2016-17 record: 51-31. 4th in the Western Conference. Lost in the first round to the Utah Jazz in the first round of the playoffs in seven games.
Transactions: After a first round exit in seven games at the hands of the Utah Jazz that was considered by many to be an upset, something had to give.
Quite a lot did. Even more than anyone could have anticipated.
Doc Rivers had initially stated that he wanted to keep the team together, but that decision was taken out of his hands when he was relieved of his title of President of basketball operations and general manager duties, but will continue on as head coach.
Rivers never really thrived in the GM role. He didn’t invest in young talent and generally traded away draft picks and he also has a pretty spotty history in terms of pursuing free agents that includes pretty dubious signings like Nate Robinson, Hedo Turkoglu, Jordan Farmar, Chuck Hayes and Glenn “Big Baby” Davis.
Coming to the team was Hall of Famer Jerry West as a management consultant who is more closely associated with the other LA team, having played with for his entire career and later as a renowned GM who built the championship teams of the 80s Showtime era and the Shaq-Kobe dynasty in the early 2000s. West later served as GM of the Memphis Grizzlies and then joined the Golden State Warriors management team in 2011 and helped build the championship team that is today.
West has got impeccable credentials and is a living legend in the basketball world. It’s a major coup for the Clippers to have him in the organization and really bodes well for the future of the team and they look to find a direction that will lead to championship success.
Since Lob City had been constructed with the arrival of Chris Paul, the team had not made it past the second round. It also marked the second consecutive year that they were knocked off by a lower seed in the first round after the Portland Trail Blazers eliminated them in 2016.
Despite five consecutive seasons of 50+ wins (including a 40 win season in a lock-out shortened 66 game campaign) since forming the core of club of Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, the inability of the team to translate continued regular season excellence into any playoff success meant that it was time to move on from that core and give the team a new look.
Shockingly, it was Paul who decided to part ways with the Clippers after six seasons. The man who took a team that was once a league-wide laughing stock and transformed it into a perennial playoff contender. The greatest player the franchise ever saw, one of the best point guards in the history of the NBA and a first ballot Hall of Famer was moving on.
To give you an idea of just how big an impact CP3 had on the Clippers, before he arrived the team had made the playoffs seven times in 41 years. Yet there they were in the postseason for every single one of Chris Paul’s six seasons in Los Angeles.
That’s the kind of impact that should ensure that if the Clippers ever get their own stadium that a Chris Paul statue is outside of it.
In true Chris Paul fashion, he decided to give his team one final assist by opting out of his contract with the team in order to facilitate a sign-and-trade that allowed them to reload with talent and prevented the departure from becoming as disastrous as it otherwise could have been.
In return for CP3, the Clippers received a package that included Patrick Beverley, Lou Williams, Montrezl Harrell, Sam Dekker, DeAndre Liggins, Darrun Hilliard, Kyle Wiltjer and a protected first round pick. The Clippers would later waive Wiltjer and Hilliard.
Losing a first-team all-defensive presence in the back-court hurts, but maybe not as much as it could have if you didn’t add another first-team all defense player to the back-court in return which is exactly what the Clippers were able to get in Beverley. While you’d be hard pressed to find a guard that can defend as well as CP3, Beverley is a versatile and athletic lock down defender in his own right. He can antagonize opponents in one-on-one match-ups and will give the Clippers a defensive anchor who they can put into either guard spot depending on situations.
In Williams, the Clippers get a Sixth Man of the Year candidate (he won the award in 2015) to replace the departing 2016 Sixth Man of the Year Splash Uncle Jamal Crawford. Sweet Lou brings a dizzying array of scoring ability to the Clippers off the bench and is coming off a season where he averaged a career high 17.5 points per game in time split between the Los Angeles Lakers and Houston Rockets. The Clippers were able to replace the aging Crawford with a younger more reliable scorer off the bench.
