If you take away the worst owner in professional sports, a red-headed stepchild complex and a coach whose name rhymes with Shminny del Shmegro, there's a lot to like about the Los Angeles Clippers. Last year was Chris Paul's first with the team and he immediately transformed the perennial doormat into a legitimate contender. Paul's floor leadership and ability to lift a team is unparalleled in the NBA today; the man can polish a turd like no other. He is also a free agent after this season, a cloud that could hang over this team as the season progresses. When one's owner is a skinflint slumlord, there's always a chance that the best player in franchise history might be allowed to walk right out the door.
All seven longtime Clipper fans, Bill Simmons and a boatload of bandwagon highlight junkies are hoping Blake Griffin has either learned to shoot or dunk his free throws, and that free agent additions Jamal Crawford, Grant Hill, Matt Barnes and Lamar Odom can take this team to the next level. Griffin in particular will be under scrutiny as defenses pack the paint and hack him relentlessly until he can prove himself at the charity stripe. On the bright side, he's the funniest player in the NBA (Not counting Stephen Jackson. Unintentional comedy doesn't count.)
Lost in the mix of big names and holy bejeezus dunks is third year guard Eric Bledsoe, who is one of the most incredible athletes in the league. A 6'1" block of muscle, we personally saw him rise up and swat Lebron James at the rim his rookie season and, under the tutelage of Paul, he may finally be ready to contribute regular rotation minutes. Expect his head coach to spend the season giving him the sage advice to ATTACK and jerking his minutes around seemingly without rhyme or reason.
The biggest question for this team now is at the center position, where DeAndre Jordan must develop his game beyond "High school kid playing on a lowered rim against his little brother." Jordan has yet to show an ability to do anything other than dunk or swat shots into the stands, and while he is one of the most popular guys on the team, made free throws and proper defensive rotations are what the Clippers really need if they are to have any chance to advance beyond the second round. His backups are Ryan Hollins and Ronny Turiaf. In related news the Clips could struggle at the 5.
Lastly, what to make of Lamar Odom? Is he the picture of versatility that helped the Lakers win back-to-back championships, or is he the mopey turd that the Mavericks paid $10 million to go home last year? The guess here is that the move back to Los Angeles and a hefty dose of Chris Paul butt-patting gets Odom back to the former. The Clippers are trending upward, and if the Mayans have it right, we might very well end up seeing an all-LA conference finals this year. May Tom Cruise save us all.
It's a weird but common basketball euphemism to call something or someone an ankle-breaker, but were you to do so in the Bay Area this season, you might actually end up in the bay. So high are the hopes for this young team and so dependent are those hopes on the ankular (if you looked this up, HA on you) health of Stephen Curry and Andrew Bogut. At least on paper, the Warriors are legitimate contenders for the 8-seed in the West. That may not sound like much to you, but that's like telling a Golden State fan they have a real shot at Mila Kunis.
With Curry, Klay Thompson and the wing combo of Brandon Rush and top draft pick Harrison Barnes, the Warriors will feature one of the league's best 3-point attacks. And with Bogut protecting the rim (and David Lee), and solid additions in Carl Landry and Jarrett Jack, you can see why Oakland is doing the pee-pee dance in anticipation for the 2012-13 season. Injuries, youth, and the possibility that Mark Jackson begins speaking in tongues stand in the way, but this is likely the best Warriors team since Baron Davis could do this:
Baron Davis highlights seem so unbelievable now that they should all be turned into flickery old-timey black and white film reels. One of the fastest aging processes I've ever seen.
Best unis in the league, a completely tortured fanbase, a young nucleus that's fun to root for, and a local correspondent named Brodie Brazil... can we not all collectively root for this team for at least one year? Make the damn playoffs, Warriors.