Last offseason, NBA legend Jerry West joined the Los Angeles Clippers’ front office. West has earned a reputation as one of the league’s premier front office executives as he has guided several teams to the highest levels of success. Count the Los Angeles Lakers, Memphis Grizzlies and most recently the Golden State Warriors among the teams that benefited from West’s guidance.
When West joined the Clippers, many in Los Angeles questioned why he had not rejoined his former franchise, the Lakers. The Lakers front office has its own legend, Magic Johnson, and is now enjoying the fruits of their own accelerated roster revamping. When West joined the Clippers, the team was figuring out how to keep either Chris Paul or Blake Griffin, or perhaps both as each player could leave soon leave via free agency. Keeping the two together, along with DeAndre Jordan, seemed to be the team’s first priority. The three had collectively led the franchise through its most successful run, though they had failed to reach their goal of winning a championship.
Instead, Chris Paul made it known that he was going to be moving on and worked with the Clippers in facilitating a deal that would net them several useful players and assets. The Clippers were able to trade Paul to the Houston Rockets, as well as re-sign and eventually trade Griffin midseason to the Detroit Pistons. Jordan ultimately moved on as well, signing a one-year deal with the Mavericks this offseason.
With their big three and the last remnants of Lob City gone, West and the Clippers are in the process of engineering a new era of Clippers basketball. Like many other teams, the above moves, among others, positions the franchise to not simply be flexible but able to potentially acquire two max level free agents nest offseason. Should the team be able acquire one or two top level players, they will have quickly reloaded their roster and avoided any sort of full teardown.
The most interesting development on this front is Jimmy Butler’s recent demand to be traded out of Minnesota. Butler reportedly named the Clippers as a preferred destination, though recent reporting suggests his primary target is now the Miami HEAT. Minnesota’s asking price for Butler is reportedly high, so talks between teams have not generated a ton of momentum, but there is still a strong possibility that a deal comes together soon.
The risk for any team is paying a high price for Butler but he leaves after one season as a free agent. That risk existed for the Oklahoma City Thunder, who were ultimately able to re-sign Paul George. That risk also exists for the Toronto Raptors, who recently acquired Kawhi Leonard in a major deal in which they sent DeMar DeRozan to the San Antonio Spurs. With this in mind, the Clippers presumably continue to explore the potential of acquiring Butler in what could then be the first of two possible top level acquisitions that could accelerate the team’s roster reconstruction.
Until such a deal comes into place, the Clippers are moving forward with the deep roster they have already constructed. The roster lacks star talent but it does have several skilled players who are looking to rebuild this team’s identity around defense.
“You guys had Lob City here before, which is fine. We just wanted to piggyback to you know, Clamp City,” point guard Patrick Beverley stated. “We got arguably the two best on-ball defenders now the NBA right now, on the same team with Luc Mbah Moute and [Danilo] Gallo and Milos [Teodosic], we can be a defensive juggernaut.”
This small moment underscored an important moment point for the team. Beverley highlighted the three most important defenders on the team — himself, Avery Bradley (the other on-ball defender) and Luc Mbah Moute. However, a major obstacle is health. Both Beverley and Bradley missed the majority of their time with the Clippers last season due to injury. If they are healthy this season, these three individual defenders will be key to leading the way on defensive end. Although it was done in a somewhat comical way, Beverley made certain to include Gallinari and Teodosic in this discussion about defense. While neither Gallinari of Teodosic can be considered impact defensive players at this point, it seems Beverley is making the point that the entire team will be embracing this renewed emphasis on defense.
The Clippers enter the upcoming season with a roster featuring young talent, such as Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Jerome Robinson, as well as veteran depth like Beverley, Lou Williams, Tobias Harris and Gallinari. There is reason to be optimistic that this team can beat expectations for this season and earn a playoff spot. But acquiring Butler is the move that could really push this team to new heights as early as next season. Landing Butler now could give the Clippers the inside track on landing another superstar free agent, like Leonard. If they manage to do so, the Clippers likely won’t lose sleep longing for the days of Lob City. But for now, there is an air of optimism around this team, which is for now content to go out and prove their doubters wrong one game at a time.
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