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Clippers Face Tough Decisions this Offseason

The Clippers have tough decisions to make this offseason after another early playoff exit.

Jesse Blancarte

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On Friday night, the Los Angeles Clippers’ season came to an end. They fell just short in Game 6, losing to the Portland Trail Blazers on the road. The team was severely undermanned after losing Chris Paul and Blake Griffin to season-ending injuries, along with J.J. Redick playing through a bruised heel and Austin Rivers suffering an elbow to the face in Game 6 that required stitches.

Now the Clippers are focused on the future, which is more in question than it has been in some time. It may seem overly dramatic to ask whether a team with two top-level big men and one of the best overall point guards in the league should be broken up, especially when the team was ranked sixth in offensive and defensive efficiency this season. However, before the season started, Clippers president of operations and head coach Doc Rivers admitted that this question had to be asked if the team fell short in the postseason.

“We’re right on the borderline,” Rivers told Zach Lowe of ESPN before the 2015-16 season started. “I have no problem saying that. I’m a believer that teams can get stale. After a while, you don’t win. It just doesn’t work. We’re right at the edge. Oklahoma City is on the edge. Memphis, too. We just have to accept it.”

To be fair, any team that loses its two best players and has several other players hobbled by nagging injuries is going to be vulnerable in the postseason, including the Golden State Warriors. Once Paul and Griffin went down, the Clippers’ season was effectively over – it was just a question of how long they could hold off the inevitable. To their credit, the team fought until the very end, pushing the Blazers in Games 5 and 6, falling just short in each game.

Still, as Rivers pointed out before the season started, a team can become stale after repeated failures. The Clippers just ended their fifth year with Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan as the team’s Big Three and they still haven’t reached the Western Conference Finals. In addition, Griffin and Paul have player options for the 2017-18 season and Redick’s contract only runs through next year, meaning next season could be their last with the Clippers. However, Jordan has a player option in 2018-19, so there is no urgency with his contract situation.

Current cap projections provided by Basketball Insiders’ salary cap guru Eric Pincus have the Clippers with just $10.5 million in potential cap space this offseason (in their best-case scenario), which is the lowest figure in the league. As a result, the Clippers will not be able to make a major free agent acquisition, which means if they give this roster another run, it will be largely the same with small changes around the edges.

With all of this in mind, the Clippers’ front office needs to determine whether to push forward with this same group knowing that Paul, Griffin and Redick are all likely to be free agents after next season, or cash in their chips and start over.

Rivers isn’t the most equipped coach to handle a rebuild. In fact, when the Boston Celtics went into fire sale mode in 2013, Rivers took off to Los Angeles to lead a potential contender rather than oversee Boston’s rebuild.

Danny Ainge traded Kevin Garnett, Paul Piece, Jason Terry and D.J. White to the Brooklyn Nets for Gerald Wallace, Kris Humphries, MarShon Brooks, Keith Bogans, three unprotected first-round draft picks (2014, 2016 and 2018), with the right to swap first-round picks in 2017. The Nets went nowhere with the talent they traded for, while the Celtics assembled a young, talented and scrappy roster that plays disciplined basketball under top-notch head coach Brad Stevens. The Celtics remained competitive since the trade and now have more assets than just about any team as well as the flexibility to add more talent through free agency and major trades.

Teams learned from the Nets’ mistakes and will be more hesitant to offer the same compensation in future mega-deals. However, Ainge hasn’t made it a secret that he’s looking to cash in some of his assets for a young star player. He has pursued Kevin Love in the past, so a player like Griffin would certainly grab his attention if he were made available. The question is what might Ainge be willing to give up in exchange for Griffin.

Griffin could be traded straight up for a package of Avery Bradley, Marcus Smart and Jae Crowder, along with potential draft considerations. The Celtics have enough young, affordable players that this basic scenario can be adjusted to take out a player like Smart in exchange for Jared Sullinger or Terry Rozier, among several other variations. The point is, the Celtics have the young players and draft assets to make a move for a player like Griffin. This would give the Clippers young, developing talent that will be under team control for many years, while potentially replenishing their depleted draft assets.

