They survived a grueling seven-game series against the San Antonio Spurs that most people expect them to lose and then followed that up with the biggest collapse in franchise history.
These Los Angeles Clippers somehow came away with a split after the first two games in Houston without their best player in Chris Paul.
They dismantled the Rockets at home with their leader back on the court and most thought that with a 3-1 series lead Paul was finally going to reach the Conference Finals for the first time in his career. The Clippers franchise was finally going to be one step away from reaching an NBA Final.
Most expected a loss in game five at Houston, but no one was ready for what happened in game six.
The Clippers blew a 19-point lead at home. Blake Griffin didn’t score a point in the fourth quarter. Chris Paul didn’t know how to stop the bleeding. Houston came out with an unlikely season-saving win.
Then game seven arrived and they just flat didn’t show up for much of the first half. The defensive intensity wasn’t there. They allowed the Rockets countless open threes and James Harden was able to walk to the rim at times completely uncontested. Suddenly it was evident this team was choking under the leadership of Chris Paul. Again.
You can place blame on whomever you choose. I don’t place the blame solely on Chris Paul. He was one of the few people who played well. But every top player that isn’t able to take the next step regardless of how well he plays takes the brunt of the criticism and Paul should be no different.
The biggest different between he and a lot of star players is his supporting cast.
You can argue that outside of a healthy Cavaliers team, these Clippers have the best starting lineup in the entire league. Their second player is now a perennial all-star forward in Blake Griffin who’s game has improved every season. Their third player is the most athletic center in the league, great rebounder and a Defensive Player of the Year candidate every season. They have a knockdown shooter at the other guard position with JJ Redick and a hard-nosed defensive small forward who’s willing to fight the biggest guy on the court in order to protect his teammate.
This starting lineup is as well constructed as you could get in the NBA. So what’s the problem?
A huge issue is clearly their bench, which is virtually non-existent. When Austin Rivers and Glen “Big Baby” Davis are getting significant minutes off your bench, you’re in trouble. And their best reserve, Jamal Crawford, was awful at times throughout the playoffs. So what has to change?
The first thing I’d change if I’m Steve Ballmer is removing Doc Rivers from the General Manager position.
Rivers traded Eric Bledsoe for Jared Dudley and Redick. Dudley was moved along with a first-round pick in a salary dump soon after. He gave Spencer Hawes $23 million to ride the bench. And the two guys he brought in to help bolster the bench, his son and Davis, can’t play. He inherited Paul, Griffin and Jordan. So really, what did he add to this team in the GM position?
Most of the team can be returned next season. The Clippers have a $5.6 million team option on Jamal Crawford. And considering their bench, they should pick that up immediately. Both Austin Rivers and Big Baby are unrestricted free agents. Maybe Doc can get both to return at a very low number. They aren’t bad depth players, it’s just bad if they’re two of your best players on the bench.
But of course the biggest free agent on the team is center DeAndre Jordan, who Doc said is priority number one this off-season. But reports have surfaced today about a falling-out between he and Paul during the season. Whether or not that’s enough to drive Jordan away from a five-year, $100 million pay day is probably unlikely, but is Jordan really worth it?
I like Jordan as a player but I’m not a fan of paying a guy that type of money who has no offensive game and shoots below 40 percent from the free throw line which has proven to be a liability in the playoffs. That’s not worth $20 million per year. I don’t think letting him walk is the worst idea in the world. Maybe a sign-and-trade and try to get some usable asset in return to provide some bench depth.
If the Clippers let Jordan, Rivers and Davis walk and don’t pick up the option on Crawford, they’ll have a little under eight million in cap space. If they could somehow get someone to take Spencer Hawes’ contract that’d be huge, but not sure I really see that happening.
As for who can replace Jordan? I think Robin Lopez would be a nice fit for the Clippers. They need to get away from this “Lob City” identity and turn to a more professional, business-like team. Lopez may not be the rebounder Jordan is but he’s a very good defensive big who’s also a career 75.9 percent shooter from the line so he wouldn’t be a liability in a big playoff game like Jordan has been. What good is a $100 million player if you can’t keep him on the floor?
Another player that could be a good cheap alternative to provide some bench depth is Kevin Seraphin in Washington. Seraphin has some offensive ability, can play both the center and power forward position and can be had at a very low number. The issue there is the money they already have tied up in Hawes. If they’d be able to move him for a reserve guard then I think that would make sense.
The Clippers will need to add wing shooting for very little money. Players like Wesley Johnson, Wayne Ellington, Xavier Henry, Jordan Crawford etc. They’ll have to hope they can acquire two players like that for discounted one-year deals, especially considering they don’t have a pick in this year’s draft or any real money on the salary cap. Not if they bring back DeAndre Jordan or replace him with a serviceable center, that’ll eat up the little money they remaining.
Despite their constant failures even with considerable high-level talent, a crippling loss shouldn’t mean destruction in any way but there’s also reason to start wondering whether or not to shake things up. That doesn’t mean it should be at the expense of Chris Paul or Blake Griffin, but Jordan shouldn’t be a necessity, he’s just not worth the money and that’s the cold hard truth.
Speaking of the truth, maybe Paul Pierce decides to make a trip out West and join his former coach? Lord knows they could use him.