The L.A. Clippers can stop worrying about having to play for Donald Sterling and on winning the first championship in franchise history. They are +1200 on NBA odds.
Free At Last!
You heard some talk that Clippers coach/boss Doc Rivers might quit if the sale of the team from Sterling's family trust to former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer for a record $2 billion wasn't completed by the time the 2014-15 season rolled around in late October. Or that star Chris Paul, among others, would refuse to play.
However, a California Superior Court judge ruled against Sterling on Monday in his attempt to block the sale, brokered by wife Shelly, which should pave the way for the sale to go through by the Aug. 15 deadline. Donald Sterling can and undoubtedly will appeal, but he can't delay the sale from going forward during said appeal. It was a total victory for Shelly Sterling.
So now it's on to basketball and not legal issues. The Clippers finished 57-25 last season -- 46-35-1 ATS on NBA odds -- and third in the Western Conference. It was a franchise record for wins and the second straight Pacific Division title for the Clippers. Los Angeles beat Golden State in seven games in the Western Conference quarterfinals but lost in six games to Oklahoma City in the conference semifinals. It was a truly thrilling series with incredible comebacks galore. The killer game for the Clippers was blowing a seven-point lead in the final 50 seconds of Game 5 to lose 105-104. Hang on to that and L.A. takes a 3-2 series lead back home. Instead, the Clippers blew an early 16-ponit lead at Staples Center in Game 6 and were ousted 104-98.
Paul was first team All-NBA again, while Blake Griffin had his best season, averaging a career-high 24.1 points (52.8 percent from the field) along with 9.5 rebounds and 3.9 assists. He was second team All-NBA. Rivers also got the best out of center DeAndre Jordan, who averaged 10.4 points (on stellar 67.6 percent shooting), a league-high 13.6 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game. He joined seven other players in history who grabbed at least 1,100 rebounds and blocked a minimum 200 shots in the same season. Jordan, who finished third in NBA Defensive Player of the Year voting, also joined Wilt Chamberlain and Dwight Howard as the only players to lead the league in both rebounds and field-goal percentage. Jordan can't shoot free throws to save his life and that's a problem in close games because Rivers has to pull him off the court.
The Clippers were mentioned in the LeBron James sweepstakes but said they would never include Griffin in a sign-and-trade. James said he was only ever going to play in Cleveland or Miami so nothing came of it. Instead the team made some minor tweaks. The Clippers signed guard Jordan Farmar and center Spencer Hawes, re-signed Glen "Big Baby" Davis and took University of Washington shooting guard C.J. Wilcox in the first round of the draft.
The 7-foot-1 Hawes averaged 13.2 points, 8.3 rebounds and 3.0 assists with the Cavaliers and the 76ers during the 2013-14 season. The team needed another big man with not much size other than Jordan and Griffin. Plus Hawes is a solid free-throw shooter. Farmar is a good shooter. He averaged 10.1 points, 4.9 assists and 2.5 rebounds in 41 games last year with the Lakers. The big loss was guard Darren Collison to Sacramento. He was a terrific backup to Paul and co-starter with him at times. In one 18-game stretch in which Paul was out with a separated shoulder, Collison raised his game in a big way and the Clippers went 12-6 in those 18 (Paul has never played in all 82 regular-season games in his career). Farmar is a better shooter than Collison but not the ball-handler or defender he is. With Jamal Crawford, Farmar, Jared Dudley, Davis and Hawes the Clippers should have one of the NBA's best benches.
One other thing to mention: Griffin recently pulled out of the FIBA World Cup because of a small fracture in his back that was suffered in the playoffs. It's not supposed to affect Griffin by the time the season rolls around. He has been very durable other than missing what would have been his entire rookie season.
NBA Free Picks
If the Clippers were in the East, I'd consider them the favorites in the conference. The West is so darn deep. Still, I think L.A. is great value at +550 to win the West and +1200 to win it all on NBA odds. Right now I lean a Bulls-Clippers Finals matchup at +2500 even if Kevin Love ends up in Cleveland. Having a new owner who is willing to spend whatever it takes for the Clippers to win will be infectious.