As we enter the final week of regular season play, there’s still a lot to be determined as it relates to the NBA Playoffs. One thing we do know, however, is that the Los Angeles Clippers won’t need to make any plans past Wednesday.
On Saturday, by virtue of a beating they took at the hands of the Denver Nuggets, the Clippers were eliminated from postseason contention. It’ll be the first time since 2011 that the franchise failed to qualify.
One year ago, when Doc Rivers’ team was preparing for what would be a seven-game series against the Utah Jazz, they had hopes of finding a way to compete with the likes of the Golden State Warriors for supremacy atop the Western Conference.
Now, one year later, Chris Paul is in Houston, Blake Griffin is in Detroit and DeAndre Jordan figures to be the most interesting free agents on the market this summer.
So where do the Clippers go now?
And do those future plans include Rivers?
Judging by the job he did in Los Angeles this season, it would certainly seem that he, at the very least, deserves an opportunity to finish out his contract with the Clippers. But with the franchise bringing on Jerry West, removing Rivers from the front office and shipping out Griffin, it seems likely that change is forthcoming, even if that shouldn’t necessarily be the case.
Back in February, the New York Post suggested that Rivers could be interested in a return to New York, where he spent parts of three seasons as a member of the Knicks. Rivers was on the 1994 Eastern Conference Championship team that lost to the Rockets in seven games in the NBA Finals, so he’s one of the few around that knows how rewarding it can be to win big in New York.
But even as the tide turns in Los Angeles, Rivers has done a lot to silence his critics and nearly got a Clippers teams to the postseason despite their being decimated by injuries and forced to continually incorporate new pieces on the fly.
Back in Boston, a part of what caused the rift between Rivers and Danny Ainge was Ainge’s want to reset and rebuild. Rivers, forever loyal to his players, wanted to keep his aging band together. In the end, Rivers ended up in Los Angeles. Now, it’s fair to wonder whether history will repeat itself as the franchise has to consider what to do with Jordan this summer.
It wasn’t all that long ago that Jordan famously agreed to join the Dallas Mavericks, only to have an 11th hour change of heart that was as dramatic as it was unprecedented. Never in a million years did anyone think that of he, Paul and Griffin, he’d be the last man standing in Los Angeles.
As Jordan likely heads toward free agency—he has a $24 million option for next season—he has been rumored to be looking for something near a maximum contract. As we speak, the Clippers have just over $57 million committed to next season’s ledger, and that number doesn’t include the $25 million worth of player option salaries that Austin Rivers ($12.6 million), Milos Teodosic ($6.3 million) and Wesley Johnson ($6.1 million) are likely to opt into.
The Clippers own their own first round lottery pick and, as a result of the Griffin trade, are likely to get the lottery pick belonging to the Pistons. The pick the Pistons sent to the Clippers is top-four protected, meaning if it is fifth or later, the Clips will inherit it. Unless the Pistons get supremely lucky in the draft lottery, the most likely scenario for the Clippers is that they’ll wind up with the 12th and 14th picks in June’s draft.
Those two selections could go a long way toward helping the Clippers rebuild, but the guaranteed contracts doled out to those draft picks will count against the team’s ledger to the tune of about $4.5 million.
Summed up, the Clippers may very well have about $86 million in salary commitments to their contracted players next season, and that doesn’t count re-signing Jordan.
In the end, what it all means is that Jerry West will have to determine whether the Clippers are going to commit to getting younger, building through the draft and divesting themselves of the big contracts on their books, or re-sign Jordan and continue to tread water in a Western Conference that they aren’t at all likely to win over the next few years.
And Rivers himself will have to decide whether he’s truly willing to take that ride.
* * * * * *
As July 1 rolls around, Jordan will join the likes of LeBron James, Chris Paul, DeMarcus Cousins, Paul George, Avery Bradley, Jabari Parker, Isaiah Thomas, Jusuf Nurkic, Julius Randle and Greg Monroe as talents available on the open market.
While there have been discussions pertaining to what second-tier free agents should expect in terms of their payments—a fair number of people believe that salaries will begin to trend downward for “supporting” players—Jordan will be a player in high demand.
What makes Jordan unique has always been his agility. For a seven-footer, he’s especially graceful and nimble. He’s able to switch on pick-and-rolls and keep opposing guards in front of him. Even though he isn’t a threat to score outside of the paint, the key to winning in today’s NBA is being able to effectively guard against the three-point shot, not necessarily shoot it from all five positions.
Make no mistake about it, Jordan is going to receive a $25 million per year contract offer from some team, despite the fact that front offices aren’t expected to make it rain on players the way they have over the past two summers. Whether it be the Indiana Pacers, the Chicago Bulls or any other team that would be willing to engage the Clippers in potential sign-and-trade scenarios, the franchise simply finds itself at a crossroads with Jordan.
Months ago, in this very space, we argued that the Clippers would have been wise to move Jordan to a team that could have used his skill set for a title run. Instead, they traded away Griffin.
Now, it’s become pretty obvious that they didn’t solve the issues surrounding Jordan, they only delayed the expediency with which they had to make a final decision.
Ironically, as the Clippers consider what to do with their longest-tenured player, they’ll also have to determine whether to continue the relationship with arguably the most respected head coach in their franchise’s history. The irony there is that Rivers probably just turned in his best head coaching job since he led the Celtics to the championship in 2008.
It was a nice ride in Los Angeles, but as the team heads toward the offseason, some tough decisions will need to be made about the organization’s future direction.
It’ll be interesting to see just how that impacts Doc Rivers and DeAndre Jordan.
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