Then imagine a scenario where the Cleveland Cavaliers fall short this postseason, and LeBron James demands the team trade for Chris Paul as a condition to re-signing. It wouldn’t be difficult for these two teams to structure a deal that essentially swaps Paul for Irving, giving the Cavaliers perhaps a better chance at a championship next season and the Clippers a younger point guard to grow alongside the revamped roster.

The Clippers’ starting lineup would look something like Irving-Redick-Crowder-Sullinger-Jordan. The team would have more young talent locked up, with more draft assets to bolster the team moving forward. With some luck, the Clippers would follow the Celtics’ path of remaining competitive while maintaining better cap flexibility and roster versatility.

Another added benefit with this route is the Clippers push the clock back on their possible window of contention. By the time the revamped roster is ready to truly contend for a championship, dominant teams like the Golden State Warriors, San Antonio Spurs, Oklahoma City Thunder and Cleveland Cavaliers could be regressing.

If this approach seems too optimistic, just consider the circumstances that recently surrounded the team that just dispatched the Clippers. The Blazers lost Wesley Matthews, Robin Lopez, Arron Afflalo (who they traded Will Barton and other plays for no less) and, of course, LaMarcus Aldridge to free agency. They received no compensation for these valuable players. They did trade Nicolas Batum for Gerald Henderson and Noah Vonleh. Henderson and Vonleh aren’t top-notch talents, but Henderson is a serviceable wing and Vonleh still has significant room to improve his game as a stretch-four. The Blazers also traded a future second-round pick (that will never be conveyed) to the Orlando Magic for Moe Harkless, who was a major factor in Portland’s first-round victory over the Clippers.

Blazers general manager Neil Olshey didn’t wait to rebuild his team. He saw the writing on the wall and acted aggressively. He acquired young talent like Al-Farouq Aminu, Ed Davis and Mason Plumlee to grow and develop alongside Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum. Just about everyone doubted this team’s ability to compete this season, but now they have a shot to upset a banged up Warriors squad in the second-round and a bright future as a result of their cap flexibility.

The Blazers managed to do this without having two top-15 players to use as trade chips. The point is that if the Clippers decide that this roster’s window is closed, they can rebuild on the fly, acquiring young, diverse talent while replenishing their draft assets. There are a countless number of ways for the Clippers to go about a rebuild, but if done effectively, they could come out in a better long-term position, like the Celtics did two seasons ago.

However, this isn’t an obvious path to take. It’s not often that a team has a roster that can contend, so giving up on it prematurely isn’t something that should be done recklessly. Look at the Dallas Mavericks for example. They weren’t championship favorites in 2011, but they pushed forward with their roster and upset the Miami HEAT in the Finals. The Clippers may find the same fortunate circumstances if they keep this roster together.

As we have seen in this year’s playoffs, injuries can happen to anyone at any time. Again, the Blazers have a chance to upset the Warriors if Stephen Curry’s knee injury keeps him on the sideline, or limits him in any significant way when he returns. That would give the winner of the Spurs-Thunder series a much easier path to the Finals.

When talking to Lowe before the start of the season, Redick said that he though the Clippers still have a few years to contend in the West.

“The championship window in the West is so narrow,” Redick said. “Ours might only be open another couple of years. But you need some breaks. Golden State was the best team in the league, but they also had everything go right for them. They didn’t have one bad break. I don’t have any doubt about the DNA of our team.”

The injuries to Paul and Griffin derailed the team’s championship hopes. Before their injuries, the Clippers had a clear path to face the Warriors in the second-round. The Blazers weren’t going to roll over, but they barely managed their last two victories against a depleted Clippers squad. With a little bit of luck, the Clippers could have upset the Warriors, with the Spurs or Thunder waiting for them in the Western Conference Finals.

It could be equally argued that even with a healthy squad, the Clippers still would be severe underdogs against the Warriors, Thunder or Spurs and the Cavaliers, who are the favorites to represent the East in the Finals. Bringing this team back next season may not change that dynamic considering that each of those squads are likely to bring back those same rosters (though Kevin Durant’s free agency could change that quickly for the Thunder), so there is arguably no point in trying again with this same Clippers roster. Especially when they have little free agent spending power and their biggest acquisitions would likely be re-signing Rivers, Jamal Crawford and Jeff Green.

