With a second consecutive first-round playoff exit for the Los Angeles Clippers in the Doc Rivers era, the franchise, meaning the man at the top of the pyramid Steve Ballmer, has a big decision to make on the direction it’s going: Tear it up and start from scratch, which includes quite a bit of tanking, or keep the current group of players together (as much as possible) and try to find a way to breakthrough in the West.
The vultures are already circling. Rumors regarding Blake Griffin have been popping up for the last two years, but he can opt out of his deal this summer and he probably will, with “only” $21 million coming his way in 2017-2018. Whether the Clippers make the best effort to re-sign him will tell the story of where they’re going. The same goes for Chris Paul, also with an ETO, only a bit more money coming his way (more than $24 million for 2017-2018). The Clippers can try to continue and build around him, hoping it ends up being a championship team. Or they can let go, and start something new.
Without those two contracts, the Clippers have plenty of cap space to go to work in free agency, or simply leave it empty, as J.J. Redick is also hitting free agency and looking for a contract that pays him more than $17 million a season (made just over $7 million this season), while DeAndre Jordan has one more guaranteed year before his player option in 2018-2019. Maybe the Clippers try and trade him, because I don’t see them making him their franchise player like the Miami Heat did with Hassan Whiteside (albeit wasn’t the initial plan).
But that may have more to do with Paul and Griffin trying to see what the market has to offer them than anything else. Ballmer didn’t take the Clippers to go through years of doubt, with losing teams and trying to put something together, while relying on the luck of the draw and the talent that may or may not come out of the draft. Doc Rivers didn’t leave the Boston Celtics to go through a rebuild in L.A. He didn’t want to go through one in Boston, so who knows, maybe his agent is also looking into other options, although Rivers’ prestige has taken hits considering he hasn’t shown his coaching to something that gave the Clippers anything extra.
And in case Ballmer does intend to double down on his investment (going over the cap and paying luxury tax is probably not an issue right now for the former Microsoft CEO), the Clippers know they need more than Paul, Griffin, and whatever they have around them right now. CP3 has issues when a series is on the line, Griffin has his limitations and is injury prone, DeAndre Jordan gives very little offensively, and the bench, once again, couldn’t get the job done. How do the Clippers improve?
Besides the small additions that Rivers usually messes up on (which should put his competence as GM into question as well), there has to be a meaningful trade to boost this team’s standing out West. Carmelo Anthony? There’s talk, and he’s probably willing to go there. But one has to question the Clippers reasoning behind adding a player who doesn’t seem to fit the kind of basketball-style necessary to be successful in today’s league. And in order to get Anthony, the Clippers would have to sign-and-trade Redick most likely, which takes away their best outside shooting asset.
There’s also city pride to consider. The Clippers have been the dominant team in Los Angeles, a weird concept despite their recent consistency, and going into another period of losing while searching for redemption could put them back in the basement. Even with their streak of 50-win seasons and star power on demand, they haven’t been able to really usurp the Lakers as the city’s team. As the Lakers are on their way up again (probably), it’s the wrong time to hit the reset button from a marketing standpoint.
This was the 5th season in a row the Clippers blew a lead in a playoff series, one of those seasons with Vinny Del Negro. I doubt anyone thinks that the Paul-Griffin combination is good enough to win a championship or even make a conference final in the current Western configuration without some major change. But with the other option not being that attractive to the team’s ambitious and maybe slightly impatient owner, going the route of repeating past mistakes could be the only realistic option to pick.