than fourth in the West for four seasons is on an unsure path.
“On paper, we have the ability to be dangerous and versatile and give people problems,” said Griffin, who agreed to a five-year deal worth $175 million.
Griffin unequivocally is the face of the Clippers, and his return from the toe injury that required surgery in early May will determine the team’s direction.
Training camp starts Sept. 26 in Hawaii.
“So I expect to be ready to go by training camp,” Griffin said. “Within in the next few weeks here, I’ll be ready to get on the court and ramp up things there. It’s been nice to be on the court just doing ballhandling drills. But I’m just taking it week by week, really.”
Rivers knows Griffin’s return is pivotal.
“He’ll be ready for the start of the season,” Rivers said. “I don’t think we’ll have to wait on Blake. [He] will be fine for the beginning of the year.
“Now let’s say he’s not, I’m not going to push him, I can tell you that. Blake is here for the long term. He’s going to have a great career here, a great rest of his career here. We would never do anything to jeopardize that. But I don’t think there’s going to be an issue with it.”
The Clippers return only Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, Austin Rivers, Brice Johnson and Wesley Johnson.
They added Patrick Beverley, Montrezl Harrell, Sam Dekker, Lou Williams, Danilo Gallinari, Milos Teodosic, Willie Reed, Sindarius Thornwell and Jawun Reed.
“How good can we be? I mean realistically, I’d just be guessing right now because of all the new faces and how it fits together,” said Lawrence Frank, Clippers executive vice president of basketball operations. “Typically, it’s going to take time. You’re not going to know right off the start. But we like the direction that we’re going. We feel like we’ve stayed true to kind of our principles of how we want to build the roster and only time will tell.”
Still, Rivers said that “our goal has not changed,” and that is to win an NBA championship.
“Yeah, the West has gotten tougher, but the toughest problem is [NBA champion] Golden State still. I mean, really,” Rivers said. “Nothing has changed. I keep hearing how tough the West is. We’re not scared of anybody. It’s just that Golden State is the team to beat. We all know that.”
Follow Broderick Turner on Twitter @BA_Turner