The Golden State Warriors will face the L.A. Clippers tomorrow night after a week-long hiatus for the All-Star break.
As we’re all probably itching to see a game of real basketball again, we bring you a Q&A with Lucas Hann of Clips Nation to alleviate the boredom. Hann discussed what remains of the rivalry that was heated a few years back, the future of Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, and how recently-released Matt Barnes might fit their rotation.
GSoM: As of today, there's a chance that the Warriors and Clippers would face each other in the second round of the playoffs. And, of course, the last playoff meeting these two teams had was dramatic, to say the very least. But do you think things would be quite as heated this time around? Are there still feelings of a rivalry among Clippers fans?
Lucas Hann: It's definitely a weird feeling whenever these two teams face each other. Apart from a few frontliners, so much has changed with each team since they last played--probably most notably Steve Kerr, who replaced Mark Jackson as the Warriors' head coach and immediately turned them from a middle-of-the-pack team in the West to en elite contender. On the Clippers' end, there's still some sort of bitterness that resembles a rivalry, but there's certainly not the same game-by-game hype that we maybe saw a couple of years ago. Sure, these games always get thrown up on national TV, but the Clippers can't seem to be competitive, let alone win.
Golden State is a lot better than L.A. at this point in time. Even the much-rumored Carmelo Anthony trade would only serve to shrink the margin, rather than pulling the teams even or pushing LAC ahead. And, the Warriors happen to hate the Clippers' guts, which means they always seem to show up to play against them, so the Warriors' occasional bad night never seems to come against the Clippers.
I don't think the Clippers have much of a prayer in a second-round series against the Warriors, which is why I'd prefer to see them either climb to the 3 seed or drop to 6--they can probably beat anyone else in the West, and at least go on a run to the Western Conference Finals and see what happens when they get there. Still, I think the series would be heated--there probably doesn't need to be a history between these two teams for there to be a few incidents, given that each has their fair share of instigators.
GSoM: What has stood out about the team in Chris Paul's absence?
LH: The main thing is that two of the Clippers' most efficient offensive players--J.J. Redick and DeAndre Jordan--get their production almost entirely as a result of Chris Paul's passing. Instead of only missing their offensive centerpiece, the Clippers' third and fourth options on offense are somewhat muted as well. Paul's absence puts a spotlight on J.J. Redick's weak dribbling and passing skills, forcing the Clippers' bench guards to create almost all of the offense. It's better now that Blake Griffin is with the team, and much of the team's offense is created by him, but there's still probably a little more weight than you'd like on the shoulders of Raymond Felton, Austin Rivers, and Jamal Crawford.
GSoM: How do you feel about the news that Chris Paul is re-signing? Was there any sense among Clippers fans that it's time to move on/rebuild?
LH: Obviously I'm happy to hear the news about Chris, but I'm not exactly surprised considering the point he's at with his family and business ventures. There's always going to be a split among fans about whether a team that isn't on top should move upwards or downwards. Every year, almost every team is choosing their direction--put your resources towards being good now, or hold off and acquire assets for later. For the Warriors, it isn't so tough--there's no potential greener grass ahead than the finals appearances and potential championships that are in the near future. For the Clippers, the obvious answer is that since they're so close to contention, they should keep trying to climb upwards, but after several years without progression, one wonders if this group has reached its upward potential, and there's certainly a small but vocal minority in the fanbase that is advocating for giving up on this core, stockpiling whatever assets the Clippers might be able to obtain, and trying again with some other core down the line.
Still, especially for a franchise as historically futile as the Clippers, plenty of us are reluctant to give up on a streak of 50+ win seasons and a future where, building around Chris Paul, the Clippers should easily have a few more. I don't think the Clippers are on the same tier as the Warriors, but I think they are right there in case the Warriors mess up. There's a reasonable chance that in at least one of the next 3-4 years, there is a year where Golden State has issues, injuries, or loses a couple of key free agents. If the Clippers can take advantage of that one chance, it will be more than worth a couple more second-round exits. A chance like that is more than most of these tanking and rebuilding teams will ever get.
GSoM: Apparently, the Clippers and Celtics have discussed a trade involving Blake Griffin. What would you like the team to get in return for Griffin? Is there anything you'd like from the Celtics in particular?
LH: News came last month that Blake Griffin intends to re-sign with the Clippers quickly and quietly next summer (he can't get the new designated veteran extension this year, but could get it next year if he makes the All-NBA team. So he'll probably take a one-year deal and seek the mega extension with LAC the summer after). The rumor you're probably referencing is the trade floating around the internet from yesterday that looks like this: Jae Crowder, Avery Bradley/Marcus Smart, and two first-round picks. That's from a Zach Lowe column--the same one where he says Boston has called but the teams aren't seriously talking.
While that return from the Celtics is great value, it just doesn't make sense for the Clippers—who are trying to maximize the Chris Paul window—to trade a superstar for pieces. In fact, that deal would probably lead to CP3 deciding to walk this summer since it seriously sets the Clippers back as contenders. I've long maintained that because of the dual-superstar nature of the Clippers, they'd have to blow it up and trade both for offers like the one above in order for it to make sense to move either. With Doc Rivers running the show, that kind of total rebuild isn't happening anytime soon.
GSoM: Both of our fanbases have experiences with Matt Barnes, perhaps both good and bad. With him being waived recently, would that be someone you'd like to pick up?
LH: Deliberating on Matt Barnes is a struggle because of all of his off-court issues. When he was a Clipper, he was able to live with his sons and some figures on the team with serious gravity--like Doc Rivers and Chris Paul--were able to keep Matt out of trouble. Obviously, Sacramento's roster didn't have the same stabilizing forces, to say the least.
I think, at least as far as basketball goes, Barnes would help the Clippers. He isn't the same player that he was two years ago when he had a career year as the Clippers' starting SF, but how much of that is due to age and how much is due to questionable fit in Memphis and Sacramento? My guess is it's a mixture, and he'd be better with the Clippers than he has been with the Kings, if not good enough to win his starting spot back.
More than anything, the Clippers need another reliable option at small forward. Luc Mbah a Moute has had a great year but is really the only serviceable player the Clippers have at the position--everything else is 3-guard lineups and Wesley Johnson, a combo forward who can't stay in front of wings and can't buy a shot on the offensive end of the floor. Matt Barnes gives the Clippers a guy who can make enough of his threes to stay on the floor while playing at least solid defense--and most importantly, he gives the Clippers a little bit of physical and mental toughness that is absent from the lineup this year.
I think Matt Barnes will be back with the Clippers--if for nothing else than that he almost signed back here last summer, and his sons live in L.A. They can't cut someone to clear a roster spot for him until Thursday, because they might need the end-of-bench guys for salary-matching (unless, of course, the team makes a deal before then that frees up a spot for Matt), but it wouldn't surprise me if he's signed on Thursday afternoon and on the active roster when Thursday night's Clippers-Warriors game tips. Even if that isn't the case, I think he'll be a Clipper within the week.