NBA: Ranking the Pacific Division teams

4 of 5

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

2 – Los Angeles Clippers

2014-15 record: 56-26
Key Additions: Lance Stephenson (trade), Josh Smith (FA), Paul Pierce (FA)
Key LossesMatt Barnes (trade), Spencer Hawes (trade), Glen Davis (FA — still)

Had the Clippers sat still in free agency, believing deeply in their inability to improve the team due to salary cap restrictions, they’d still be the second best team in the Pacific division. The difference? Doc Rivers played the role of an argonaut this summer, taking risks that not only raise his team’s ceiling but jeopardize its floor at the same time.

The good news? That ceiling pushes them closer to the defending championship Golden State Warriors. The bad news? Well, there is none, considering a core of J.J. Redick, Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, and DeAndre Jordan — barring good health — should be good enough to push this club to 50 wins in the rare instance the Lance Stephenson trade bits the team in the behind and free agent signings Paul Pierce, Josh Smith, and Cole Aldrich backfire; at least I believe so after seeing the same core carry dead weight through the last two seasons.

Now’s a question of whether Rivers + the ‘core 4’ + Stephenson/Pierce/Smith/Aldrich can put it together. There’s a lot of pressure on Rivers to prove he can coach this team over the hump; pressure on Chris Paul to prove he’s worthy of the respect shown by analysts that have begged him as a top player for years despite never making it past Round 2 of the playoffs; pressure on Blake Griffin, who many don’t believe is capable of lifting a team to a championship (for what reason, I don’t know); pressure on DeAndre Jordan to show he’s worthy of a max deal and can anchor a top defense. Now’s the time they prove it, or all considerations of this team being a ‘true’ championship contender will fly right out the window — and things will get pretty interesting in Clippers nation, especially as Paul grows a year older.