Why the Clippers need to be the NBA’s “Suicide Squad”


Jul 21, 2015; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Clippers players pose with jerseys at press conference at Staples Center. From left: Branden Dawson (22), DeAndre Jordan (6), Austin Rivers (25), coach Doc Rivers and Josh Smith (5), Cole Aldrich (45), Paul Pierce (34) and Wesley Johnson (33). Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

After the Los Angeles Clippers assembled their new bench after a host of offseason signings, it wasn’t long until the internet reacted. As a result of some photoshop creativity, an image soon surfaced on Twitter of the Clippers’ faces on the bodies of the “Suicide Squad”. If you somehow missed the trailer after its recent viral release, the premise of the upcoming film is that the world’s worst criminals are assembled into a team to defeat crime.

Essentially, they’re villains turned flawed heroes. And with L.A.’s new bench, featuring guys nearing their 40s and targets of countless criticism, it’s time for the Clippers to adopt a new mindset and become the Suicide Squad of the NBA.

Maybe not quite in a literal sense, but Doc Rivers needs to try and let his new players utilize their diverse skill sets in the best way they know how. Because after blowing a 3-1 series lead in the second round against the Houston Rockets, what have they got to lose at this stage?

They’ve still never made it past the second round. So, bringing in shrewd veterans like Paul Pierce and Pablo Prigioni, adding Lance Stephenson and the immense chip on his shoulder after his dreadful year in Charlotte, and signing Josh Smith who’s been shrouded in doubt since his days in Detroit, the Clippers have taken the necessary risks to try and breakout for the best year in their franchise’s history.

The Clippers have been the ‘good guys’ ever since the days of Lob City began. DeAndre Jordan has always been the aerial highlight reel and Blake Griffin has only recently emerged from being the funny off-court guy who’s perceived as ‘soft’ when he’s on it. Obviously there’s far more to both their games, though. Jordan was an All-NBA third team and All-Defensive first team player this year, whilst Griffin is consistently in any conversation discussing the league’s best big men.

If it wasn’t for Anthony Davis and his telescopic arms for rim protectors, Griffin would have a shot at being crowned the best power forward in the NBA. Yet, without a bench to support the Clippers’ three All-NBA starters (the other being Chris Paul), progressing past the second round in the West is always going to be a long shot.

Which is where the NBA’s new Suicide Squad comes into play.

So, what makes the Clippers’ new, revamped second unit even more intriguing? They’re guys with question marks. Or, to go along with the Warner Bros. cinematic comparison, they’re players who can be viewed as villains.

The main three headline players acquired by the Clippers this offseason were Paul Pierce, Lance Stephenson and Josh Smith. The Truth is by no means a ‘villain’, but as he’ll be 38 for the start of the 2015-16 season, he’ll need to prove himself to those foolish enough to underestimate him.

He still made 38.9 percent of his three point attempts this year, and reiterated his late game ability with a buzzer beater to defeat the Atlanta Hawks in game three of the Eastern Conference semi finals. He did make the three that could have sent game six to overtime as well, although he didn’t have quite enough fractions of a second to release the ball in time.

That late game presence and veteran leadership can go a long way for the Clippers this year, and Paul Pierce and his “I called game” swagger are just the kind of attributes that can define this team.

Both Stephenson and Smith can be seen as ‘the bad guys’. After a dismal year in Charlotte for the former, and a poor campaign in Detroit before joining Houston for the latter, both are entering Los Angeles with question marks surrounding them. They’re high usage, low efficiency, sometimes trigger happy playmakers who have a key responsibility in helping the Clippers attempt a run towards a championship.

Will their time in L.A. work out? There’s no way we can honestly know that for now. Yet, in a way, that’s the beauty of the Suicide Squad.

We know the key characters in the film are villains, but what else can we know before we even see the film? That we’re going to love the cast.

We’ll be rooting for them to cause all kinds of mayhem, just as Clipper Nation will be rooting for their villains to cause mayhem and prove themselves in a new situation. And whilst a take-action, nothing-to-lose attitude is exactly what the Clippers need to adopt now, it’s not like Doc Rivers has gone full screw it mode in this rebuild and just prayed that something works out.

The Clippers ranked 15th in defensive efficiency and 16th in rebounding rate, and the toughness that Stephenson, Smith, Branden Dawson and Cole Aldrich all bring address those two key weaknesses. On top of that, Jamal Crawford no longer needs to be relied upon to deliver the second unit’s entire scoring output.

The Clippers finally have a supporting cast with as many notable names as Will Smith’s and Margot Robbie’s “Suicide Squad”.

Sorry if you aren’t one for metaphors, but “Suicide Squad” isn’t the only thing we can look forward to next summer. Because this Clippers’ team is going to cause havoc throughout the Western Conference.

Jul 21, 2015; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Clippers center DeAndre Jordan (left) and coach Doc Rivers at press conference at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

And just like that, after weeks of drama and new acquisitions, the Clippers of the 2015-16 season became the NBA’s Suicide Squad. A group of doubted, critiqued players with something to prove and a hunger to win.

Only two of their new players (Pierce and Stephenson) have taken a deal of more than $1.5 million this summer, and it’s allowed Doc Rivers to assemble a new second unit with next-to-no funds to create a complete team ready for contention.

They need guys like Josh Smith, who can dismiss what others think and put up seven threes in a pivotal game six, and miraculously finish with 14 fourth quarter points. They need guys like Lance Stephenson, who can keep going for behind-the-back passes and acrobatic layups until they make a play. And they need guys like Paul Pierce, who can influence others with a level of mental toughness and swagger to ensure that the Clippers don’t have another mental collapse to blow a 3-1 series lead again.

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They’ll need to adjust to playing alongside one another, and Doc needs to work out what lineups can compliment each other. That just takes time. Stephenson and Smith are the primary question marks, although if they can maintain better efficiency in controlled minutes, they can have a major two-way impact.

However, the mental aspect of the Clippers can’t be entirely overlooked either. The Rockets defeated them because of their confident, now-or-never attitude, which let players like Smith and Corey Brewer take over in pivotal games while their superstar, James Harden, sat on the sideline.

That attitude is how the Clippers lost. Yet, if they take on that mindset themselves throughout this season and employ their depth effectively, they can attack the league with far more aggression, versatility and depth than they did this year.

It could be a disaster for the first three months. On the other hand, it could be a remarkable success. Either way, it’s the perfect time to give it a try.

Next: Grading the Clippers' free agent acquisitions