The Los Angeles Clippers started the 2015-2016 season strong, but struggled down the stretch due to injury and inconsistency. In its five years together, the core of Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, and DeAndre Jordan never seemed to live up to its potential.
When Chris Paul expressed his desire to join the Houston Rockets, the Clippers had no choice but to trade him to the Rockets in order to get some talent in return. And just like that, the Clippers’ “Lob City” era was over.
The Clippers could have decided to rebuild entirely. They could’ve let Blake Griffin walk in free agency, and sought to add young talent and tank for high draft picks.
But instead, Steve Ballmer and the Clippers retooled their roster around veteran players, hoping to stay relevant and compete in a increasingly stacked Western Conference.
What did they do?
Unlike other trades involving superstars this offseason, the Clippers received decent return for Chris Paul. Patrick Beverley is an underrated point guard who’s among the best defensive players at the position in the league. Lou Williams is a proven bench scorer, and Sam Dekker and Montrezl Harrell are young rotation players with room to grow. The Clippers also received a protected first-round draft pick from the Rockets.
The Clippers made two significant free agent moves: they retained Blake Griffin on a 5-year, $173 million deal, and signed Danilo Gallinari on a 3-year, $62 million deal. Griffin and Gallinari are good and valuable players, but these contracts are a bit of an overpay. They both have extensive injury histories, and will likely be declining near the end of their contracts due to age .
But if they are healthy, they’ll be a interesting duo for the near future. Gallinari replaces the shooting of J.J. Redick, who signed with the 76ers this offseason. He’s an offensively versatile combo forward who’s an interesting fit next to Griffin and Jordan. Griffin will be assume more of a playmaking role with Chris Paul gone, and will have enough of a supporting cast to excel.
The Clippers also notably signed thirty-year-old rookie Milos Teodosic, one of the best passers in the world, as a backup point guard, and Willie Reed as a backup center.
How will they do this season?
It’s difficult to predict how the Clippers will fare this season. Gallinari, Griffin, and Jordan make up a talented if fragile frontcourt, even if there’s not much depth beyond Harrell and Reed there. I’m especially interested in seeing Gallinari at the 4 and Griffin at the 5, which will have problems defensively but has the potential to be an offensive juggernaut.
Their backcourt will be incredibly interesting, with Austin Rivers, Lou Williams, Patrick Beverley, and Milos Teodosic providing all sorts of different looks for the team. Rivers has improved into a solid rotation player, and may possibly start at shooting guard for the team. William’s shooting, Teodosic’s playmaking, and Beverley’s defense complement each other quite well.
With the team going in a new direction with Paul’s departure, the Clippers relieved Doc Rivers of his general manager duties, but retained him as a coach. This bodes well for their future, as Rivers’ team-building efforts were strange, to say the least.
What’s more, Kyrie Irving reportedly would like to be traded to the Clippers. If a potential trade is built around an Irving-for-Jordan swap, the Clippers should probably accept that deal. Irving would provide youth on an aging team that has limited upside with its current roster.
The Clippers won’t be as good as they were the last couple seasons. But they’ll likely be a low seed in this years’ playoffs, and will always be a destination for stars because they play in Los Angeles. Nevertheless, the “rivalry” between the Warriors and Clippers (that really never was) is officially dead.