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Thursday, 28 September 2017 01:24

Los Angeles Clippers vs. Boston Celtics: 2017-18 NBA Season Preview

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Los Angeles Clippers vs. Boston Celtics: 2017-18 NBA Season Preview | Powered by CLNS Media

2016-17 Round-Up: The Los Angeles Clippers have been in a downward spiral ever since their epic Game 6 collapse against the Houston Rockets in the 2014 Western Conference Semifinals. The Clippers ran back the same core of players yet again last season, this time with even more disappointing results.

With Chris Paul, J.J. Redick, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan back for a fourth-straight season, the Clippers flatlined, strolling aimlessly through the regular season before bowing out at The Staples Center to the Utah Jazz in Game 7 of their first round series. Emblematic of his last few seasons, Blake Griffin sat on the bench injured as Paul tried for the life of him to carry the Clippers to a meaningless first-round series win (the Jazz were swept handedly in the next round by the Warriors).

Doc Rivers The GM continued to do Doc Rivers The Coach a disservice by failing in two regards: never addressing the swingman position, and continuing his trend of failing to develop young draft picks.

Instead, similarly built and similarly skilled players Jamal Crawford and Doc’s son Austin Rivers, were awarded with multi-year contracts (in a twist of all twists, Doc reportedly turned down a deal involving Austin going to New York for Carmelo Anthony).

Following in the likes of past-their-prime players who have littered the Clippers’ bench during Rivers’ tenure, he brought in Alan Anderson, old Celtics mainstay Brandon Bass, Raymond Felton and Mareese Speights. Paul Pierce was allowed to ride off into the sunset with his own version of a retirement tour.

Jordan’s late game free throw struggles continued to make him a non-factor down the stretch of games, while Paul’s overly impassioned act on the court finally ran its course.

And ever since Griffin’s turn during the 2014 playoffs as one of the best players on the planet (he matched Oscar Robertsonwith one of the all-time great performances), he has played like a condensed and watered down version of his previous self. Thanks to a plethora of injuries - not to mention his embarrassing hand injury punching his supposed friend and team trainer - Griffin has noticeably seen a decrease in his explosiveness on the court.

Offseason Grades: B -

Considering Los Angeles could have lost both Griffin and Paul in free agency, their offseason wasn’t disastrous. With Jerry West in tow as a special advisor and Doc relieved of his front office duties, the Clippers retained Griffin with a hefty 5-year, $173 million deal and lost out on Paul, as the “Point God” decided to join forces with James Harden in Houston.

The Clippers, in working to deliver Paul to the Rockets and fit in his new salary, were able to receive a nice return from Houston, acquiring a pu pu platter of intriguing young prospects (Sam Dekker, Montrezl Harrell) and valuable role players (Patrick Beverley, Lou Williams), not to mention a 2018 first-round pick to boot.

The Clippers also spent heavy by bringing in oft-injured eight-year vet Danilo Gallinari with a 3-year, $65 million contract to potentially help complement Griffin in the frontcourt. And in a personal favorite move, the Clippers also brought in Serbian passing sensation Milos Teodosic to help fill the void left by Paul.

Joining Paul on his way out: Redick, Crawford, Felton, Speights, Bass and Anderson.

Training Camp Questions: With an interesting roster to say the least, the Clippers need to gel; and they need to do it quickly. Developing that cohesiveness will be even more difficult with Griffin sidelined. The 28-year old forward may not return until December. Gallinari is currently healing his thumb after punching a player in an Italian exhibition game during the summer. Doc will need to get his players to quickly buy into his system.

Next Move They Make: By making a commitment to Gallinari and Griffin, Jordan would appear to be the odd man out. As good as he’s been as a professional, it’s impossible to ignore the giant wart on his game: free throw shooting. With the amount of attempts he’s taken in his career, Jordan is the WORST free throw shooter of all-time..Doc simply can’t play him in crunch-time when the game matters most (Jordan averaged 31.7 mpg last season; 6.3 minutes in the fourth quarter).

Jordan is owed $22 million this season and can exercise a $24 million option for 2018-19 before becoming an unrestricted free agent. Despite smallball dominating the current pace and space era, there is still a valued need for big men - as athletically gifted as Jordan is - who can change the game as rim-running shot blockers. Jordan is one of the most physically imposing players in the league. While he still experiences frustrating lapses of concentration, his biggest flaw is his stroke from the charity stripe.

How They Beat The Celtics: It remains to be seen just how good (or bad) this Clippers team will be. Count on Beverley bringing his tenacious defensive attitude to this matchup. He won’t be able to outplay Kyrie Irving in any matchup, but if he can slow him down and get in his head, Irving could try to play 1-on-5 basketball.

Against a weak-rebounding Celtics team last season, Jordan corralled 28 rebounds during those two games. If Jordan is active on the glass, running to the rim, and Griffin and Gallinari are both working their inside and outside games, the Clippers have the capacity to beat the Celtics in a hypothetical playoff series.

Trending: While location matters less than it used to, Los Angeles is still the premier destination for free agents. Even after the departure of Paul, the Clippers still possess enough talent to do damage. How much damage will be the question. Griffin still has a lot to give to this game, while Teodosic and Beverley should remain contributors as they get older.

Tying themselves financially to Gallinari is a colossal risk. While the versatile Italian forward has put up career-highs with 19.5 and 18.2 points per game the previous two seasons, he continues to perpetually miss games. He played 63, 53 and 59 games the previous three seasons. He missed the entire 2013-14 season. Tying themselves to an oft-injured pair in Griffin and Gallinari is a risky proposition that puts the Clippers in a rather precarious situation.

Final Record/Standings Prediction: 44-38, 8th in Western Conference

The Clippers are going to have to compete in an ultra-competitive West, battling with teams like Denver, Portland, New Orleans, Utah and Dallas for the right to be destroyed by Golden State in round one.

The Clippers will scuffle without Griffin to begin the season, but the talent will eventually play itself out. If Teodosic is the real deal, Los Angeles could find themselves as high as a five-seed.

Cory Prescott

Cory Prescott is the Editor at Large for Boston Celtics coverage on CLNS Radio. 

Cory is a graduate of Susquehanna University, graduating with a degree in Communications - Journalism.  While at Susquehanna, Cory spent three years as the sports editor for the school's weekly newspaper.  He also worked for the Crusaders Athletics Communications Department.

Following graduation, Cory spent time writing for the Maine Hockey Journal, as well as Boston Sports Then & Now, in addition to his own blog, Brain Freeze.

A native Mainer, Cory has been residing in Boston for the past few years.

Follow Cory on twitter @CLNS_Prescott.