Clippers Preview

by Marcel Mutoni

Can you believe that the regular season is only six days away? That’s right, only six days away from the League’s 61st year. Before that jumps off, some of the best hoop writers from around the web would like to say a thing or two about their respective teams, and we’re more than happy to give them the floor.

Kevin Arnovitz, Slate Magazine contributor and the writer of ClipperBlog was kind enough to help us preview his team, the Los Angeles Clippers.

SLAM: Last season the Clippers won their first playoff series since moving from Buffalo. Was it disappointing not to get a shot at the Lakers in the second round?

KA: Honestly, I think most diehard Clipper fans would tell you that Phoenix was the benchmark by which we gauge the Clippers’ true ability. Sure, the crosstown rivalry with the Lakers offers a lot of intrigue, but as an up-and-coming team, you want to set your eyes on the team in front of you.

Elton Brand cemented his place as one of the best big men in the League last season (as he had an MVP-like season). How much better can this guy get; what’s his ceiling?

I think at this point, measuring Elton’s improvement won’t be so much looking at his stat lines (which can’t get much better) as examining the nuances in his game. Will he continue to expand his shooting range? Will he continue to improve in passing out of the double-team? Can he continue to move his free throw percentage upward toward 80%? Will he step up his defense on the rotation? Given his work ethic, I expect the answer to all of these questions to be a resounding “yes.”

Sam Cassell isn’t getting any younger (he turns 37 this year) and injuries are bound to catch up with him sooner than later. Is Shaun Livingston ready to step in and assume the point-guard reigns for an elite team?

Once Shaun solidifies his jump shot, I think he’s ready. He’s lethal in the open floor and toward the end of last season, he began to really understand how to feed Brand and Kaman on the block — more specifically, where and when they like the ball. In addition, toward the end of the season, his turnover rate dropped measurably. On top of that, we saw him guard 1s, 2s and 3s in the postseason. So it’s really up to Shaun — perfect that jump shot and not only will he be ready to start, but he’ll blossom into an elite PG.

L.A. will always be a Laker town, but with the Clippers steadily improving, Clippers fans can now walk the streets with their heads held high. Is there a different vibe in the city now that the Clippers are the better team?

I wrote a piece for Slate last year about the (slightly) changing dymanic in Los Angeles. I described that,”For Clipper fans, it’s as if a giant brush cutter plowed the city’s sports landscape to make way for the saplings.”

The press coverage is still lacking, but honestly I don’t think Clipper fans are of the where’s-the-respect ilk. We have an intimate relationship with the team and, frankly, the fewer bandwagoners that hop aboard, the better.

Alright, enough foreplay, how will the Clippers fare this season?

I think 50 wins is a nice goal. The Western Conference is stacked, particularly the Pacific Division. The ‘x’ factors for the Clips are the growth of Shaun Livingston and Chris Kaman. If these guys can elevate their game, the Clippers have a legitimate shot at a #2 seed. If the wrong guys go down with injuries, it could be a long season — though I think the Clippers’ depth is a real asset.