I’ve been watching the NBA since 1968, so this is hard for me to say. I have to work my way up to it, but I think I’m ready. The Los Angeles Clippers are the most interesting team in the NBA this season. There. I mean it too. They would have been a very interesting team before they traded for all star point guard Chris Paul, but with him they have an incredibly wide range of logical outcomes.
The optimists can see the Clippers representing the Western Conference in the NBA Finals, and they aren’t being wild-eyed. The Western Conference figures to be a very compact playoff bracket, and in the postseason rotations compress and the Clippers have a very good 1-8, their point guard duo, Paul and Chauncey Billups, is the best in the NBA, and last year’s Rookie of the Year, Blake Griffin showed tremendous improvement in his midrange game during the two preseason tilts against the Lakers. The Clippers could very easily start as a three seed and then upset Oklahoma City in the conference finals.
OTOH, the Clippers could improve markedly and still miss the playoffs. Paul missed nearly half of the ’09-10 season with knee injuries and by some statistical tallies he hasn’t been the same player (merely all star rather than all time great, but still). Starting small forward Caron Butler is coming off a major injury, and there isn’t much depth, which will hurt in this 66 game/four month sprint of a regular season. Figure OKC in, the three Texas teams will play well because they always do, then there’s Denver, a good deep, fast team that plays at altitude, Memphis has everyone back from a team that went deep into the playoffs. Portland may not slip much and then there’s the Lakers, they still have Kobe and Pau and veteran moxie etc. The Clips could be a very good team on the outside looking in at the playoffs. The Houston Rockets are well familiar with this feeling.
I think the actual outcome will be somewhere in between these extremes: 38-28 and a solid playoff run, maybe a long second round series–something to build on. The positive factors outweigh the negative ones but not overwhelmingly.