LOS ANGELES--The Los Angeles Clippers were overwhelmed from the pain they felt after being eliminated from the playoffs by Oklahoma City in May.
Chris Paul and J.J. Redick cried in the locker room at Staples Center after the Clippers lost Game 6 of their second-round series to the Thunder. Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan and Jamal Crawford also agonized over losing the series.
But Clippers Coach Doc Rivers, who became president of basketball operations after the season, insisted his team was only a few "pieces" away from competing for an NBA championship.
Since July 1, when the NBA's free-agent marketplace opened, five players on the Clippers' playoff team exited, while Rivers signed free agents Spencer Hawes and Jordan Farmar and re-signed Glen Davis. The Clippers also drafted guard C.J. Wilcox with their first-round pick in June.
Rivers is upbeat about the direction his team is headed.
"We didn't win it, but we were close. And we like our team," Rivers said on the day Hawes and Farmar signed their contracts. "So the decision we've made is we just want to add to that. We just want to keep adding pieces to this puzzle to try to put us over" the top.
Signing Hawes, a 7-foot-1 center, to a four-year, $23-million deal and Farmar, a 6-2 guard, to a two-year, $4.2-million contract helped upgrade the Clippers' roster. And re-signing Davis for one year at $1.2 million gives them depth in the frontcourt.
Meanwhile, free-agent forward Danny Granger left for Miami, guard Willie Green was waived (claimed by Orlando) and free agents Ryan Hollins and Hedo Turkoglu have yet to sign with a team.
But the big departure for the Clippers was losing key reserve Darren Collison to Sacramento.
Collison, who signed a three-year, $16-million deal with the Kings, was a very good backup point guard for Paul. Collison played in 80 games last season, including a stretch of 18 games while Paul was out with a separated right shoulder.
Collison, who averaged 11.4 points, 3.7 assists and 1.2 steals last season, helped the Clippers go 12-6 during Paul's absence.
Offensively, Farmar probably can fill Collison's role. Farmar averaged 10.1 points, 4.9 assists and shot 43.8 percent from three-point range last season while playing in only 41 games with the Lakers because of injuries.
Farmar, 27, will have to improve his defense, however.
Here's a closer look at the 2014-15 Clippers:
GUARDS: They have a trio of guards who can hang with any group in the NBA.
Paul (19.1 points, a league-leading 10.7 assists last season) is an All-Star, Redick (15.2 points, 39.5 percent from three-point range) is one of the league's best outside shooters and Crawford (18.6 points) won the NBA's sixth man of the year award for a second time.
But Paul hasn't played in all 82 regular-season games in any of his nine seasons, with injuries always derailing him. That's why Collison was so valuable for the Clippers.
Farmar will need to contribute off the bench, but he may also have to hold the Clippers together if Paul misses games.
FORWARDS: Griffin emerged as one of the top players in the NBA, finishing third in the voting for the league's MVP award behind winner Kevin Durant and LeBron James.
Matt Barnes was solid as the starting small forward, but Jared Dudley struggled with his shot, making 43.8 percent of his field goals and lost his starting job.
CENTER: Jordan will start, but having Hawes around will be an upgrade.
Jordan was one of the NBA's best defenders and led the league in rebounding (13.6 a game). But his free-throw shooting remained a problem last season, as he made just 42.8 percent. Hawes, a 70.3 percent career free-throw shooter, could replace Jordan late in games.
Jordan also is in the last year of a contract that pays him $11.4 million next season. If Jordan gets a big offer from another team next summer and the Clippers can't afford him because of luxury tax concerns, having Hawes is a nice insurance.
BENCH: Just having Crawford coming off the bench gives the Clippers one of the best reserve units in the game.
Hawes is the quality backup big man the Clippers lacked last season. He's mostly been a starter throughout his seven-year career, and started 78 of the 80 games he played last season.
But he can play both center and power forward. Perhaps more important, Hawes can stretch the floor with his outside shooting, which will give Griffin more room to operate down low when the two are in the game together.
Hawes, 26, averaged 13.2 points, 8.3 rebounds and 3.0 assists while splitting time between Cleveland and Philadelphia last season. He shot 45.6 percent from the field, 41.6 percent from three-point range and 78.3 percent from the free-throw line last season. Hawes is not known for his defense, so he'll have to improve in that area.
Farmar and Davis are expected to be solid off the bench, although the Clippers want Davis to be in better shape to back up Griffin.
And if Dudley returns to form, the Clippers will have a 10-man rotation.
OFF-SEASON GRADE: B plus.
The Clippers will be a better team just because they have played one season in Rivers' system and because of the sting they felt from losing in the playoffs.
But the Western Conference is super competitive and the Clippers may not improve upon their 57-25 record last season while winning their second consecutive Pacific Division title.
Still, the Clippers feel as if their current roster may just be good enough to compete with the NBA champion San Antonio Spurs and Thunder for the top spot in the conference.
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