30 Teams in 30 Days: New faces abound as LA Clippers continue transition
Franchise rebuilds with an eye toward free agency in summer of 2019
That’s a question many fans ask as the flurry of trades, free agent news and player movement seems to never stop during the summer. Since the Golden State Warriors claimed their third title in four years back on June 8, NBA teams have undergone a massive number of changes as they prepare for the season ahead.
With the opening of training camps just around the corner, NBA.com’s Shaun Powell will evaluate the state of each franchise as it sits today — from the team with the worst regular-season record in 2017-18 to the team with the best regular-season record — as we look at 30 teams in 30 days.
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Today’s team: LA Clippers
2017-18 Record: 42-40, did not qualify for the playoffs
Who’s new: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (Draft), Jerome Robinson (Draft), Marcin Gortat (trade), Luc Mbah a Moute (free agency), Mike Scott (free agency)
Who’s gone: DeAndre Jordan (free agency), Austin Rivers (trade)
The lowdown: The seismic mid-season trade that jettisoned All-Star forward Blake Griffin all but ended the “Lob City” era and sent the Clippers on an unknown journey toward a new identity. Surprisingly, they didn’t completely crumble after losing Griffin and Chris Paul in a span of seven months, and that’s a credit to coach Doc Rivers, who received a vote of confidence by the new management team.
Lou Williams, the reigning Kia Sixth Man Award winner, had a massive season in leading the Clippers in scoring (22.6 points per game) and assists (5.4 apg). He did that while earning a contract extension in-season, sparing himself (and the Clippers) from hitting the free-agent market in 2018. Still, the Clippers failed to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2010-11 and entered the offseason with the stigma again being the No. 2 NBA team in Los Angeles after owning basketball bragging rights in town for four years.
DeAndre Jordan the title of “Mr. Clipper” — which was either a badge of honor or a badge of courage, depending on your view of the franchise and its prickly history. Regardless, he could always be counted upon by the Clippers, playing in more games than anyone in club history. He experienced the many lows and the few but savory highs and then, he was gone.
Quite fittingly, he was the last of the CP3-Griffin-Jordan Clippers to leave, bouncing out a door that was held open by the Clippers this summer. Officially, Jordan signed with the Mavericks through free agency. He could’ve opted into the final year of his contract and stayed in LA but the Clippers really didn’t give him much choice. He wasn’t getting a contract extension, which means the club essentially told him it was time to move on.
Rivers was stripped of his personnel powers before last season, and since then the Clippers began changing. During their six-year run of winning records in the regular season, they never reached the West finals under Rivers — a reflection of crummy luck with untimely injuries and Rivers’ failure to garnish the rotation with key role players. It also didn’t help that Golden State amped up and began its dynasty during this time (remember: the Clippers were the last West team to eliminate the Warriors from the playoffs). Overall, from a bottom line standpoint, “Lob City” came up short.
The evidence said the Clippers had gone as far as possible with Griffin, Paul and Jordan, and keeping them around would be expensive and ultimately fruitless. So they didn’t pay Paul two summers ago. They paid Griffin, but then dumped him once they found a desperate buyer in Detroit. And they refused to extend Jordan, who opted out and signed with Dallas once the Mavericks agreed to match his scheduled $26 million.
Extending Jordan would’ve placed limits on the Clippers’ salary cap flexibility, and there were other reasons the Clippers weren’t big on keeping “Mr. Clipper.” Although he’s one of the best rebounders of this generation, Jordan has slipped a notch as a rim protector and remains a non-factor offensively. He’s the last of a dying breed: a big man who can’t stray 10 feet from the basket.
Clearly, Michael Winger, Lawrence Frank and consultant Jerry West believe it’s time for massive change, with one exception — Rivers remains as coach. He’s still among the league’s best and proved so last season when the Clippers, despite the Griffin trade and subsequent upheaval and injuries, won 42 games.
However, loyalty only goes so far. The Clippers did trade Austin Rivers to the Wizards for Gortat mainly because they needed a center to replace Jordan. Austin did improve, especially as a 3-point shooter (37.8 percent). But there’s also the sound of relief in Clipperland as the trade put an end to the often awkward vibe caused by a father/son combo in the same locker room.
The Clippers start fresh with Gilgeous-Alexander. He’s a long (6-foot-6) point guard coming off an impressive showing in NBA Summer League, where he displayed a smooth handle and good defensive instincts. He’s a late-bloomer who didn’t start at Kentucky until last January, yet was named MVP of the SEC tournament. The Clippers believe he can have a better rookie season than Collin Sexton (Cleveland Cavaliers) or Trae Young (Atlanta Hawks).
It’s uncertain how much time he’ll get this season with Pat Beverley and Milos Teodosic returning. That depends on whether he sharpens his 3-point shooting and if Doc Rivers is willing to cope with rookie mistakes. Still, the opportunity is there, and both Beverley and Teodosic are on the final year of their deals.
Their other first-rounder brought Robinson, who made big strides in his three years at Boston College (he scored 46 points in one game last season) and could make noise immediately.
The Clippers will be big boys on the free-agent market next summer. They extended Montrezl Harrell, but only for two years and $12 million. They brought back Mbah a Moute for one year and $4.3 million. This season is shaping up as a bridge to possibly something better, especially if the Clippers are in play for potential 2019 free agents Kawhi Leonard and/or Jimmy Butler.
Los Angeles will belong to LeBron James and the Lakers this season while the Clippers enter an early phase of their reinvention. The search begins for a new identity, and a new face of the franchise.
Coming next: Washington Wizards
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