The NBA, A-through-Z: Ubuntu, urgency, and the Los Angeles Clippers

The free agents have just about all been signed up. The NBA is down to a series of Instagram photos from moving yachts and crossed fingers from worried teams hoping their players stay safe in the summer off. There’s nothing going on, save for that clock on the wall that is ticking down to the 2013-14 season.

And it’s moving SO SLOWLY.

This is why we’ve decided to pick 26 things we’re looking forward to in 2013-14. Or, at the very least, 26 things that intrigue us as we wait out an offseason that feels like it has thousands of miles left to cross before we can get to Halloween and opening week. Because there are 26 letters in the alphabet – you guessed, NBA A-through-Z.

We continue with Ubuntu, urgency, and the Los Angeles Clippers.

For a team coming off a first-round ouster, working with a point guard in his prime and two big men in their early 20s, it’s strange just how much urgency will be in place when the Los Angeles Clippers show up to training camp in a month. The team has room to grow and the resources to keep adding new parts year after year, but in a lot of ways this feels like a win-now team, even if the squad has only six playoff wins to its credit in the Chris Paul era.

As important as Paul will be, 2013-14 marks the start of the Doc Rivers era in Los Angeles as well. And he’ll be asked to formulate a coherent plan for a new-ish roster on the fly, taking to a new conference while working with the looming knowledge that Paul’s sometimes-injured frame could cease producing that sort of All-NBA output at any point.

Of course, Rivers has been here before.

Six years ago, with LeBron James still finding his way in Cleveland and the Los Angeles Lakers coming off a first-round ouster of their own prior to trading for Pau Gasol, the 2007-08 Boston Celtics shot to the top of most championship contending lists as soon as they followed up the Ray Allen trade with the deal that acquired Kevin Garnett from Minnesota. Though those high end expectations were in place, just as many people wondered if this aging roster would be able to make it through the season and deep into June of 2008 while relying on so many late-1990s stars along the way. Much less return for another chance at the ring year after year.

As it turns out, the team did just fine – winning the title in 2008, returning to the Finals with a healthy Garnett in 2010, and coming within a game of the Finals in 2012. All while Rivers deftly managed minutes and expectations, while doing his best to slowly work temperamental guard Rajon Rondo into the superstar mix.

Doc won’t have as combustible an outfit in Los Angeles, not with the FunnyOrDie’ish exploits of Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan keeping things light, but he will have to make a quick turnaround. As we discussed in our column about Chris Paul, the Clippers felt like they were in a holding pattern with Vinny Del Negro’s middling offensive and defensive sets. It’s true that Griffin and Jordan needed reps and time to develop during that two year run, and Paul (dealt to Los Angeles in the middle of training camp) needed some time to stretch his legs, but things have to start shaping up quickly.

Unlike last year, the Clippers aren’t filled with veterans like Grant Hill, Lamar Odom or Chauncey Billups; guys trying to sneak one more in on their last legs. Helpers like J.J. Redick, Jared Dudley and Darren Collison should find ways to contribute. If Paul falters, though, the Clippers will be up against a Kevin Garnett-sized plus/minus drop-off between CP3 and his reserve point man in Collison, and it’s worth reminding that Jordan and Griffin showed up last year with what at times seems like a high school-level of defensive aptitude when it comes to working off the ball.

Rivers, again, has dealt with this before. He was able to weave shooters and ball dominators in Boston, which should have Paul, Redick, Jamal Crawford and Collison giddy. His offensive numbers in Boston were never great, but you could never accuse his sets of being simplistic or uncomplicated. Those extra playbook pages have to help, right?

With that in place, dating back to his years in Orlando (with the possible exception of his first and fourth seasons), Rivers’ win totals seem to directly align with the amount of talent in the rotation. His presence alone isn’t some obvious 12-win adding panacea, and the Clipper players can’t count on as much. They have to put the work in.

It’s a long jump from a first round casualty to a championship contender. Will ubuntu be enough? No, but Doc Rivers isn’t counting on ubuntu alone to drive his new team.

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