Just two years removed from the former Lob City, the Los Angeles Clippers are not supposed to be here. Here would be in eighth place in the Western Conference, two games ahead of ninth-place Sacramento and just two games out of sixth. The Clippers broke up the band that was Blake Griffin, Chris Paul, and DeAndre Jordan, but somehow have managed to stay relevant while rebuilding the franchise. With a record of 34-29, they are the NBA’s version of a bubble team.
The Rebuild Begins Tired of six straight playoff berths that included three trips to the Western Conference semifinals, the Clippers began their overhaul by trading point guard Chris Paul to the Houston Rockets for a number of players and, more importantly, a first-round draft pick in 2018.
The following season, the Clippers entered phase two of development and traded Blake Griffin to Detroit. Along with Griffin, the Clippers sent Brice Johnson and Willie Reed and, in exchange, L.A. received Tobias Harris, Avery Bradley, and Boban Marjanovic. Again, the keys to the deal were a 2018 first-round pick and second-rounder in 2019.
At the end of last season, Jordan became a free agent. The Clippers let the 10-year veteran walk as Jordan signed a one-year deal with Dallas. Los Angeles also traded Austin Rivers to Washington to obtain C Marcin Gortat.
Net Gain The results of all of the Clippers’ maneuvering can be seen in the current roster and that of the future. LA. Sports two-time Sixth Man of the Year Lou Williams, (19.9 ppg), sharpshooting Danilo Gallinari (18.8 ppg), undersized big man Montrezl Harrell (16.3 ppg, 6.5 rpg), and two rookies obtained as part of the Griffin trade – Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Landry Shamet. The Clippers still have two future first-round picks and two more second-round selections.
If that isn’t enough of a haul, the Clippers are going to have somewhere in the neighborhood of $55 to $75 million (maybe more) to play with in free agency this summer. If, and it’s a big if, the Clippers miss this postseason, they would also keep their own first-round draft pick this year. Whether they do or not, the Clippers still have enough to continue the rebuild.
Moving Forward Those future first- and second-round draft picks were gained by trading Harris, the team’s leading scorer this season to Philadelphia. They also traded Bradley to Memphis to obtain JaMychal Green and Garrett Temple. Where it may all come together is this summer or even the summer of 2020.
Remember, Kawhi Leonard wanted out of San Antonio and is from southern California. He was traded to Toronto, but he will be a free agent after this season ends. The Clippers would likely have the salary cap space to make a play for Leonard. The same holds true for Golden State’s Kevin Durant and Boston’s Kyrie Irving. Both will become free agents at the end of the season and where they will play next is sure to be a big topic of discussion all offseason.
For now, head coach Doc Rivers and company will simply try and get to the postseason. Nine of the team’s remaining 19 games are against teams with losing records. They will face the Knicks and Cavaliers, two of the NBA’s worst, twice each. The Clippers have four division games remaining and they are 9-3 against division foes this season.
The month of March will decide which side the Clippers’ fate on the bubble. Regardless of where they might land, the Clippers will continue their rebuild with the hopes of landing the franchise’s first-ever trip to the NBA Finals.