Considering Doc’s record of trusting and relying on veterans, recently avoiding Boston’s rebuild and his willingness to move draft assets for slight roster upgrades (and sometimes even just cap flexibility), it’s likely that he gives this roster another shot next season. Like the Mavericks in 2011, that may work out for him. But if things fall apart again in the postseason, the Clippers will enter 2017 free agency with the prospect of losing Paul, Griffin and Redick for no compensation and just a few draft assets to rebuild with.

This isn’t an easy choice for Doc and the Clippers’ front office. The best approach to this offseason is probably to test out the trade value of everyone aside from Jordan and see if a successful on-the-fly rebuild is possible. If not, then they can move forward for possibly one more run with their existing core and some fringe moves around the edges. After five years of bad luck, injuries and costly mistakes, perhaps next season could be the one where everything goes right.

The Clippers are out of the spotlight now that they have been eliminated from the playoffs, but they will be one of the most interesting teams to keep an eye on during the summer. We possibly saw the last of these Clippers on Friday night, which is a shame when you consider how many opportunities have passed them by over the last few seasons.

Jesse Blancarte is a Deputy Editor for Basketball Insiders. He is also an Attorney and a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

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NBA Daily: What’s Next In Portland And Orlando?

With the passing of Rich DeVos in Orlando and Paul Allen in Portland, what’s next for those franchises?

Steve Kyler

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What’s Next In Portland And Orlando?

The NBA lost two massively influential owners this year in Orlando’s Rich DeVos and yesterday’s news of the passing of Blazers’ owner Paul Allen.

While it’s early in the process, there is a growing sense in both situations that the teams both titans owned will likely change hands in the not so distant future.

Here is what we know at this point:

In Orlando’s case, the team’s ownership was moved into a family trust some time ago, with the prevailing hope from the elder DeVos that the team would stay in the family after his passing. The team is currently controlled by Dan DeVos, who is chairman and governor of the team.

DeVos has said recently that the family has no intentions of selling the team, yet there are not very many in NBA circles believe that will be the case in the longer term.

The Magic are one of the teams to watch in terms of changing owners, however, they are not a team that can relocate given the very restrictive lease terms they agreed to when they landed their arena deal.

Another factor with the future of the Magic is the massive development taking place across from the Amway Arena that’s been led by the current Magic ownership. The project is just getting underway, and league sources believe the value of the Magic franchise could take a big jump up once that project is finished.

There has been talk for some time in NBA circles that current Clippers head coach Doc Rivers would have interest in an ownership stake in the Magic should the team become available. The same is true of NBA Hall of Famer Shaquille O’Neal, who currently has a minority stake in the Sacramento Kings. O’Neal has been vocal over the years that he’s ready to talk should the Magic hit the market.

In Portland’s case, obviously, the news of Paul Allen’s sudden passing makes the Blazers future murky. Allen’s holding company Vulcan Inc. technically owns the team, and the belief is nothing will change on that front in the short term.

As John Canzano chronicled for the Oregonian, Allen’s sister Jody is his closest surviving relative and there is a sense she may not want to own the Blazers in the medium-term.

Bert Kolde, who is Vice Chairman of the Trail Blazers, will continue to run the day to day aspects of the business according to reports and insiders. There is some concern that, with Allen’s passing, the unlimited green light to spend and acquire assets that had become so common under Allen’s leadership may not be as aggressive.

During the summer, one insider commented that the Blazers were always active in trying to move around for draft picks and assets and never afraid to leverage cash to get things done. That may change with Allen’s passing.

If the Blazers hit the market, and many expect that they might in the near term, it’s believed re-locating the franchise wouldn’t be a consideration, especially with how successful Portland has been as a smaller NBA media market.

One thing to keep in mind is that, with NBA franchise valuations well over the $1 billion mark, a fast transaction in either team’s situation isn’t likely.

As with all things in the NBA, these are fluid situations, especially with the Blazers – so both will be situations to watch.

