Regardless of how you feel about the Celtics and Lakers, there’s no denying that those two clubs have established a winning formula that’s worthy of emulating. In past years the Clippers have never really been in a position to copy the formula due to a variety of reasons, but they head into this summer essentially starting from scratch. With one coach, two draft picks, and at least five free agents to sign, Neil Olshey can mold the Clippers however he would like to.
From The Ground Up
Both the Celtics and the Lakers went through some rough patches before becoming perennial championship contenders. The Lakers didn’t win a single playoff series from 2004-2007 despite having Kobe Bryant in his prime, while the Celtics went through a similar poor stretch where they had a combined winning percentage of .348 for two years despite having Paul Pierce. Both teams were clearly in trouble, but Mitch Kupchak and Danny Ainge went out and made big moves to resuscitate their franchises. The Celtics got Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen, but made sure to hold onto Rajon Rondo in the process. The Lakers got their hands on Pau Gasol in a steal, but they made sure to stick with Andrew Bynum.
The lesson: Fortune favors the bold. If there’s a star player being dangled, you might be able to get him for .50 cents on the dollar. With that said, it seems just as important to identify the young talent you’re absolutely unwilling to part with. Blake Griffin is in that category, but is Eric Gordon?
Listed positions don’t matter; skill sets do. The Lakers sport what looks like a crowded frontcourt, but because of Odom’s ballhandling, because of Artest’s outside shooting, and because of the ridiculous skill level Pau Gasol possesses, they more than made it work.
The lesson: Basketball isn’t played on paper. Just because Blake Griffin plays power forward doesn’t mean the Clippers have to avoid every talented guy that’s the same size as him. You acquire talented guys with skills that mesh together, regardless of what their projected position is.
Pick and Roll Defense
The lifeline of just about every NBA offense is the pick and roll. Defending the pick and roll is obviously a total team effort, but it helps to have an elite defender critically involved in nearly possession. How did the Celtics go from lottery team to a defensive powerhouse? A lot of that started with Kevin Garnett, who is one of the best pick and roll defenders of our lifetime. For the Lakers, Pau Gasol is a mobile big who defends the pick and roll excellently as well. Before them Tim Duncan made the Spurs a dominant defensive team with his pick and roll and post defense.
The Lesson: It starts up front. A team with great post and pick and roll defenders (Garnett, Perkins) can cover up for a multitude of other deficiencies.
Notice how zombie Phil Jackson was always bringing up ball movement during timeouts? The Lakers were always at their best when Kobe wasn’t in full blown chucker mode and Ron Artest wasn’t dribbling all over the court. The triangle offense is unique, but the principles can be adapted to any offense. Whether it was because there were a lack of playmakers (Kaman and Gordon) or a few ballstoppers out there (Butler), the Clippers offense really lacked any sort of flow. Most of the season it appeared players were simply taking turns with their shot attempts — nothing was dictated on what the defense was giving them, just guys getting the ball and deciding who got to shoot on that possession.
The Lesson: It’s all about trust. The Lakers and Celtics were at their best when they trusted their offense to provide good looks for them. If the fear that the ball will never return is eliminated, the Clippers can start to look like a real NBA offense.
The Clippers will certainly need to walk before they can run, but both the Celtics and the Lakers provide nice blueprints on how to properly rise from the ashes.