Offseason Grades: Los Angeles Clippers
The Point Forward will grade every team’s offseason over the next few weeks. Click here for the complete archive.
Additions: J.J. Redick, Jared Dudley, Darren Collison, Antawn Jamison, Byron Mullens, Reggie Bullock (No. 25 in 2013 draft)
Losses: Eric Bledsoe, Caron Butler, Chauncey Billups, Ronny Turiaf, Grant Hill
Other Moves: Re-signed Chris Paul, Matt Barnes and Ryan Hollins; hired Doc Rivers to replace Vinny Del Negro as coach
What Went Right: It’s rare that a team fails to address arguably its biggest bugaboo and still manages to put together a superb summer, but that’s the Clippers’ story.
Center DeAndre Jordan is the leaky roof, the deal-breaker that shows up upon close inspection of the Clippers, the fault that makes it difficult to buy their status as true title contenders. This summer, the Clippers not only didn’t get their roof replaced, but they halfheartedly tried to patch things up (again) with the likes of Hollins and Mullens. That approach didn’t work last year, and it’s not likely to work this year. Presumably the Clippers understand that and simply couldn’t locate any better, cheap options to use next to All-Star power forward Blake Griffin.
The twist: L.A. remodeled its kitchen, installed a pool in the backyard, put in an entertainment center in the basement, added a new coat of exterior paint, redid all the bathrooms and, well, you get the point. The roster and organizational upgrades abound, and the totality of those moves ensures that the takeaway reaction to this summer is, “Wow! Look at this place!” rather than, “Why is there water dripping on my head?”
I’m going to cut this HGTV analogy right here — I will refrain from matching up each player with a specific home improvement — but the list of quality moves is long. It starts with the relatively smooth re-signing of Paul, one of the league’s top-five players and a man who has turned this franchise on its head in only two years. The terms of his deal were never a question, and Paul’s apparent happiness in Los Angeles coupled with the lack of obvious, championship-ready suitors made this a drama-free courting process. But nothing should ever be assumed when it comes to keeping superstars, especially with a team with no real history of success, so the Clippers deserve top marks for Paul’s retention, even if it seemed like a formality.
Upgrading from Del Negro to Rivers on the bench amounts to a coup, even if that was about as interminable, heated and annoying as coaching changes get. Del Negro hinted that Paul was behind the Clippers’ decision to part ways with the coach; Paul denied he had anything to do with it; Boston fans were upset that Rivers wanted out and that he waffled; the Clippers and Celtics couldn’t seem to agree on fair compensation; the NBA stepped in to block a potential side deal involving Jordan and Kevin Garnett.
Amid all these competing interests and subplots, it was clear, even to Clippers owner Donald Sterling, that Rivers was the guy for this team. Championship experience? Check. Functional relationship with star point guard? Check. Capable of handling big-market glare? Check. Beloved and respected by players, media and coaching colleagues alike? Check. That Sterling actually delivered Rivers, despite the cost involved (the new coach received a three-year, $21 million deal after the Clippers sent a first-round pick to Boston to free him from his contract), should make the team’s fans giddy.
The Clippers also did well in acquiring guard J.J. Redick (from Milwaukee) and forward Jared Dudley (from Phoenix) in a three-team trade that sent guard Eric Bledsoe and forward Caron Butler to the Suns. The L.A./Phoenix portion was a win-win exchange for two parties in different places going in different directions: The rebuilding Suns secured a potential star in the making in the 23-year-old Bledsoe, while the win-now Clippers obtained a savvy, team-first wing on a reasonable contract in Dudley who can shoot but doesn’t need the ball to be effective. Peeling Redick off the Bucks for next to nothing (Milwaukee got a second-round pick from the Clippers and another from Phoenix in the sign-and-trade) and getting him on a reasonable deal (four years, $27.8 million) gave L.A. another experienced, quality shooter in his prime.
On top of those additions, the signing of Collison (who can help fill Bledsoe’s minutes), the re-signing of Barnes (a valuable rotation player last season) and the drafting of Bullock (yet another shooter who showed more than a few flashes while averaging 18 points during the Las Vegas Summer League) leaves L.A. with an embarrassment of perimeter riches. How rich? I didn’t even mention Jamal Crawford, the 2012-13 Sixth Man Award runner-up, or the competent Willie Green, for goodness’ sake.
What Went Wrong: One could argue that the Clippers didn’t make a single misstep this summer. Paul didn’t bail. They didn’t strike out in their coaching search. No rotation players they wanted to keep left. They offloaded the $8 million owed to Butler this season. They didn’t sell themselves short when it came time for the seemingly inevitable parting with Bledsoe. And none of their signings or re-signings can really be labeled as “overpays.”
They also didn’t break the bank: With some minor finagling, the Clippers should be able to sneak under the luxury-tax line. Composing a team capable of winning 60 games (if everything breaks right) for $72 million is no easy task, and it’s a sign of good management.
What went wrong, then, was really a matter of the step that wasn’t taken as opposed to the ones that were.
If the name of the NBA game were simply doing bodily harm to Brandon Knight, few players anywhere could stack up to Jordan. Unfortunately for the 2012-13 Dunker of the Year, his job description calls for a lot more than that, namely everything that he didn’t provide in the Clippers’ postseason loss to the Grizzlies. He averaged 3.7 points and 6.3 rebounds in 24 minutes in the playoffs, and Jordan undoubtedly sits at or near the top of the “players to blame if their contending teams fall flat” list.
The rumored Jordan-for-Garnett swap would have been perfect for the Clippers: a tested, tough, reliable, defense-first, ultra-competitive champion who has averaged a double-double for 10 of the last 11 postseasons and is on a fair contract that doesn’t run too long ($24.4 million remaining over two years). What’s not to like? Yes, Garnett is 37, but this moment, right now, is Paul’s prime and Garnett isn’t out of steam yet.
Instead, when it comes to the middle, L.A. is looking at another year of making do with crossed fingers (and closed eyes whenever Jordan steps to the free-throw line), although there’s always the possibility of a trade-deadline move to balance the roster or a a late-season pickup to bolster the front line.
Grade: A. The Paul/Griffin tandem is back, Rivers in in town, the incoming perimeter pieces (Redick, Dudley, Collison, Bullock) surpass the outgoing perimeter pieces (Bledsoe, Butler, Chauncey Billups) and the new round of shaky reserve bigs looks like it will essentially be a wash. The acquisition of Garnett would have made this an A++, but the Clippers more than kept pace with their competition at the top of the Western Conference.