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NBA Daily: Six Pointers For The Season

On a night that is sure to be full of hot takes, highlight videos and overreaction, Spencer Davies has some pointers that you should take into consideration for the upcoming season.

Spencer Davies

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It’s time to celebrate, NBA fans.

We are officially one sleep away from tipping off the 2018-19 season. The Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers, two heavy Eastern Conference title favorites, will square off first, followed by the defending champion Golden State Warriors hosting the Oklahoma City Thunder.

On a night that is sure to be full of hot takes, highlight videos and overreaction, here are some pointers headed into the year that you should take into consideration within the grand scheme of things.

Reminder: There Are 82 Games

The first week of the NBA season is under a gigantic microscope. Some teams are going to look unbeatable, others may not look quite as good and a handful might seem downright awful. We have to remember that a lot of these ball clubs have a different energy about them. Whether it’s a new front office, a new head coach, roster turnover or simply needing time to jell, not everything is going to be sunshine and rainbows from the jump—and even if it is, that could be short-lived.

Don’t Fall For Fake Accounts

One time or another, everybody has been bound to fall for a complete farce. Everybody is susceptible to seeing a fake account on Twitter and immediately reacting without checking the validity of the source. It’s a natural response. But make sure that if you’re following along with a trade rumor and/or developing event, the information is coming from a reliable reporter with multiple confirmations. This is especially important on trade deadline day.

Rookies Will Have Ups And Downs

Arguably the best part about the start of a new NBA year is seeing fresh talent hit the hardwood. They are living a real-life dream and, for most of them, you see the true love they have for the game through their play. In any case, they are getting used to an unfamiliar stage and a higher level of basketball. There will be flashes and struggles, but more often—inconsistencies. It’s hard to find out if a player is the “next ________” just as it is dubbing a rookie a bust right away. Give these guys time to mature and enjoy it.

Watch For Quotes Taken Out Of Context

This happens a ton in the world of sports. When reading what a player says ahead of or after a game, make sure you’re getting the full story. It’s easy for a video to get chopped and edited to create a juicy narrative and rile things up. While we do have plenty of feuds in the league stemming from what happens in between the four lines—in addition to an abundance of intriguing stories—there’s a lot of something made out of nothing situations that are best to just ignore.

Referees Are Not Out To Get Your Team

Last season was an especially complicated one for the NBA officiating contingent. Criticism came from all angles, from media to players to coaches, as it does almost every season. Part of it is warranted, but let’s not forget how difficult the job is. The frantic pace of the game is evolving with each year, and the bang-bang plays are growing tougher to determine because of it. Missed calls and anticipated calls are a killer for momentum in any case, but the stripes are here to do their job the best they can. It’s fine to look at tendencies, but don’t come up with conspiracy theories because your team isn’t getting a favorable whistle.

Surprises Happen: Good Or Bad

With 30 squads loaded with the best basketball talent in the world, it’s truly an “any team, any night” kind of league. There are going to be upsets and there are going to be blowouts. Aside from the teams on the wrong side of the rout too many times, most of these won’t matter with the bigger picture intact. If a ball club makes the playoffs and is set to contend, they ultimately won’t care about a lopsided defeat from November.

There are also factors beyond teams’ control that are inevitable, unfortunately. We don’t know who will go down with injuries, but they are a part of the game. You hope that the severity of the setbacks are never the worst-case scenario, yet somehow it always tends to occur and, in turn, affects his organization’s plans for the season. Let’s hope this doesn’t happen, and if it does, have it be at the bare minimum.

These pointers arent’ meant to be a buzz kill, of course. This league is all about entertainment and enjoyment for its fans, so have fun with it. That’s what it’s here for.

There’s much more to a season, but we’d figure to pass along some tips as we await for another great year of NBA action.

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NBA Daily: The NBA Ten Years Ago

With the 2018-2019 season on the horizon, Basketball Insiders’ Matt John takes a trip down memory lane to look at where the league was ten years prior.

Matt John

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It’s time to take a trip down memory lane – all the way back to 2009.

