More NBA: 2006-07 season preview
SportStream: Pacific preview
For years, the Los Angeles Clippers were the laughingstock of the NBA. Management was more interested in turning a profit than putting a winning team on the floor – that's why Elgin Baylor never signed any of those talented lottery picks to long-term contracts.
With so much roster turnover year after year, the Clippers didn't develop any continuity or build any momentum. Until last season, they had notched a winning record just one since their arrival in Los Angeles in 1985. As a result, L.A. basketball fans always looked at their "other" team as nothing more than a distraction from what really mattered: the Los Angeles Lakers.
But last season, everything changed.
The Clippers won 47 games – two more than the Lakers – and won a playoff series (beating Denver) for the first time in franchise history. Mike Dunleavy's squad then took the Phoenix Suns to seven games, barely missing out on a trip to the Western Conference finals.
With the return of every key player and the addition of Suns playoff hero Tim Thomas (who signed a four-year free-agent deal), the Clippers for the first time in team history are actually talking championship. Before you laugh, take a look at the Clips' roster.
Sam Cassell and Shaun Livingston will share the point guard duties, and they'll look to get the ball to Elton Brand, who averaged 25 points and 10 boards last season. On the wings, Corey Maggette and Cuttino Mobley provide scoring and toughness, and Chris Kaman is one of the best centers in the league. The Clippers are on the verge of something very special, and they can feel it.
Their first order of business, of course, is to win the Pacific Division. But with high-flying Phoenix pouring in points, that won't be easy. Still, the Suns are not without their issues.
If Amare Stoudemire can't come back from his knee injury and be a productive player, Phoenix will be limited inside, and much of the scoring burden again will fall on Steve Nash's shoulders. At 32, Nash can't be counted on for heavy minutes. The Suns will have to figure out ways to score without him.
The Clippers also must deal with a Lakers team across town that figures to be better. A second season in Phil Jackson's triangle offense will make Lamar Odom, Kwame Brown and Smush Parker more comfortable, and they should be able to give Kobe Bryant more help.
Up north, the Sacramento Kings have a new coach for the first time in nine years. After the highly entertaining and successful Rick Adelman era, the Kings most likely will become more defensive-minded under Eric Musselman, and with Ron Artest wreaking havoc, they will be tough to beat, particularly on their home floor.
The Pacific basement figures to be occupied once again by the Golden State Warriors, but with Don Nelson running the show, they will be improved. He will have his team running and gunning, and with plenty of offensive versatility and talent at his disposal, don't be surprised if Nellie doesn't turn the Warriors around.
Still, from top to bottom, no one in the Pacific has a more talented roster than the Clippers. If things go their way, they just might be able to break though and win the division. And no one will be laughing then.