The Clippers Window is Over, and it’s Not Getting Better Anytime Soon.
Going into the 2013-2014 season, the Clippers faithful finally had something to actually be excited about. They had a young, electric big man in Blake Griffin who seemed like one of the most promising players in the league. They had an All-NBA caliber point guard in Chris Paul who had just completed his first full-season after being traded in December of 2011. They had a strong nucleus of role players in Jamal Crawford, J.J. Redick and Matt Barnes, as well as breakout candidate DeAndre Jordan. This also comes with the fact they made the playoffs for the second straight year, won 56 games in the regular season, and had now acquired one of the best coaches in the game: Doc Rivers. With the Lakers crumbling below expectations the year prior, it seemed like the spotlight in LA was finally going to be on the Clippers for years to come.
Oh how quickly times change.
Nearly four years after all that anticipation and hope, nothing seems like it went according to plan. The Clippers have, by no means, been a bad team, as they have won at least 50 games every season since then consequently making the playoffs these seasons. However, the team only won two playoff series and never made the conference finals. Even with DeAndre Jordan blossoming into an All-Star, the team was never able to take off and compete at the top of the West with the Spurs, Thunder, and the Warriors. Every year it seemed like they had a really talented team that had people intrigued as if they could play with the big guns, but every year they would show their weakness. Doc Rivers came in to elevate the team, but never was able to do so. Jordan, for as talented as he was, was exposed for poor free throw shooting and limited offensive skill. These struggles combined with Blake Griffins declining performance and injuries, as well as locker room struggles, helped contribute to them being a good but not great team in the West.
And this offseason seems to mark not just the end of this window, but the beginning of a downward spiral.
It started when Redick, one of the best shooters in the game, decided to take his trade out east to Philadelphia. Once Redick left, Paul became frustrated that the organization had no instant way to replace his offensive abilities. This combined with the frustration of playoff losses and disputes with Doc Rivers led to him to demand a trade, which he got when he was sent to the Rockets on June 28. With Paul leaving, they went from a top four team in the West to borderline playoff team. With Griffin also being a free agent, there were some who thought maybe the team would tear down and either rebuild or target other stars.
However, the team instead signed Griffin back to a five-year/ $173 Million Super Max contract, in a deal that could contend with being one of the worst of the off-season. Griffin hasn’t been able to evolve his game the last few years and still isn’t a great floor spacer or rim protector. Despite putting up strong numbers, his influence on the floor was nowhere near as great as Paul’s, and he tended to get injured during important stretches including multiple times in the playoffs.
Along with Griffin, the team has tried to make up for what they lost by signing European star point guard Milos Teosodic, as well as doing a sign and trade deal to get wing Danilo Galinari from the Denver Nuggets. While both players will come in and help the team, they are nowhere near replacing the impact of Paul, Redick, and Jamal Crawford (who was part of the trade for Galinari). The Clippers find themselves now in a troubling state where they’re essentially in the middle. The team is barely a playoff team in the west, but at the same time they aren’t in the midst of tanking for draft picks and rebuilding. Instead they’ll be in a tricky situation where they’ll compete and maybe still make the playoffs. However they’ll be stuck with a first round exit and a poor draft slot. When these teams can’t break out of the middle they must decide to tear it down or go all in.
And while the Clippers think they don’t need to, they should definitely tear it down.
The team right now doesn’t have the right type of players and leaders to take this team to the top. Griffin is not the star that everyone thinks he is and is better suited playing second fiddle. And despite Jordan’s shot blocking, rebounding and defense, he struggles offensively and becomes a liability late in close games. They don’t shoot the ball well from 3-Point range and struggled to close out games with Chris Paul. Even if their plan is to lure LeBron James in next summer, he doesn’t want to play around two bigs who can’t shoot and hog space in the lane.
But most importantly, the time is now to hit the reset button because the Lakers are back to being the face of LA. No matter if the Clippers outshine their rivals, the Lakers have all the publicity and curiosity lying with them. With Magic Johnson becoming President of Basketball Operations and Lonzo Ball coming in, the star power lies with the Purple and Gold. Everyone is more interested with how Ball will do and how good this Laker team could become. With all the spotlight being deflected away, now is a good time to see if they can trade some guys away, get some draft picks or talented young players and try and build this team back up.
Instead, that’s not happening and the Clippers appear to be keeping this identity. This identity of “We’re happy with a seven seed and losing round one each year,” because sometimes it’s hard to let go of the thought of winning big in the NBA.
And just four years ago, the Clippers winning big what everyone thought would be happening today.