Los Angeles Clippers Decision Time: At a Crossroads

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Blake Griffin
LOS ANGELES, UNITED STATES - APRIL 03: Blake Griffin (32) and J.J. Redick of LA Clippers gesture during an NBA game between Los Angeles Clippers vs Washington Wizards at Staples Center, Los Angeles , CA, USA on April 03, 2016. (Photo by Mintaha Neslihan Eroglu/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

The Los Angeles Clippers are seemingly at a crossroads.

Instead of losing star point guard Chris Paul for nothing in free agency, the squad traded the point guard to the Houston Rockets this summer for an impressive return which included Patrick Beverley, Lou Williams, Sam Dekker, Montrezl Harrell, and a 2018 first-round pick.

Los Angeles Clippers Decision Time: At a Crossroads

This haul, plus sweet-shooting free agent Danilo Gallinari gave Los Angeles fans hope for an egalitarian offense, centered around their all-star frontcourt of Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. Griffin had shown flashes of point-forward skills in the past sans CP3, and this was the year he would fully unleash them.

All these possibilities had people projecting the Clippers to still be in the playoff hunt. A 4-0 start to the season did nothing to diminish these hopes.

Fast forward to now. The Clippers sit at 10-15 and in 10th place in the Western Conference. Beverley, the new starting point guard, had microfracture surgery on his knee and will miss the rest of the season.

Griffin, the one hope of meeting their probably-too-high expectations, sprained his MCL in late November and is expected to miss up to two months. Their free agent jewel, Gallinari, has played in only 11 games and is shooting a ghastly 34.5% from the floor.

With all these issues this early in the season, coach Doc Rivers may not be around for long. How should the Clippers proceed — both this season and the future?

Step #1: Trade DeAndre Jordan

Jordan has been dangled as trade bait by the Clippers before, dating back to the 2017 NBA Draft. With a player option next year that he will almost certainly decline, the new Jerry West-led* front office should not be excited about potentially giving Jordan $30 million a year.

Bill Simmons of The Ringer has been know to play around with ESPN’s Trade Machine, and you can read his hypothetical Jordan trades here. To start, the Clippers should call up the Cleveland Cavaliers and see if that unprotected Brooklyn Nets first-round pick is on the table. (The Cavs probably shouldn’t give up this pick for potentially only a few months of Jordan).

Realistic Trade Options

If they are unwilling to give up the pick (plus Tristan Thompson and bench guys), the Clippers should cast a wider net. Reports are that the Milwaukee Bucks, Washington Wizards, Toronto Raptors, and Minnesota Timberwolves are all interested in trading for Jordan.

Immediately take the Wolves off this list. They don’t have any intriguing assets that they would part with, and their picks would almost definitely be outside of the lottery.

Both the Wizards and Raptors are interesting, but would they give up young guys to sweeten the deal for L.A.? Would Washington give up Kelly Oubre Jr. (+Marcin Gortat and a pick) for Jordan? What about Toronto giving up either rookie O.G. Anunoby (doubtful) or Norman Powell, plus Jonas Valanciunas and a pick? Neither of these teams has much cap space to re-sign Jordan, either.

The destination picking up rumor steam is Milwaukee. Would the Bucks give up Jabari Parker after two ACL tears in a package for Jordan? A package of Parker, John Henson and Malcolm Brogdon is probably the best deal for the Clippers.

Trading Jordan will start the rebuilding process with a bang. It would be shocking if Jordan still calls L.A. home at season’s end.

*At this point, Jerry West is like Yoda when overseeing player personnel decisions. His tenure with the Showtime Lakers is bulletproof, and his input kept Golden State from making regrettable decisions (cc: trading Klay Thompson and Draymond Green for Kevin Love.) ALWAYS LISTEN TO THE LOGO.

Step #2: Restock Draft Picks

Under coach/general manager hybrid Doc Rivers, the team was wont to trade first round draft picks for nothing. They gave up first for Jeff Green and traded a first to get rid of Jared Dudley.

Their drafts also haven’t been great. Since drafting Blake Griffin no. 1 overall in 2009, the Clippers have taken Al-Farouq Aminu (#8 – 2010), Reggie Bullock (#25 – 2013), C.J. Wilcox (#28 – 2014) and Brice Johnson (#25 – 2016). None of those have been hits in Los Angeles.

Since the Clippers will not be contending this year, they should look to move any veterans who can help playoff teams for young prospects or picks.

The main name that comes to mind is Lou Williams. Wiliams is averaging a career-high 19.7 points per game on 45% shooting, 39.7% from three and 89% from the line. His 4.7 assists are also a career high. Any team that needs a scoring boost could use the services of Williams.

Unfortunately for the Clippers, there really aren’t any other pieces teams would trade for on their roster. Wesley Johnson? Austin Rivers on his contract? Not sure these names are moving the meter for any playoff team.

Step #3: Play The Young Guys

This step might also be called “Move On From Doc”. In his coaching career, Rivers has never played young guys very much and has always balked at a rebuild. Leaving Boston for Los Angeles when he did proves that.

This year, however, there is no reason not to throw the young guys off the deep end and see what potential they have. With Beverley out and Euro rookie-passing savant Milos Teodosic dealing with foot issues, the Clippers staff should put the ball in the hands of rookie Jawun Evans.

Evans, a second-round pick from Oklahoma State, came from a heavy pick-and-roll offense in college. According to Draft Express, 56.3% of Evans’ offensive possessions were spent running PnR. Let him do his thing and see if he can develop, both as a playmaker (6.4 assists in college) and a shooter (38% from college three).

Give other prospects like Sindarius Thornwell, Sam Dekker, Montrezl Harrell and Brice Johnson a chance to show whether or not they should be involved long-term with the rebuild.

Step #4: Invest In A Better Medical Staff

This section is sort of meant as a joke, but it still holds a shred of truth. This season alone, the Clippers have been a hospital ward with all their injuries. With Griffin and Gallinari as the highest-paid players going forward (Gallo signed through ’20, Griffin through ’22), health will always be an issue.

Owner Steve Ballmer of Microsoft fame should scour the earth for the best preventative medical staff available. Anything to exterminate the injury bug that has nested in L.A. for the entire Griffin era.

So attack this issue with your usual enthusiasm, Ballmer. The fans want to see a healthy season from the Clippers at some point.

Final Thoughts 

As NBA fans, it seems as if we get too caught up in the “championship-or-bust” mindset at times. Sure, get your “The Clippers have never made it past the second round of the playoffs” jokes off, but here’s a little context.

The franchise has made the playoffs only 13 times since its birth in 1970. In those 47 years, the Clippers have won just 39.9% of their games. The team suffered through long playoff droughts. They have always received second-billing since moving to L.A. in 1984.

In the “Lob City” era with the CP3-Blake-DJ triumvirate, the team made the playoffs for six straight seasons and came within a Josh Smith-fueled comeback of making the conference finals. It is true that the Clippers have yet to win a ring or even make the NBA Finals, but their relative success should not be ignored.

With Jerry West in the fold and some tradeable pieces, it is time to rebuild around a multi-talented big man who just needs to stay healthy. Best of luck to the franchise going forward as they move through the rebuilding process.

All stats courtesy of basketball-reference.com unless otherwise noted.

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