(SportsNetwork.com) - The 2013-14 season for the Los Angeles Clippers will have no shortage of Buffalo Braves references.
The Clippers began their existence in western New York and the last time the franchise reached the playoffs in three straight seasons was from 1973-74 - 1975-76, when Bob McAdoo put his Hall of Fame wheels in motion.
Since the team was moved to both San Diego and Los Angeles, the Clippers have made it to the postseason in back-to-back years on only two occasions, including last season's first-round appearance. The Memphis Grizzlies eliminated the Clippers in six games in the Western Conference quarterfinals and changes were made in the City of Angels.
Head coach Vinny Del Negro was relieved of his duties and posted a mark of 128-102 with the Clippers. His teams improved during each of his three seasons at the helm. Del Negro guided the Clippers, who were the fourth seed in this past summer's playoffs, to their first-ever Pacific Division title and they even reached the conference semifinals after the 2011-12 regular season.
Still, it wasn't good enough to keep Del Negro around and the team made a big splash for former Boston Celtics bench boss Doc Rivers. Rivers was acquired in exchange for a first-round pick in the 2015 draft and reportedly inked a three-year deal worth $21 million. The 51-year-old had served as Boston's head coach since 2004 and guided the storied franchise to six division crowns, a pair of Eastern Conference championships and the 2008 NBA title along with a 416-305 overall record and 59-47 postseason mark.
Rivers knows a lot is expected from the Clippers in 2013-14.
"The expectations are great. I don't want us to shrink from that at all. I don't want us to run from that," Rivers told the L.A. Times. "But what we've got to get our guys to understand is expectations are one thing. Realization is a whole different thing, and just because you're expected to do anything doesn't mean you've arrived.
"We have not arrived. We didn't win a playoff series last year. So we have a lot of work to do as a group. We should expect to do that work. We have to expect that it's going to be much harder and we have to embrace it and do it."
In all honesty, it cannot be that much harder for a team loaded with talent and depth. Point guard Chris Paul is arguably the best facilitator in the league and was even appointed president of NBA players' union. Paul liked what the organization did in the offseason so much, he opted to stick around and signed a deal through 2017-18. Paul averaged 16.9 points, 9.7 assists and 2.4 steals over 70 regular-season games in 2012-13 and led the NBA in steals per game in each of his two seasons with Los Angeles.
It was rumored Paul wanted Rivers as Del Negro's replacement and got his wish. Paul will play in an offense current Celtics guard Rajon Rondo thrived in and talked about one of his first meetings with the new coach.
"I've spent a little bit of time with Doc. We've talked a couple times but with all of us professional athletes and anything, you always want someone to push you and motivate you," Paul said. "The first meeting I had with Doc, he pretty much told me that I wasn't anything. He told me that I hadn't done anything in this league and he was right. You don't always want somebody who's going to tell you everything that you want to hear."
The leader that he is, Paul is determined to push the Clippers deep into the postseason regardless of what expectations people have. Another season playing alongside Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan has the Clippers favored to bring home another division title.
"For us, it's going to be all about the process. We can't control what people say or the hype or the expectations or the good things people say or the bad things that people say," Paul said. "I think for us, it's going to be about the guys in our locker room. It's about us coming in to practice every day and preparing and giving ourselves the opportunity to win. That's what you want at the end of the day. Us three as the leaders of this team, we've got to make sure that we come in and prepare hard every day and everything else hopefully will take care of itself."
Chemistry with some new faces will be key to the Clippers' success, as they grabbed a bunch of new guys hoping to build depth and solidarity in keeping their recent winning tradition intact. In are bigs Antawn Jamison, Ryan Hollins and Byron Mullens, and guards Jared Dudley, J.J. Redick and Darren Collison. Gone from the nest are guards Chauncey Billups and Eric Bledsoe, and swingman Caron Butler.
Sixth Man of the Year candidate Jamal Crawford is one of the best off the bench and is excited for the upcoming season under Rivers.
"For us it's setting the tone from day one," Crawford said. "The Clippers this summer showed that they were serious and that they wanted to be a championship contender. So, they got a coach with a championship pedigree. Doc is one of the best coaches out there. He has been one of the best coaches out there for the past few years so with him at the helm we are going to be in good shape."
The Clippers will find out Oct. 29, when they open the season as the guest against the rival L.A. Lakers.
2012-13 Results: 56-26, 1st in Pacific, lost to Grizzlies in West quarters
ADDITIONS: HC Doc Rivers, F Antawn Jamison, G J.J. Redick, PG Darren Collison, G/F Jared Dudley, G Reggie Bullock, C Byron Mullens
PROJECTED STARTING FIVE:
PG- Chris Paul SG- J.J. Redick SF- Jared Dudley PF- Blake Griffin C- DeAndre Jordan
KEY RESERVES: G Jamal Crawford, G Matt Barnes, F Antawn Jamison, PG Darren Collison, C Ryan Hollins, G Reggie Bullock, C Byron Mullens, G Willie Green,
FRONTCOURT: The Clippers have one of the top frontcourts in the league with Griffin, Jordan and Dudley. Griffin and Jordan are the main cogs inside and the former led the Clippers in both scoring (18.0 ppg) and rebounding (8.30 rpg) last season. Griffin is just one of only two players (Kareem Abdul- Jabbar) in NBA history to average 20-plus points, 10 or more rebounds and 3-plus assists in his first three seasons combined with shooting greater than 50 percent from the field. The three-time All-Star led the NBA in dunks last season with 203 and talked about the upcoming season.
