2016/17 Record: 51-31 (
First Round Exit)
2017/18 Salaries: $123,664,492 (Luxury Tax Team) – full LAC salary cap situation – here.
Incoming Draft Picks: CLE ’20 2nd (8-30)
Outgoing Draft Picks: PHI/NYK ’18 2nd (PHI gets more favourable of NYK/LAC), BOS ’19 1st (15-30)
They did it. They finally did it.
After six seasons of Clipper relevancy, they finally broke up their pseudo-contending core to rebuild in the face of Warrior dominance. Really, it was a season or so in the making, but it was clear that a change needed to be made.
Chris Paul brought legitimacy to the Los Angeles Clippers for the first time in Clipper history, and departs the franchise as their biggest ever star. At age 32, and after so many seasons of underachieving, it was clear that a move was coming – and CP3 goes to Houston to join The Beard and form a true contender. LA is about to find out that it is not easy to replace a player who has made eight All-NBA teams.
Losing CP3 wasn’t the sole big change this offseason though. GM Doc lost his front office duties, and proved once again how difficult a balance it is between running a team and coaching it. Strangely enough, Doc’s Paul trade may have actually been one of his better moves – getting some solid assets in an unwinnable scenario. That is if Doc even made this deal, as it does have a Jerry West smell to it (who joined the Clippers as a Consultant pre-Free Agency). Acquiring a solid PG veteran like Patrick Beverley, bench scoring in Lou Williams, young guys like Sam Dekker and Montrezl Harrell and a 1st round pick was a reasonable haul that should assist in the rebuild while helping the Clips now.
While the Paul deal was solid, the biggest move of the offseason was the retention of their star, Blake Griffin. Steve Ballmer, one of the more annoying NBA owners going around, probably had to sell off some Microsoft stock to fund his new contract. Faced with the prospect of a total tear down job or continuing to sell tickets, the Clippers took the latter. It’s hard to blame them after so many years of futility and irrelevance.
Griffin is one of the more unique Power Forward’s in the league; a very capable ball handler and facilitator out of the high post, with barely a peer athletically at his position. His BG-2-DJ lobs have been a feature of Lob City since his rookie season, and will likely be a bigger part of the offense now more than ever. With CP3 sporting a Usage Rate of 24.4% in 16/17, there is a huge chunk of possessions up for grabs this season. Some of these possessions will be eaten up by Danilo Gallinari, Milos Teodosic, Beverley and Williams, but Blake will likely be put in a facilitating position rather than finisher even more so than in the past.
He is, for the first time without question, the teams franchise player and star.
Griffin averaged the 2nd most assists per game (4.9) for a PF behind Draymond Green (7.0) this past season. While Blake already sported a very healthy 28.0% Usage Rate himself, this may increase again this season – and Doc will need to continue to find new ways to harness his unique skillset for the betterment of the team. The Clippers had a preview of a post-CP3 world when he missed 6-8 weeks due to a torn thumb ligament back in January 2017. Griffin was also out of the lineup when Paul went down, but returned three games after Paul’s injury. In the games that Griffin played and Paul didn’t, the Clips went 5-6, which included a rough stretch of three games against Golden State.
In those 11 games? Here’s Blake and DeAndre Jordan‘s stat lines:
22.5ppg, 8.3rpg, 5.9apg, 0.6bpg, 1.1spg, 2.2tpg, 32.6mpg, 8.3 fgm, 16.7 fga (49.5%), 0.6 3pg, 1.5 3fga (43.8%), 5.4 ftm, 7.1 fta (75.6%).
10.4ppg, 13.0rpg, 1.7apg, 1.1bpg, 0.5spg, 1.5tpg, 28.0mpg, 4.2 fgm, 6.1 fga (68.7%), 2.0 ftm, 4.7 fta (42.3%).
Small sample size alert, but the Clips survived without CP3. Blake’s assists per game went up to a shade below six, which is around about where he should be this season with the offense running through him. DeAndre’s production dropped a little – but he still gave his dependable double double, albeit on lower minutes per game (largely due to a couple of blowouts).
The creative offensive burden won’t solely fall on Blake though. The Clippers have brought over Europe’s best point guard in Milos Teodosic, fresh off another great season for CSKA Moscow and being crowned by NBA GM’s as the best non-NBA Player in the World. While now 30 years old, Teodosic has gone from strength to strength the past few seasons, ultimately deciding that the time was right to switch to the NBA following a dominant display at the 2016 Olympics for Serbia. Perhaps he had $12.3 million reasons to think now was the right time to do so.
