The Clippers were as close to a first-round exit in 2015 as they were to a Western Conference finals date with the Warriors, playing a pair of seven-game series against the Spurs and Rockets in the first two rounds of the playoffs. When all was said and done, their season ended no better than it had the previous three seasons. If you’re looking at the glass as half full, they were a Chris Paul hamstring pull away from reaching new heights as an organization in the first year under new owner Steve Ballmer. They’ve returned a core that includes a pair of perennial MVP candidates and a somewhat surprising Defensive Player of the Year contender, and they’ve reconstructed what was an abysmal bench with no cap space to spend. [ Yahoo Fantasy Basketball: Sign up for a league today ] And if you’re looking at the glass as half empty, Paul is now north of 30 years old, and we’re entering year five of the Paul-Blake Griffin-DeAndre Jordan triumvirate with nothing more than a trio of conference semifinals appearances to show for it. They’ve also added three strong personalities to an already volatile team chemistry experiment that nearly blew up in GM/coach Doc Rivers’ face over the summer. That cup could runneth over with championship champagne come June, if all goes according to plan. That is, if Rivers can work Lance Stephenson, Paul Pierce, Josh Smith and a handful of newcomers into a roster that won 56 games despite having the NBA’s second-worst bench last season, the Clippers are contenders again. Or they could just as easily self-destruct and spill it all over their new uniforms . The real pressure won’t heat up until the Clippers reach the second round for the fourth time in five years, and it’ll all probably boil down to another seven-game series.
Quite possibly the feeliest-goodliest story of the NBA’s 2014-15 season (Non-Riley Curry Div.), the Atlanta Hawks stormed out to its best campaign since moving to the state of Georgia. The team’s 60-win season came off a rather tumultuous offseason, however, as the relatively minor embarrassment behind making the playoffs in 2013-14 as a 38-win team was overshadowed during the 2014 offseason with the release of remarks made by general manager Danny Ferry regarding free agent Luol Deng. In discussing the merits of the Sudan-born small forward, Ferry relayed a comment made by a scouting source in Cleveland that aligned conniving unprofessionalism to Deng’s heritage. Ferry immediately hit the apology circuit and was given an indefinite leave as coach Mike Budenholzer assumed both personnel and coaching leads. [ Follow Dunks Don't Lie on Tumblr: The best slams from all of basketball ] That kind of setback would have felled a rudderless crew, but on the court the Hawks’ superb pacing and diligent execution on both ends took the league by surprise. Regarded as an afterthought in Cleveland and Chicago’s race for Eastern supremacy, the Hawks raced out to the top of the Conference, turning what should have been an anonymous February matchup against the Golden State Warriors into a Finals preview . The Hawks, just a few days removed from the end of their 19-game winning streak, took that contest. It was another seemingly anonymous game, however, that would derail the team’s season. Following a win over the Brooklyn Nets in the first week of April, Hawks Thabo Sefolosha and Pero Antic were involved in an altercation with police that resulted in injuries that would end Sefolosha’s season. The Hawks would enter the postseason without their versatile wing defender, and by the time the squad paired up with the Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference finals the writing was just about on the wall. DeMarre Carroll went down in Game 1 of that series with a frightening knee injury , and though he would return his work on both ends was never the same. Kyle Korver was lost for the series with a high ankle sprain in Game 2, as the Cavaliers trounced the Hawks in a sweep. All was not lost. Budenholzer had the league on its heels with his pace and space system, Jeff Teague developed into an All-Star, Al Horford gutted through yet another injury-bit season, Korver also made the All-Star team and the entire starting lineup was voted the Eastern Conference’s Player of the Month for January . You have to wonder if this may have been the peak, though. 2015-16 season in 140 characters or less: We are very good and entertaining and also @ATLHawks is very good and entertaining. Did the summer help at all? At the very least, it allowed for each Hawk to report to camp duty at full health. Beyond that, though, it was a bit of a snooze. The Hawks are fully formed, so it isn’t as if a team that ranked both sixth in offense and defense needed a huge makeover, but it declined to compete with Toronto for the services of free agent DeMarre Carroll. Carroll left for a four-year, $60 million deal . Paul Millsap was retained with a three-year , $59 million deal (the last season is a player option), and draft night maneuverings allowed the team to deal its middling first-round pick (switched with Brooklyn as a result of 2012’s Joe Johnson trade) for former Knick shooter Tim Hardaway Jr. Justin Holiday’s acquisition could provide crucial minutes should Sefolosha struggle to overcome his leg injury If anything, the biggest move came in the days before the draft, when the team officially announced that it was parting ways with Danny Ferry. Ferry isn’t a bad man, he had a solid-enough turn as GM of the Hawks and he is most certainly not a racist, but that lapse of judgment in relaying the scout’s unfortunate words might prevent him from ever earning another lead job as a general manager.
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