It was a different time then. The country’s first black president was inaugurated, Swine Flu was petrifying the nation and Justin Bieber was an innocent teenager just trying to make a name for himself. It was a time to be alive, particularly for NBA junkies.

There were some interesting storylines going on in the NBA, like the somewhat growing concern of ballplayers preferring to play overseas after Josh Childress went to Greece. Or the Seattle Supersonics switching cities to become the Oklahoma City Thunder under certain circumstances. However, the 2008-2009 season overall served as a transitional year for the players.

Some of the NBA’s youngest stars such as LeBron James, Dwight Howard and Carmelo Anthony were achieving success, as individuals and in the team setting. They were becoming the present face of the league while established veterans – such as Allen Iverson, Tracy McGrady and Vince Carter – were becoming the past. Chris Paul and Dwyane Wade had already shown themselves as two of the bright young stars in the league, and Kevin Durant was right around the corner. The 2008-2009 season was when the new generation of young NBA stars started making its mark.

Having said that, looking back at today, what should the 2008-2009 season be remembered the most for? Well, several things.

The NBA Champion

As you probably remember, the Los Angeles Lakers won their 15th NBA title in 2009.
The LakeShow deserved it. Detractors will make excuses – which I’ll get to – but the Lakers were a well-crafted team that was difficult for every team in the league to stop. Ten years later, only one question remains about them: Would they have worked as well in today’s NBA?

There’d be little reason for them not to. They had a top-10 NBA talent of all-time still at the top of his game in Kobe Bryant. However, while Kobe may have been their best player, the dirty little secret about the 08-09 Lakers was that their frontcourt was what made them tough to stop. They had one of the best offensive centers in the league in Pau Gasol, one of the NBA’s most versatile players ever in Lamar Odom and a promising young big in Andrew Bynum. The one commonality between these three: None of them were floor spacers.

Back then, stretching the floor wasn’t as much of a necessity as it is now. Also, teams didn’t value small ball nearly as much as they do now. Could that Lakers frontcourt have broken the trend, or would the league’s shooting evolution have limited their effectiveness? We’ll honestly never know, but it’s something worth pondering.

If X Team(s) Had Just Been Healthy…

Every season has that one team that many wonder what would have been had a certain player not gotten hurt. In 2009, the obvious injury to turn to was Kevin Garnett’s. The Celtics that year looked as good as ever until Garnett went down with a season-ending knee injury.

Boston did well without him, but Garnett’s injury left fans with unfulfilled desires. Perhaps the Celtics could have won it all had Garnett been available, but his injury was on them. Reportedly, the organization knew Garnett had bone spurs in his knee before the season started and played him hoping he’d be fine. Had they been more cautious, maybe they’d have 18 banners right now. This shows that when you’re a contender, you should take proper precautions for when the real games begin.

Besides, the Celtics weren’t the ones victimized the most by injuries. The ones that came the closest to beating the Lakers were, and that team was the Houston Rockets.

Many forget that the Rockets were expected to be title contenders leading up to that season. They had Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming leading the way, but after they stole the player formerly known as Ron Artest from the Kings, expectations were sky high in H-Town.

It didn’t take long for things to go south. McGrady’s knee was so troublesome that it knocked him out by mid-season. Hope was not lost, though. The Rockets managed to snag the fifth seed in the Western Conference without T-Mac and even advanced to the second round.

After splitting the first two games with the Lakers, Yao’s broken foot in Game Three of the conference semi-finals put the final nail in the coffin. The Rockets still fought until there was no fight left in them, as the Lakers eliminated them in seven games. The Rockets pushed the eventual NBA champs to the brink despite losing both T-Mac and Yao. If there’s one team that was robbed of their potential that doesn’t get enough credit, it’s the 2008-2009 Rockets.

The Deal That Could Have Changed So Much

If you thought the Chris Paul trade to the Lakers could have altered the entire landscape of the NBA, wait until you hear about this nixed trade that happened in 2009. On Feb. 18, New Orleans agreed to trade Tyson Chandler to Oklahoma City for Joe Smith and Chris Wilcox. Basically, the then-Hornets were dumping Chandler to the Thunder. That was until Chandler’s “turf toe” raised enough red flags to convince OKC to rescind the trade.

