The Los Angeles Clippers had a lot of options on the table entering the 2018 NBA Draft. Armed with the 12th and 13th overall picks, the Clippers had the opportunity to package their picks and move up, put together another package to acquire assets and move back in the draft or stand pat and use their own picks. Ultimately, the Clippers opted to swing a deal with the Charlotte Hornets (who had the 11th overall pick) to select point guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander from Kentucky and used the 13th pick to draft swingman Jerome Robinson out of Boston College.
There will be debate for years about whether the Clippers should have used one of their two picks to select Michael Porter Jr., who slid all the way to No. 14 as the result of growing concerns about his previously injured back. However, the Clippers are very confident that they drafted the backcourt of the future in Gilgeous-Alexander and Robinson. By drafting these two guards, and with Milos Teodosić opting into the second of his two-year deal, the Clippers ensured that they would need to make additional moves to clear out what has become a jammed backcourt.
The Clippers started that process yesterday by trading Austin Rivers to the Washington Wizards in exchange for Marcin Gortat. Rivers is coming off of his best NBA season in which he averaged 15.1 points, four assists, 2.4 rebounds and 1.2 steals per game while shooting 42.4 percent from the field and 37.8 percent from three-point range. Rivers was acquired by the Clippers in January 2015 in a sequence of deals that involved several teams. Rivers’ father, Doc Rivers, was the head of the Clippers’ front office at the time and was the person who made the decision to trade for his son. As a consequence, Austin, who was struggling to establish himself in the NBA prior to the trade, has been on the receiving end of continuous criticism and scrutiny.
With this trade, Austin Rivers now has the opportunity to reshape his image around the league and prove that he has developed into a quality rotation player. Rivers may not be able to live up to the roughly $12 million salary that is owed to him for the upcoming season, but he is a nice addition for a Washington team that is heavily reliant on John Wall and Bradley Beal to create the vast majority of the team’s offense.
With this trade, the Clippers are signaling clearly that they are prepared for life without center DeAndre Jordan. Jordan is the last remaining fixture of the Lob City era and has been rumored to have his sights set on joining another team this offseason, whether it be through free agency or opting into the final year of his deal and working with the Clippers to facilitate a trade (similar to what Chris Paul did last offseason).
The Clippers will presumably rely on Gortat to handle the starting center position next season. While Gortat has proven himself to be a quality player over his career, he has experienced a decline in his production over the last few seasons in Washington. Last season, Gortat averaged 8.4 points, 7.6 rebounds, 1.8 assists and 0.7 blocks per game.
While Gortat may not fill up the box score, he can still provide his usual high-impact screens that often create significant separation between his teammates and their defenders. This makes him a particularly nice fit with Gilgeous-Alexander, who has proven himself to be an effective operator out of the pick and roll, and Robinson, whose role will likely include plenty of ball movement and set plays coming off of screens. Additionally, if Gortat is not able to provide the sort of production that the Clippers are hoping for, they can turn to Montrezl Harrell, who had a breakout season coming off the bench for Los Angeles last season. Harrell has his own limitations, but his motor, physicality and developing offensive game make him an ideal alternative to Gortat.
The Clippers still have some moves to make this offseason to continue reshaping its roster. Clippers’ Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations Lawrence Frank, along with Jerry West and the rest of the revamped front office, have decisively moved the Clippers in a new direction with last season’s trade of Blake Griffin, the drafting of Gilgeous-Alexander and Robinson, the trade for Gortat and their effective use of young and cost-effective players, such as the players they signed to two-way contracts last season.
The Lob City era has come to an end in Los Angeles. Now begins a new chapter for a Clippers team looking to return to the playoffs and fend off a Lakers team that is looking to make some big moves this offseason.
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