"We have higher exceptions for ourselves than anybody else, but at the same time we've made strides as a program but we don't have any championships, and that's the goal, that's the bottom line," Griffin said. "We haven't really accomplished anything yet."
Jordan is a shot-blocking machine and posted 1.37 per game in 2012-13. The long and lanky Jordan, who posted 8.8 points and 7.2 boards last season, said during media day that everything defensively starts with him and has to communicate with his teammates better. Setting examples is a priority for Jordan, last year's leader in field-goal percentage (.643) and the longest tenured player on the roster. Meanwhile, Dudley is a solid shooter and was acquired in a three-team deal back in July. Dudley is especially proud of the chemistry the team has built in so little time.
"It's good to have a locker room where everybody likes each other. It makes it a lot easier just because in basketball you've got to have sacrifice," Dudley said. "You've got to be able to give up for one of your teammates. Getting to know them on a personal level makes it easier."
BACKCOURT: Paul will be running Rivers' offense, a traditional halfcourt scheme that includes a lot of pick-and-rolls and shooting from outside. Paul was named the Western Conference's Player of the Month in December after leading the Clippers to a 16-0 mark in the month. He makes the players around him that much better because he's a pass-first player. Had it been the opposite, Paul would have led the Clippers in scoring but was second.
The six-time All-Star Paul, who is third all-time in assists per game (9.82) behind Hall of Famers Magic Johnson and John Stockton, led the league in steals last season with 2.4 and even missed 12 games.
Redick joins backcourt forces with Paul after landing in L.A. as part of a sign-and-trade with Milwaukee and Phoenix. Redick is a threat from three-point territory and averaged a career-high 14.1 ppg in 78 games with Orlando and Milwaukee last season. The Clippers' strength is scoring the basketball and they averaged 101.1 ppg in 2012-13. The addition of Redick and other wing shooters makes Los Angeles a dangerous team to defend. The Clippers are counting on Redick and other new faces to produce after the loss of Butler.
"Our goal is to compliment the core. I think all of us have a skillset and a personality that fits in," Redick said. "There's not going to be any stepping on toes or anything with me at least. I think I'm a complimentary piece to what they already had."
BENCH: Crawford is a perennial Sixth Man of the Year candidate and won the award back in 2010. Crawford, who finished second in voting last season to winner J.R. Smith, was one of five Clippers to average more than 10 points a game in 2012-13, finishing with 16.5 ppg. The speedy yet smooth Crawford is hoping to thrive under Rivers and scored 20-plus points off the bench 29 times last season. He is the first player in franchise history to top 1,200 points in a season without starting a single game.
Barnes has been a headache for other teams, but last season, he scored 10.3 ppg. He's a steady defender and signed a three-year deal to stay a part of the Clippers.
Guards Darren Collison, Willie Green and rookie Reggie Bullock will share time off the bench. The Clippers beefed up their inside and have forward Antawn Jamison and centers Ryan Hollins and Byron Mullens. Mullens spent the last two seasons with Charlotte and is probably glad to get out of NBA purgatory. He averaged a career-high 10.6 points and 6.4 rebounds in 53 games in 2012-13. Jamison, a two-time NBA All-Star and Sixth Man of the Year in 2003-04, has career averages of 18.8 points, 7.6 rebounds and 1.7 assists and is familiar with the Clippers, having played 76 games for the Lakers in 2012-13.
COACHING: The Clippers are hoping Rivers can instill that intimidating defense he had with the Celtics. There will be no shortage of scoring for the Clippers, so it's important to make stops on the other end. The Clippers don't necessarily have stoppers on the wings, but opponents know how tough it is to succeed inside with Jordan and Griffin roaming. Rivers had Kevin Garnett as an inside presence and those days are over. Rivers is just hoping his new guys can jell in all phases.
"I think the first thing is the corny part, is that we need to come together as a group all the time. Not only when things are good," Rivers said. "That is the biggest adjustment this team has to make. They have to become that. They have to become a team. We did a couple things last year defensively that we have to do better - guard the three-point line better, get back on defense on transition."
Rivers knows his X's and O's. It will be interesting to see how they stack up in the spring. Rivers has some good help on the bench from assistants Alvin Gentry, a former head coach in this league, and former pest Tyronn Lue. Lue, of course, temporarily set the blueprint on how to "slow down" Allen Iverson in their playing days.
OUTLOOK: It will be NBA Finals or bust for the Clippers this season even with a new system and some new players. Paul, Griffin and Jordan are the glue that keeps this franchise competitive and a best-case scenario would be at least 60 wins in the regular season and one of the top playoff seeds. The Clippers had no trouble playing at home last season (32-9), so winning on the road is very important after a pedestrian 24-17 mark. Perhaps the shooting upgrades will aid in that quest for better play as the visitor. Getting pushed out of the first round of last season's playoffs hurt and will serve as motivation.