When the OKC Thunder selected Josh Giddey with the sixth pick of the 2021 NBA draft, it was met with mixed emotions. The Australian…
You know that shirt in your wardrobe that you never wear but have owned for years?
The one that never makes an appearance in the weekly rotation, usually finding itself on the inactive roster. The shirt you refuse to throw out as it escapes the spring clean. The shirt that when first bought, you thought, ‘this shirt has the potential to do great things’.
With last week’s playoff exit to the Portland Trail Blazers, that shirt has confirmed itself as the Los Angeles Clippers.
Like the unused shirt with so much potential, the Clippers promised so much when their core first came together five years ago. The Clippers though, have been unable to break through and win an NBA championship ring.
Looking at the roster since their big three (every club seems to have a big three these days) of DeAndre Jordan, Blake Griffin and Chris Paul first formed five years ago, I have always thought their team had the potential to become NBA Champions eventually.
In their big three, they have Paul who is the best pure point guard and leader in the NBA, a power forward who many have claimed for two years is the number one in the league and averaged video game like stats in last year’s playoffs (25.5ppg, 12.7rpg, 6.1apg, 1spg, 1bpg, shooting 52per cent from the field and doing this over 14 games).
Arguably they also have the best defensive centre in the league, a man who enjoys defence so much that he himself, Ben Wallace, Dennis Rodman, Tony Allen and Shane Battier all get together once a month to brainstorm potential speaking and rebuttal points, just in case they are ever challenged to debate the question: ‘What wins championships: offence or defence?’
The Clippers’ big three has also played extremely well during their time together. Plotting the Clippers’ last five seasons on the NBA Championship Standard Matrix shows that they have met the NBA Championship Standard three times over this period.
Despite oozing with the potential to do great things, this Clippers’ roster, has never been able to overcome their franchise’s playoff curse (the Clippers have never passed the second round of the playoffs in its 40+ year history).
We thought it would happen last year when finally they eclipsed the San Antonio Spurs in an epic seven-game first-round series. In the end, that series was a curse in itself, with them having no gas left to take on the Houston Rockets in the second round, exiting after a seven-game series loss.
Nevertheless, what last year’s post-season did show us, is that the Clippers, and Chris Paul for that matter, were finally capable of beating teams they weren’t ‘supposed to beat’. Everyone thought in that series the Spurs would say ‘jump’ and the Clips would say ‘how high?’ Instead, they took the next step and from that, I expected them to take the next step this year and make some noise during the 2015-16 season.
Fast forward to Boxing Day 2015 and the Clippers lost Griffin with most reporters calling game over on their season. It was probably fair enough considering Griffin led the team during the 2014-15 season in points per game (21.9), minutes per game (35.2); was second in touches per game (81.9 per game), assists per game (5.3) and rebounds per game (7.6).
Then something amazing and unpredictable happened: Paul realised that the Clippers were his team and he went crazy on the Association, averaging some of his best per 36 minutes statistics of his career. Specifically, Paul’s per 36 minutes averages were 21.5 points (highest season average in his career), 11 assists (second highest season average in his career) and 4.6 rebounds (fourth highest season average in his career).
Perhaps the most telling stat is that Paul’s assist percentage reached 52.7 from 47.2 during the 2014-15 season, meaning that 52.7 per cent of the Clippers’ points in 2015-16 were assisted by Paul while he was on the floor.
In becoming the pissed-off, chip-on-his-shoulder, screw-everyone Paul, he carried his team to a 53-29 record (30-15 without Griffin) to clinch the fourth seed in a top-heavy Western Conference. Griffin then returned just in time for the Playoffs, and the Clippers looked destined to finally test their limits after easily accounting for the Trail Blazers in the first two games.
However, fairytales can only last so long. Griffin and Paul both went down to injury. Series over and the Clippers are left in a space they have become accustomed to – the back of the wardrobe.
Where to now, and how do the Clippers escape what they have become? How do they lose the tag of a team that performs admirably during the regular season, but can’t escape the doldrums of their bleak playoff history?
The answer is making moves. They have an owner who will spend the cash necessary to win a championship, and after the 2015-16 season, they now know who they should move – Blake Griffin.
Griffin is an exceptional player, but judging from the Clippers’ exceptional performance without him this season, maybe he isn’t the right fit. Maybe he doesn’t bring them the output required for the money he commands, and maybe there are teams that would benefit from having Griffin more than Los Angeles, and vice versa with other players coming to the Clippers.
The above chart shows the 2015-16 salaries for each of the Clippers’ players on the vertical axis, and each player’s 2015-16 win shares per game played on the horizontal axis. A player’s win shares is an estimate of the number of wins directly contributed to by that player.
With these two statistics, it is possible to get an indication of how much the Clippers are willing to pay for their players in terms of win shares per game and also an indication of whether a player is undervalued or overvalued. The Clippers willingness to pay is represented by the diagonal line in the chart.