23 year old Montrezl Harrell will give the Clippers a lot of energy and physicality off the bench. The 6’8”, 240 pounder should be the primary back-up to Blake Griffin off the bench and should thrive with a minutes increase. When Harrell saw a minutes increase over a 15 game stretch where Clint Capela was injured, he responded by averaging 14.2 points, 4.2 rebounds and 1.1 blocks during that run. He should receive a lot of minutes and a big role in LA.
Sam Dekker is entering his third year in the Association and at 6’9” and 230 pounds he offers the Clippers a lot of positional versatility at the forward spot. Mike D’Antoni loved using him as a stretch 4 in small line-ups and take advantage of Dekker’s scoring ability inside and outside the three point line. He’s also a versatile defender with his ability to switch onto smaller guards and keep with them due to his energetic D. He will give the Clippers a ton of options off the bench and seems poised to make big strides in his career with an increased role.
DeAndre Liggins will try to catch on with the team at training camp and likely will be a depth guard. If makes the team and plays, he offers solid defense standing at 6’6” with a 6’11” reach.
It’s really almost impossible to trade a player with Chris Paul’s Hall of Fame-level credentials and come out on top. The Clippers didn’t necessarily do that, but did get a good return that gives them a lot of line-up flexibility, youth and depth off the bench. The sign-and-trade route really prevented what could have been a complete disaster for the franchise if they had lost their best player for nothing. Instead they can move forward and compete rather than having to go into the tank to rebuild.
That direction was driven home with the team’s decision to give a five year. $173 million deal to Blake Griffin which now cements the 28 year old as the face of the franchise and the foundation on which they will build the team going forward.
There is some risk in terms of going with Griffin. He does have a pretty extensive injury history. He’s played less than 70 games over the last three seasons, including only 35 in the 2015-16 campaign due to a recurring quad injury and a broken hand sustained from punching a member of the training staff (!) which also leads to some difficult questions about what the hell was going on behind the scenes with this team. His injury in game three of the first round series against the Jazz last season likely cost the Clippers their playoff run.
Despite his the risks, I’m of a firm belief that we haven’t seen the best basketball of Blake Griffin’s career yet.
Playing with Chris Paul, meant that we never got to see Griffin’s excellent ball-handling skills nearly enough. He has an absolutely incredible handle for a player who stands at 6’10” and is also one of the best passing big men in the league. Griffin will likely get to run the offense in a lot of sets which will allow him to display his play-making abilities and give him the primary role that his talent will definitely allow him to carry out.
The Clippers were involved in another sign-and-trade, this time in a three team deal which also involved the Denver Nuggets and Atlanta Hawks that saw them part with Jamal Crawford and the first round pick they had acquired from the Rockets but come away with Danilo Gallinari who they then inked to a three year, $65 million deal.
Gallo is the solution to the small forward position that the team has been searching for. He’s a scoring machine coming off an excellent season with the Nuggets were he averaged 18.9 points on 44.7% shooting including 38.9% from three point range. At 6’10” he offers the Clippers a great deal of offensive versatility as he can player either forward spot in different sets and allow them to space the floor.
Gallinari does offer a risk in terms of his even more extensive injury history than Blake Griffin including an ACL tear that caused him to miss the entire 2013-14 season, but he did manage 63 games last season which is his highest total since his return from injury but he has since broken his hand while scuffling under the basket in a friendly for the Italian national team. He should be ready for training camp and hopefully getting his yearly injury out of the way in the summer will mean a healthy season with his new team.
When he’s on the floor, he’ll be an incredible offensive talent for the Clippers and replace the scoring and sharpshooting that the team lost when JJ Redick departed for the Philadelphia 76ers in free agency. Gallo should fit in really well with this Clippers squad and gives them a ton of length and size up front when starting alongside Griffin and DeAndre Jordan.
With the departure of Chris Paul, certainly Lob City was dead, right?
The Clippers took the basketball world by storm and set our wildest basketball dreams in motion when they brought Milos Teodosic into the NBA.
The 30 year old was widely considered to the best player outside of the NBA and is absolute magic with his passing skills which is why he’s literally nicknamed The Magician all over Europe. He’s also an excellent three point shooter and thrives in transition and most importantly for the Clippers on the pick-and-roll. His offensive IQ is off the charts as he can read and react to opposing defenses and carve them up with his play-making skills.