With Griffin running the offense, the Clippers have surrounded him with the necessary shooters at the PG, SG and SF slots. Beverley is a savant of the spot up three after a few seasons playing off the ball alongside Harden. Rivers showed increased range this past season, and figures to be the secondary ball handling option off the pick and roll in the backcourt. Gallinari provides floor spacing (2.0 3pg on 38.9% last season) and is an underrated ball handler himself, able to fake, take his man off the dribble, and is terrific at getting to the line (6.1 fta on 90.2%). These three players will be crucial in providing Blake and DJ with the room to operate in the mid and low post.
Lou Williams also arrives to take over the ‘Jamal Crawford role’ of bench chucker, which is a role he did better than just about anybody else last season (17.5ppg in 24.6mpg). Williams and Teodosic form a curious fit off the bench – both players need the ball in their hands to thrive – and perhaps Doc ultimately decides to pair Williams alongside Beverley for majority of his minutes to get the most out of him.
The Clippers enter this season with a massive overhaul to their roster. Just five players return from last seasons 51 win team, and while they are younger – it’s doubtful that they are better, particularly after losing one of the NBA’s best Point Guards. They now enter the 17/18 season in a clear rebuilding phase, albeit one that likely still includes the ability to compete for a 7th-8th seed in the battle-hardened West.
How far they go? Well, that depends on Point Blake.
Projected Starting Five:
Projected Depth Chart:
Overall Offseason Grade: B
2017/18 Prediction: 41-41
If everything breaks right for them – the Clippers could surprise, despite the doom and gloom of an impending rebuild. Ultimately, the loss of Chris Paul will be too big to cover in one offseason and in a tough Western Conference, and with a dubious health history to their most important players, it’s tough to see them sneaking in to the postseason.
Player To Watch: Austin Rivers
The much maligned coach’s son moves into an even bigger role this season following the losses of JJ Redick and Jamal Crawford. Austin surprisingly had a pretty decent regular season, hitting career highs across the board in 16/17. He has become a solid three point shooter at 1.5 3pg at a 37.1% clip on the season, and had a really strong stretch while Paul and Griffin were out in January (17.6ppg, 4.5rpg, 2.9rpg, 47.0%fg, 43.1% 3fg on 2.3 3pg in 35.9mpg through 11 games). At 25, Rivers is entering his prime and will be called upon to provide a solid third option on offense this year.
Four Key Questions:
1. Can Blake stay healthy?
Griffin is a terrific player, but his durability is a huge question mark. Over the past three seasons he has played 67, 35 and 61 games. That effectively adds up to a full missed season of basketball, and doesn’t include the missed rookie season due to his ACL tear. His left leg injury list is extremely long in particular, and with such a heavy investment and reliance on Blake for the Clips to compete, they can’t afford him to miss 20 games this season.
2. Who starts at PG – Teodosic or Beverley?
This is going to be an interesting Training Camp battle. Pat Beverley is a dog defensively (just ask Russell Westbrook), and provides capable spot up shooting (1.6 3pg). He’s not much of a creator, but can initiate an offense and doesn’t turn the ball over. Teodosic provides the flair and offensive creativity missing from CP3’s defection, and with his veteran savvy, he should ably take care of backup PG’s. If he can top Beverley for a starting role, we’ll see just how good Milos Teodosic is.
3. Is this DeAndre Jordan’s last year in LA?
The Clippers went to unbelievable lengths to retain Jordan’s services back in the 2015 offseason, yet he could be entering his final season in LA. Jordan possesses a $24m Player Option for 18/19, which he ultimately may decide to opt into, but there’s every chance he opts out to secure a long term deal. Is DeAndre’s future in LA? Or are the Clippers better served trading their big-man at the deadline to secure financial flexibility and an additional pick/young talent for the rebuild? Lawrence Frank and GM Dave Wohl have a decision to make.
4. Can Gallinari justify the investment?
It’s ironic that the Clippers finally land an above average SF the year they lose Chris Paul, but here we are. Gallinari has crossed from Denver to fill a need that has been there for years and provides spacing, toughness and lineup flexibility to this Clips unit. The knock on Gallinari is his durability – if he and Blake wind up missing significant time, the Clippers record will be brutal.