It doesn’t seem like the Los Angeles Clippers want to scrap everything and start anew, but with both Blake Griffin and Chris Paul making the obvious choice to opt out of the final year on their contracts and become free agents, the sense of an end and a beginning is impossible to ignore.
The Clippers have never been as popular or successful as they are now, which might say something about this franchise. Griffin and Paul, along with Doc Rivers (who hasn’t been more successful than Vinny Del Negro), DeAndre Jordan, J.J. Redick and Jamal Crawford, have strung together some nice regular seasons and a few conference semifinal appearances, but never made it past that point. Always looked at as somewhat contenders, they’ve never been able to play like ones in the playoffs, letting a chance to make the conference finals slip away by giving up a 3-1 lead against the Rockets in 2015, just when they were about to clinch the series.
Despite another disappointing postseason, the Clippers front office didn’t make the kind of noise you expect to hear when a team is about to rebuild. Maybe because they don’t want to, or perhaps it’s out of their control. Steve Ballmer isn’t afraid to spend, and while he does seem to be interested in the team for a long ride, he wasn’t planning on tearing apart the core of the team and moving in a new direction. But Paul’s desire to win a championship ring might lead him somewhere else. Losing in the first round despite having home court advantage, and not for the first time, could be the final straw.
Financially, obviously, it makes the most sense for Paul and Griffin to stay in Los Angeles. This would mean the final max deal in Paul’s career and perhaps for Griffin as well, entering the final years of his prime. Paul seems to be strongly linked to the San Antonio Spurs, although that might just be the media trying to create a connection that isn’t really there. Griffin has also been linked to a number of teams. I think both of them know that a championship might be easier to win somewhere else, although it’s hard to admit to themselves that being the leading two men for the Clippers will never allow the team to build a championship team around.
Hypothetically, what’s left if Paul, Griffin and Redick (likely going somewhere else for less money than he thinks he deserves)? Jordan for one more year before a player option, Crawford for two more seasons of being overpaid and Austin Rivers before a player option. They’re not alone, but those are the only meaningful players remaining, and we give Rivers a huge compliment with that, maybe one he doesn’t really deserve.
Maybe it’s better for the Clippers to gently show Paul and Griffin the door, which will obviously force Jordan to push for a trade (just a hunch), and Rivers (senior) to look for another escape, like he did from Boston when he realized he wasn’t going to head a championship caliber team anymore. If the idea is always “Championship-or-bust”, continuing to hope that something works around a good but apparently not great nucleus doesn’t make much sense.