Defensively he is somewhat of a liability but that’s what Patrick Beverley is going to be there for. Teodosic will be there primarily to activate Griffin and Jordan down low and he’s more than capable of doing that. Thus the spectacular rim attacking offense of the Los Angeles Clippers will live again.
Lob City is dead. Long live Lob City.
To that end, the team added another key piece in free agency in signing Willie Reed who is a major upgrade from Marreese Speights, who left in free agency, in the sense that he can protect the rim very well when Jordan is on the bench and is also an effective finisher who can catch lobs on the second unit. Given his skill set, he’s an absolute steal for LA on a minimum contract.
Reed also has intriguing potential if Jordan has to miss any time. In five starts for the Miami Heat last season, he averaged 14.8 points, 8.2 rebounds and 1.8 blocks in 28.5 minutes per game. That run included a monster performance against the Phoenix Suns where he put up 22 points and 18 rebounds. The Clippers have more big man depth than they have in a long time with Reed and Harrell.
2017 NBA Draft: The Clippers continued their departure from their usual approach under Doc Rivers by changing their approach in the draft from one of general disinterest to going out of their way to acquiring assets in the draft. It
In order to do this the team purchased the 39th pick in the draft from the Philadelphia 76ers, using it to select Oklahoma State point guard Jawun Evans who lead the Cowboys to the top offense in the country, averaging 19 points and 6.7 assists.
Evans is a quick study offensively and thrives as both a scoring guard and a play-maker. The 21 year old excels in the pick and roll by both attacking the screen and forcing switches with his quickness. He should be able to adapt quickly to the pro game offensively pretty easily after leading the most efficient offense in all of college basketball last year.
On the back end, Evans struggles due to his 6’0” height and limited reach. He’s also got to work on his outside shooting, but really makes up for his deficiencies with his ability to draw contact, get to the line and make excellent decisions on offense.
The Clippers also purchased the 48th pick in the draft from the Milwaukee Bucks which they used to select Sindarius Thornwell out of South Carolina. The 23 year old finished his senior year with 21.4 points on 44.2% shooting including 39.9% from three point range and also added 7.2 boards and 2.2 steals. He leaves the Gamecocks as SEC player of the year and third in points, tenth in rebounds and ninth in assists in school history.
At 6’5” with a 6’10” wingspan, the young man nicknamed “Sin City” has the physical tools needed to guard multiple positions which should help ensure him a place in the NBA. He plays very tough D and isn’t afraid to throw his body around to get a stop. He’s fearless in the face of challenged from opposing players and uses his physical tools to disrupt opposing offenses with steals, blocks and crashing the defensive glass. Thornwell is comfortable guarding players in both the perimeter and the paint.
On the offensive end, Sin City combines his ability to hit from deep with his physicality which allows him to get to the line frequently. His elite passing and ball-handling abilities also serve to make him an offensive asset.
The Clippers made the most of their purchased picks and got very high value in the second round.
Outlook: It says a lot about Chris Paul that it will take two players to even begin to replace what he offered in the back-court. But it would be incredibly unfair to either to even begin to suggest that they could replace a player of that magnitude.
In Teodosic, the Clippers will get an incredible play-maker and in Beverley they have an all-NBA defender. I’d expect to see them deployed on the court together in a lot sets because their strengths really help to negate each others’ weaknesses. The Magician is a defensive liability, where Beverley is one of the best defenders in the game. Teodosic will be spectacular and create incredible plays where Beverley is rather pedestrian on offense.
Together they will work well in the back-court, while they can also play apart in different sets and allow the Clippers different back-court looks.
Austin Rivers is going to also play a huge role this season. There was a a lot of unfair speculation that it was Rivers and his father’s insistence on playing him that caused the rift that drove Chris Paul out of LA. People love those sorts of rumours and speculation and Austin gets dogged all the time for the “coach’s son” role he plays in a lot of people’s minds.
