Chris Paul has made the move from Lob City to Clutch City.
As of yesterday, Paul is officially a member of the Houston Rockets by way of a blockbuster 7-for-1 player trade agreed to by Houston and the Los Angeles Clippers. Paul will join Rockets’ guard James Harden, forming possibly the best backcourt duo in the league, in an attempt to compete with the reigning champion Golden State Warriors.
While the move may be a boon for Paul and the Rockets, it’s looking like the end of an era for the Clippers and leaves the franchise in a state of basketball limbo. With Paul gone, Blake Griffin and J.J. Redick possibly leaving in free agency and DeAndre Jordan eligible to become an unrestricted free agent after next season, Steve Ballmer, Jerry West and Doc Rivers have some serious decisions to make that could affect the team for years to come.
There are two conceivable directions for a team in the Clippers position to take; retool and reload or hit the reset button and blow up the roster. While retooling allows teams to remain somewhat competitive, it often isn’t the best course of action and can eventually lead to mediocrity or worse. However, rebuilding can take years and can leave teams almost devoid of fan and or free agent interest. But what is the best option for the Clippers? Let’s explore the Clippers’ options.
Retool and Reload
If the Clippers plan to retool the roster, they must re-sign Griffin — Jordan alone can’t be the main fixture of a team due to his one-dimensional nature on the offensive end. The two together would remain one of the better front courts in the league, allowing the Clippers to remain competitive enough to potentially make the playoffs in the tough Western Conference. While it may no longer be “Lob City,” Jordan and Griffin would still be a force on the glass and in the interior while Griffin could step out and space the floor with his improved shooting. As a willing and capable passer, Griffin could add another wrinkle to the Clippers offense with more time for him to play on the ball as well.
Around Griffin and Jordan, as well as guards Patrick Beverley, Lou Williams and forward-center Montrezl Harrell, who were acquired in the Paul trade, the Clippers front office would likely fill out the rest of the roster with mid-to-lower-tier free agents. Rudy Gay, Tony Allen and Willie Reed come to mind as potential targets.
In a scenario such as this, the Clippers likely maintain a playoff spot and keep fans and possible free agents interested in the team. However, they’re not as good or any better than they were with Paul in the starting lineup and virtually have no chance to compete for a title. Things could also get messy down the road as the roster ages with no influx of high-end talent coming in via the draft.
Blow It Up
If another team manages to lure Griffin away from Los Angeles, the Clippers’ best option will be to clean house and start from scratch. A team centered around Jordan won’t be a viable option for free agents, nor will it be a team that is able to compete with the star-studded Western Conference.
Their best bet would be to attempt a sign and trade with whatever team is looking to acquire Griffin — similar to the deal they worked out with Houston for Paul — allowing them to recoup some sort of value. Jordan would be the next domino to fall; a rebound-needy team like the Boston Celtics could make use of Jordan’s rebounding skills as well as his prowess on the defensive end. Beverley and Williams would bring back some value for the Clippers, as could Wesley Johnson and Austin Rivers. Jamal Crawford would likely be moved, but, due to the nature of his contract, would bring back almost nothing other than cap relief.
From there, the team would need to take stock of their remaining players. There are some intriguing names already on the roster in Harrell, Sam Dekker, Brice Johnson, Jawun Evans and Sindarius Thornwell, but none of them project to be star players and should be considered movable if the right deal comes up. Over the course of the next season, the team would bottom out — a roster constructed from those five as well as lower tier free agents coming in on short-term deals won’t win many games — leading to (hopefully) a favorable spot in the lottery. Taking on some bad contracts to acquire more assets would be likely to occur as well.
Rivers, along with much of the coaching staff, could eventually opt to leave the team for greener pastures if the front office decides to blow it up. But, after a few seasons of sub-par basketball, lottery picks and asset collection, the Clippers should have a nice, young core that they can build around for the future. While it may take longer, the team will likely be better down the road than they would if they attempt to stay relevant now by simply retooling.
The Chicago Bulls and Indiana Pacers serve as a reminder that, while it may seem more appealing to win now, reloading as opposed to rebuilding can really leave your team in a future bind. And while many Clipper fans would loathe the idea of a long rebuild after going through years of lackluster basketball prior to the arrival of Paul, Griffin and Jordan, it may be the best course of action for the team in the long run. Whether or not the Clippers think they have a chance of re-signing Griffin, they should look to blow it up and build a team for the future.
The Insiders Podcast
Basketball Insiders’ publisher Steve Kyler and Senior NBA Writer Michael Scotto look back at the 2017 NBA Draft and look ahead to NBA Free Agency including Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, Kyle Lowry, Jrue Holiday and more.
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