Players who are on the left of the diagonal line in the chart are overvalued – meaning that for their salary, they do not achieve a sufficient number of win shares. Consequently, players who are right of this line are undervalued, meaning that they achieve more win shares than is expected of them.
Griffin is to the left of this line while the other two members of the big three, Paul and Jordan, are almost exactly on the line, meaning their salary is an accurate representation of the output they provide.
From intersecting Griffin’s win shares per game with the diagonal line, it shows that Griffin would be appropriately paid on the Clippers team if his salary was around $14 million, some $5 million less than his current salary.
Wait, what?! Griffin’s output shows he is overpaid by the amount equal to five David Wests or just over 2.5 Josh Smiths? (On a side note, the chart also shows that when considering the number of win shares Reddick has produced this year, he has been underpaid by about $4 million. A bit of a tough pill to swallow for the Redstar.)
So, what do the Clippers need in return for Griffin if they do trade him?
They need a four-man who compliments Chris Paul and DeAndre Jordan. Someone who can space the floor for the Paul and Jordan pick and roll, can pick and roll/pick and pop with Paul himself, and who can provide a post presence, given the large hole a departing Griffin would create in this area. These requirements would imply that the Clippers are after an all-star. That’s only fair, an all-star for an all-star.
However, all-stars are hard to come by; teams don’t go shipping all-star players like they do fringe guys. There has only been one all-star four-man in trade rumours though… Introducing Kevin Love.
Kevin Love works because when the Cleveland Cavaliers inevitably lose this season’s finals’ series to the Golden State Warriors or the Spurs, LeBron James will complain to management about not having the team he needs to win.
Add to that Kevin Love will complain to management about not getting the touches he needs to score, Kyrie Irving will complain to management about not having the ball in his hands during crunch time, and Timofey Mozgov will complain to management about salaries not being equal, playing time not being equal, and there being no collective farming negotiations in their player contracts. The logical solution for this? A trade involving Kevin Love.
If the Clippers offered the Cavs Griffin for Love, why wouldn’t they take it? It works salary cap wise, and the Cavs get an all-star power forward in replacement for their current all-star power forward who is a better pick and roll player, a better passer to feed James and Irving (especially out of the post) and someone who can do sick jams. Everybody loves sick jams, especially LeBron.
To win the NBA Championship, however the Clippers need more. Firstly, they need a wing player who can play lockdown defence. In part, this is to cover the shortfalls provided by Reddick, who plays okay defence, but is consistently undersized (don’t even think about mentioning Jeff Green being able to do this, he never has and never will).
However, it’s primarily to cover the star offensive wings that the majority of teams now have. Without someone who can slow these players down, any team will find it tough to compete and get in any sort of defensive rhythm. Also, can you imagine the defence that Paul, Jordan, and a lockdown wing player could produce? Scary.
Secondly, the Clippers need a bench point guard who can bring what Paul brings: basketball smarts, above average NBA defence, the ability to control a team and the tempo of a game, the ability to bring his teammates into the game, and the ability to flat out score when needed. The main reason – father time is approaching.
Paul needs to be managed during the regular season so he can compete with no hindrances during the Playoffs. Also, with Paul Pierce at 73 (no, 38) years old and Jamal Crawford at 36, how long can these guys keep being relied upon to provide a scoring punch off the bench?
The best teams to source these players from would be teams that have no playoff ambition and would prefer to stay towards the bottom of the standings, bolstering their chances of snagging a higher pick in the draft. There are a few teams that fit those criteria: the Philadelphia 76ers, Brooklyn Nets and Phoenix Suns.
Of these teams, Brooklyn has the pieces required by the Clippers: Thaddeus Young and Jarrett Jack.
To get these pieces, the Clippers would give the Nets players with expiring and large contracts, enabling the Nets to free up this space in a year’s time. So, you re-sign Jeff Green and Jamal Crawford to one year $6-7 million contracts and ship them to the Nets along with one more player to make it work cap wise, maybe Mr. Pablo. If the Nets refuse, sweeten the deal with a first round protected draft pick and some cash considerations.
With these two deals going through, let’s have a look at the Clippers new starting and bench fives.
Now to strengthen the team more, sign a power forward/centre mid-level exception free agent to provide some big man support for Love and Jordan off the bench. Once this is done, you have a team that is capable of winning Chris Paul and the Clippers franchise their first NBA Championship.
To be blunt, making moves is no longer an option for the Clippers, it is now a necessity. If you aren’t getting better in the NBA, you are getting worse. And if there is one certainty, it is that the Clippers, with this team, will not get any better.
They have become stale. Doc and Bally, it’s time to make these moves.
Hell, it’s time to make any moves or to be forever stuck in the back of the wardrobe as the shirt with the LA Clippers logo smack bang in the centre.