Rivers is a good basketball player though and he deserves NBA minutes. He’s a solid combo guard who can create his own shot on offense and last season shot 45% after taking at least three dribbles and 46% on plays where he took seven or more. This ability will come in handy with the new look offense and different sets that the Clippers will be able to put out with a new look line-up. Rivers averaged 12 points and 2.8 assists last season but it ballooned to 16.1 points and 3.8 assists as a starter. Given that he’s guaranteed more minutes this season, I’d expect him to break out.
DeAndre Jordan is coming off his first all-star appearance and remains one of the NBA’s premiere big men. He’s an incredible finisher and will be catching his fair share of lobs from new addition Teodosic, but his value will remain on the back end where the two-time all-defensive first team selection remains one of the best rim protectors in all of basketball.
Perhaps the the most important element that Jordan will continue to bring to the Clippers is his ongoing durability. On a team that’s often been defined by injury problems in the past, Jordan played 81 games last season, 77 the season before and all 82 the three seasons before that which is incredibly important for this team.
For the first time in a while, he’s got a capable back-up in Willie Reed with Montrezl Harrell likely also factoring into the big man rotation which means the Clippers don’t have to run Jordan big minutes all the time and can rest him when needed to gear up for the stretch run where they will likely be in the play-off hunt. Reed and Harrell also offer significantly better free throw shooting should the hacking strategy be deployed against DeAndre.
How successful the team is will likely depend of the health of Blake Griffin who in unquestionably the man with the departure of Chris Paul and will have the ability to showcase his passing and play-making abilities as the team’s primary offensive player. If Blake is able to stay healthy, he’s going to have an incredible season – perhaps even the best of his career and I really like the team’s chances of making the post-season.
I would expect Blake to match or exceed his career averages of 21.5 points and 9.4 boards but increase his 4.1 career assist average. Rivers will likely use a lot of line-ups where Griffin is the primary ball-handler, particularly on sets where Beverley is the starting point guard, which should see him paired with scorers like Gallo or Lou Williams that he can dish off to. Griffin will have every opportunity to take his game to another level.
Griffin is also the undisputed leader of this team. Whatever character issues he had in the best, he’s got to move on from them and take the reins. Especially with an influx of young talent who will look to Blake as a veteran leader. It’s a role he hasn’t played in his career and his ability to carry it out will go a long way to determining how successful their season is.
He came into the league incredibly hyped and there was often talk of his MVP potential. Griffin really has showed flashes of it at times, but now gets to really send a message to the entire league that he is among the elite players in the game.
The Clippers have really reinvented themselves with renewed depth and line-up versatility. Gallinari and Williams are excellent volume scorers and Sweet Lou will likely find himself in the Sixth Man of the Year mix as he takes over the Jamal Crawford role on the team. Harrell and Dekker offer youth and high energy off the bench. They are both hard workers and looking to make big leaps in their career and with big roles in the rotation can and will really add a lot to this team. This is easily the best line-up that the team has had in a long time in terms of depth and the ability to space and pace the floor.
Sindarius Thornwell should also going to factor into the rotation and I think he will surprise a lot of people with his defense and tenacity and really add a lot to this team as one of the biggest steals in the draft. I am really excited to see what Sin City can bring to the pro game and genuinely believe at worst he will be a solid three and D option off the bench.
Chris Paul is a huge loss and the team will take a major step back, but they’ve successfully reloaded with a new look and a youthful energy that will really bolster the team. Their second unit is much better than what they offered last season in that sense.
They will take a step back in terms of moving on from their biggest star, but I believe that this line-up can and will contend for a playoff spot. They’ll be in a dog fight in a loaded Western Conference but should come out with one of the lower seeds if they stay healthy.
I like this team a lot more than some analysts do but in a league where spacing is at a premium, the Clippers have done a good job in creating a line-up that can offer up a lot of different looks. The youth and energy they’ve added off the bench will also give this team a huge lift and a new feel, which will allow them to run with just about anyone.
Prediction: 43-39. 7th in the Western Conference. Likely first round exit.