After all that’s happened since then, it’s amazing wondering what could have been. The Thunder were one of the league’s worst teams when they traded for Chandler, so who knows what they would have done with him that season. His presence could have impacted whether they got James Harden in the draft that year. Serge Ibaka came over the following season, so imagine what he and Chandler would have looked like together. Trading for Chandler would have meant that he wouldn’t make it to Dallas, which probably meant no title for the Mavericks in 2011. It also would have meant the Thunder trading Jeff Green for Kendrick Perkins would be nixed, too.

So much could have been different had OKC rolled the dice with Chandler. Maybe they wouldn’t have lost Durant. Maybe they would’ve formed a dynasty. Maybe LeBron nor the Warriors wouldn’t have won any titles this decade. All of that could have come from one rescinded trade. It’s understandable that the Thunder didn’t want to take the risk with Chandler’s toe, but at times like those, the potential outweighs the risk.

Pull The Plug! Or Don’t!

One of the seasons more prominent storylines was the fall of the Detroit Pistons. After being among the Eastern Conference’s powerhouses for several years, Detroit’s downfall came when they agreed to swap Chauncey Billups and Antonio McDyess for Allen Iverson.

While the Denver Nuggets reaped all the benefits from this deal, Detroit crumbled from one of the top seeds to the eighth seed in the conference. In hindsight, the Pistons underestimated how much Billups had left in the tank and overestimated how good their opponents were. When you consider that the Orlando Magic was the reigning Eastern Conference Champion at the time – and the Pistons beat the Magic the previous year in a five-game playoff series – maybe the Pistons would have had a chance.

When you have a window of opportunity, even if the outlook isn’t great, you take advantage of it until you can’t anymore. The Pistons instead folded early and have never recovered since. This trade would have been forgivable had the Pistons used the cap space they got from Iverson’s expiring deal wisely.

Instead, they used it on Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva the following summer. Woof.

“Success Is Fleeting”

It was mentioned earlier that Dwight Howard and Carmelo Anthony were achieving success both for themselves and for their teams. Both played in the ideal situations for them.

Howard played for a team that had reliable shooters who spread the floor along with smart playmakers who could run the pick and roll with him. Howard may have been a shot-blocking terror, but he also benefited from having agile defenders on the wing. Howard’s dominating presence down low made it difficult for defenses to figure out who to cover, which helped the Magic power their way to the NBA Finals.

Anthony played for a team that had an MVP candidate for a starting point guard in Chauncey Billups. “Mr. Big Shot” knew exactly where to find Anthony which greatly helped ‘Melo’s efficiency as a scorer. Carmelo also played for a team whose frontcourt finally got past its injury issues. With everything going Denver’s way, they had one of their most successful playoff runs in years, pushing the Lakers to six games in the Western Conference Finals.

When the Magic and the Nuggets went on their playoff runs in 2009, Anthony was only 25 while Howard was 23. Making it that far into the playoffs is terrific when you’re that young, but little did they know, that was far as they would get in their primes.

Looking at where they are at now, Carmelo Anthony and Dwight Howard will more likely than not be Hall-of-Famers, but they’ll be remembered for being two superstar talents who could have done so much more in their careers had their hubris not gotten in the way. As their careers unfolded, both infamously burned bridges because things had to be done their way, which in turn, hurt their opportunities for success.

One can’t help but wonder if the success they had in 2009 played a role in their egos. Whether it did or not, young players coming into the league need to know that maintaining success in the NBA is not a given no matter how good you are. You never know when the glory days will be taken away from you.

The 2008-2009 season was remembered for many other things as well. LeBron had finally taken the reins as the league’s indisputable best player, a label he still has yet to relinquish, as he went on to win his first MVP award. It was also the one and only year we got the closest resemblance to a full season from the injury-plagued Greg Oden. Hilariously, it was also the year when we realized that maybe fans had a little too much power in all-star voting, as Iverson and McGrady were voted in as starters purely on reputation.

There are many other reasons to remember the 2008-2009 season. Ten years from now, what will the 2018-2019 season be remembered for?

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