In the gauntlet that has become the Western Conference, an offseason arms race begins to match the firepower of the Golden State Warriors. As the new Champions rejoice in their first championship since 1975 an in-state rival adds ammunition to its roster. When the first round of the playoffs ended for the Los Angeles Clippers, the labeled underdog had done the unthinkable and sent the Champion San Antonio Spurs home early. With little depth on the roster chart the Clippers had overachieved and dramatically altered the trajectory of the playoffs. In the Semifinals the exact opposite occurred and one of the worst collapses witnessed was the outcome against the Houston Rockets. I was disappointed in the demise of the Clippers, my favorite player being Chris Paul was a large reason for that. The veteran point guard was the steady engine leading the Clippers the entire year and in terms of pure point guard he is the best in the league. In these playoffs the Chris Paul takeover was a display of brilliant tenacity that reminded doubters how lethal he still is. The thin roster of the Clippers was destined to fall short of the finals. Head Coach and General Manager Doc Rivers aims to change all that and his first offseason acquisition is a bold step in that direction.
Lack of confidence has never been a label placed on Lance Stephenson’s game but plenty of other negative labels have. Critics have described the 6 foot 5 Coney Island native as temperamental, selfish, and an enigma. Nothing of this is new to Stephenson, he’s been both a highly touted prospect and the antithesis since before he reached the NBA. What has been a constant for Stephenson since his days of conquering the New York City League in High School to leading the NBA in triple doubles a year ago is immense talent. Nicknamed “Born Ready” the Coney Island native can do it all on the basketball court and his ability to push transition makes him an asset to most teams. The highlights of Stephenson from his time as a Pacer are electric and his effort nearly brought down Lebron and the Miami Heat a year ago. In the offseason Stephenson took the lucrative contract and left for Charlotte, nothing wrong with that in my book. It was however a terrible basketball fit, Charlotte wanted Stephenson to be a pillar in their franchise and our enigma is many things but foundation piece is not one. Success for Stephenson was well harbored and supported by the Indiana Pacers. His biggest supporter was Celtic legend and Pacers President Larry Bird who knows talent like Stephenson is rare in the NBA. At 24 years of age Stephenson has already experienced the many highs and lows of the NBA. A forgotten season with the Hornets is a stark reminder at how quickly it can all end for any player. Stephenson was relegated to the bench in Charlotte and reports of clashes with point guard Kemba Walker expedited his exit from Buzz City. Fortunately for Stephenson the Hornets are a franchise trapped in a state of malaise. A player like Stephenson needs to have talent around him and veterans to keep him focused.
Doc Rivers as General Manager has made peculiar trades and moves in recent years. This is a man who doesn’t concern himself in what the critics say and it was clear in the midseason trade to acquire his own son. His son, Austin Rivers, struggled quite publicly the pinnacle being in few game spans where he proceeded to cross himself up after blowing past defenders and falling to the floor. The son had his shining moments in the playoffs and for now he’s safe for a couple more seasons in LA. With Father’s Day on Sunday I think Austin will be giving his father, Coach and GM Doc a lovely gift. Was I surprised that this same General Manager traded successfully for Lance Stephenson, I was and mainly in the successfully part. The Clippers traded Matt Barnes and Spencer Hawes for a young and talented wing player. Matt Barnes astonished me in the playoffs with his production but he is an older player who routinely struggles with his jumper and is not a long-term answer for any contender. Spencer Hawes was a mistake from the beginning and one Doc was able to amend with this trade while freeing up cap space to help keep DeAndre Jordan. Lance Stephenson is a clear upgrade despite the potential volatility of his personality. He plays defense and can a run the offense when Chris Paul and Blake Griffin are on the bench. Under the guidance of Doc Rivers and Chris Paul a player with the talent of Stephenson can flourish and grow into a consistent player in the NBA. Although team chemistry has been questioned in the past for the Clippers it is commonplace with any talented team that falls short of expectations. The Clippers need fuel to their fire this offseason and this trade is just that. Give me players that can dribble, pass and shoot. Lance Stephenson can do all that and guard multiple positions on defense. This guy is 24 and exhuming talent; all he needs is guidance and a crowd to dazzle. Lance Stephenson is going to Hollywood and the Coney Island native was “Born Ready” for this moment.