Los Angeles Clippers are thinking playoffs, not rebuild

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This upcoming season will be the first year since 2011 that the Los Angeles Clippers won’t have Chris Paul, Blake Griffin or DeAndre Jordan on the team. Paul was traded to the Houston Rockets in 2017, Griffin was sent to the Detroit Pistons at the 2018 February trade deadline, and Jordan signed with the Dallas Mavericks this offseason in free agency.

Many believe the Clippers are in rebuild mode now that Paul, Griffin and Jordan are all gone. But don’t tell that to head coach Doc Rivers or any of the players on the roster.

At media day on Monday, the word “playoffs” was said multiple times. The Clippers are aware no one is giving them a chance to be a competitive team in 2018-19, but they don’t care what the pundits say.

“We have a group of guys that we can win with,” Rivers said.

The best player on the Clippers this year is small forward Tobias Harris. The Clippers acquired Harris from the Detroit Pistons in the Blake Griffin trade. The 26-year-old appeared in 32 games with Los Angeles last season and averaged 19.3 points, 6.0 rebounds and 3.1 assists while shooting 47.3 percent from the field and 41.4 percent from three. Harris hasn’t paid attention to the naysayers and believes the Clippers have a roster filled with players who have been doubted their entire career.

“Our expectation is to be in the playoffs,” Harris said. “I don’t think there’s any other way to really look at it.”

The Clippers might struggle to score the ball this season, but one thing is certain: They are going to be a tough team to score on. Patrick Beverley, Avery Bradley and Luc Mbah a Moute are all lockdown perimeter defenders. Harris has good length and has shown to be a good defender when he gives the effort. Rookie Shai Gilgeous-Alexander can be “special” on the defensive end, according to Bradley. Yes, the Clippers don’t have much talent on the roster, but they have tough-minded players and guys who play with passion. That usually translates to a team which will be competitive in all its games.

“It’s our job to make sure we’re prepared each and every night so we can go out there and prove people wrong because I feel like a lot of people don’t know what we’re capable of this year,” Bradley said. “If we’re able to stick together and have that mindset to work hard every single day, anything is possible for this team in the playoffs.”

Mbah a Moute has high expectations for the Clippers on defense, saying, “We want to be the best defensive team in the league and we have the capability to do that.”

Much of the Clippers’ success will hinge on the health of Danilo Gallinari, who only played in 21 games last season. The 30-year-old is probably the team’s best shooter. No one is expecting the Clippers to be fun to watch this season and many have picked them to be one of the worst teams in the West.

Gallinari says that’s fine.

“We really don’t care what people say, what they say on media, that kind of stuff,” Gallinari said. “We know what we can do very well and so we will do it and we will show it. We don’t mind being under the radar.”

The Clippers will have two max salary spots next summer, and Jimmy Butler and Kawhi Leonard reportedly want to join the team. Butler has requested a trade from the Minnesota Timberwolves and has the Clippers has his preferred destination. Leonard can become an unrestricted free agent in 2019 if declines his player option for the 2019-20 season and multiple reports claim the Clippers are the frontrunner to sign him.

All the focus in Los Angeles this season will be on LeBron James and the Lakers. The Clippers are going to be flying under the radar again. But it looks like the team and its players are perfectly fine with that.

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