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NBA AM: The Clippers Don’t Need To Panic

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What Now For The Clippers?

Yesterday, the Los Angeles Clippers announced that point guard and team leader Chris Paul would undergo surgery to repair a torn ligament in his left thumb and will miss what’s expected to be six-to-eight weeks. Said differently, he is likely to miss at least 16 games.

The Clippers were already without Blake Griffin, who underwent surgery on December 20 to remove loose particles from his right knee. He has started to resume on-court work that includes running and shooting and may be available to play as soon as next week.

The question facing the 29-14 Clippers is can they stay afloat with Paul or whether they should begin exploring changes. Now, there are a couple of things to keep in mind.

Six-to-eight weeks is not that long in the NBA. Eight weeks from today is March 15, which would leave a full month of the season for Paul to get back into a rhythm.

The other is that the Clippers are a “hard capped” team. The Clippers were over the cap and used their bi-annual exception to sign Luc Richard Mbah a Moute in July. Being hard capped means the Clippers cannot take on any more salary than they already have, so anything they bring in has to go out at least dollar for dollar.

It’s tough to get the math to work exactly even in a trade, so unless the Clippers find a deal where a team has cap space, making a trade could be complicated.

The prevailing thought when this news broke was that maybe it’s time to blow the team up and start over. The problem with that line of thinking is that the Clippers don’t feel that way as a team.

Landing players of Griffin or Paul’s caliber are very hard, and the Clippers have been saying for weeks that regardless of their injury history, they would be giving both maximum contracts this summer and looking to retain them long-term.

Paul, despite the recent setback, has averaged 17.5 points,9.7 assists, and 5.3 rebounds this season with a Player Efficiency Rating of 27.47. To put that into perspective, 27.47 is sixth-best in the NBA ahead of Kevin Durant (27.44), DeMarcus Cousins (27.13) and Isaiah Thomas (26.95). Paul trails James Harden (27.83) by a fraction of a basis point. In the NBA, you simply do not pass on that kind of productive talent.

Paul is going to be 32 years old this summer, so there is some concern that this would be his last major contract and that his production could start to trail off. Sources close to the Clippers were adamant earlier this season that there is no possible way to replace what Paul brings to the Clippers and that team president Doc Rivers and team owner Steve Ballmer are all the way in on re-signing Paul at whatever price.

As for Griffin, the view on him is the same with ownership. Sources close to Griffin said recently that he is not remotely interested in changing teams and they expect the deal process to go very smoothly and quickly this summer.

Teams have tried in recent years to get the Clippers to engage on Griffin trades and found very little interest from their side, despite what many league insiders felt were tremendous offers.

The interesting wrinkle for the Clippers is the Carmelo Anthony situation in New York.

Anthony and team president Phil Jackson reportedly met yesterday to talk about the rumors of the Knicks feeling Carmelo was done and would like to trade him.

Sources close to the situation mirrored what has been reported by Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical and ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne—that both parties spoke yesterday and that Anthony was asked if he wanted to remain in New York. He is believed to have committed to staying.

Anthony holds a no-trade clause in his contract, but it’s believed the Clippers are one of the teams he’d agree to join if things were genuinely over in New York.

Surprisingly, the Clippers do have the salaries to make a $24.5 million trade work, but they don’t possess any movable assets that would make it worth it to the Knicks without involving a third team or parting with Griffin.

League sources who commented on the Melo situation when it first broke over the weekend said that the Knicks might be smart to tear their team down and make another run through the draft and off-loading Anthony, even for parts. The source said it might be smarter than trying to find a deal Anthony would agree to that returns the value the Knicks should likely seek. The logic was anywhere Anthony would agree to go, doesn’t have the young talent or appealing future draft picks suggesting that a protracted process would only lessen the return if the Knicks were to make a deal.

As things stand today, it seems the Knick and Anthony have agreed to try and make the situation work, but it is still an interesting situation to watch.

Barring something unforeseen happening, the Clippers still have a considerable amount of depth, and with Griffin coming back into the equation fairly soon, the Clippers should have enough to weather the Paul injury without needing to panic.

The 2017 NBA trade deadline is February 23, which is roughly 36 days from today, so they have time to see if they need to make a trade after Griffin returns.

It’s unlikely the Clippers overreact to Paul’s injury, but there is little doubt the Clippers will likely lose some ground while he’s out. Of the Clippers remaining 38 games, 15 of them are against teams currently above .500. Twenty four of those games are versus the Western Conference and 17 of those games are away games. That is a daunting task in front of the Clippers in a Conference that is currently bunched up in the middle of the standings.

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About Steve Kyler

Steve Kyler

Steve Kyler is the Editor and Publisher of Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA and basketball for the last 17 seasons.