Is It Time for the Los Angeles Clippers to Blow It Up?
After getting out to a 3-1 series lead, the Los Angeles Clippers lost to the Houston Rockets in the 2015 Western Conference Semifinals. It was the following summer that DeAndre Jordan explored the free agency waters and nearly signed with the Dallas Mavericks, before changing his mind and returning to the team.
Since the conclusion of that season, the Clippers have been on thin ice.
Last season, with injuries to Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, they were ousted in the first round by the Portland Trail Blazers. This certainly didn't help things, but to start out this year, the outlook was much more promising.
Head coach Doc Rivers and company went 10-1 through the first 11 games, with wins over Portland, Utah, Memphis and San Antonio. They proceeded to go 14-2 through 16 and 22-8 through the first 30 games of the season.
Up until December 22nd, the Clippers were third in net rating (8.6) and fifth in defensive rating (102.0). Since then, they rank 16th with a net rating of 0.6 and have allowed 108.8 points per 100 possessions -- ranking 22nd in defensive efficiency.
Hit by injuries to both Griffin and Paul (once again), the Clippers have been nowhere near the team they were to start out the year. In fact, they're no longer a top-five team, according to our power rankings. And they'll be fortunate to be the 4 seed out West if their recent play gets them that far.
In the last 10 games, the Clippers have been better than they have been for quite some time. Paul and Griffin are both finally healthy, and the others -- DeAndre Jordan, J.J. Redick and Jamal Crawford -- have been ramping up their respective games in preparation for the playoffs.
As a result, the Clips are third in net rating (8.7) over the last 10 games, trailing only the Warriors (19.7) and red-hot Trail Blazers (12.1) in that span. The problem is the competition they've played in that set of contests.
Of the teams they faced, only three -- the Cavaliers, Wizards and Jazz -- are likely playoff teams. They are 3-0 in those games, but they've also lost to the Nuggets, Mavericks and Kings, who are all headed toward the lottery. Their worst loss came to the Kings in a game in which the Clippers led by 18 points in the fourth, only to be outscored 33-21 in the final quarter, ultimately losing by a single point.
Despite their recent success, the numbers tell us the Clippers still aren't among the championship favorites. By our algorithms, they rank sixth with a likelihood of just 3.0%. That trails the Warriors, Spurs, Raptors, Cavaliers, Celtics and Rockets. They would have to overcome several better teams and some long odds to somehow win the franchise's first-ever Larry O'Brien trophy.
Still, this season has been but a microcosm of the Clippers' last five seasons.
Regular Season Success
In December of 2011, Los Angeles acquired Chris Paul in a blockbuster trade with the New Orleans Hornets. That created the power trio of he, Griffin and Jordan.
Counting that season, the Clippers are 262-132 (.665 win percentage) in 394 regular season games through the end of the 2015-16 campaign. Their average nERD (our in-house ranking that is predictive of a team's ultimate winning percentage) of 68.96 trails only the Spurs (71.4 nERD over the last five years). That's ahead of the Warriors, Cavaliers and Heat, among many others.
The difference is that the Clippers have zero titles and just three playoff series wins. The three teams mentioned along with them above have won the last five titles and a total of 29 series wins during the same number of seasons.
For all the regular season success the Clippers have had, they have nothing to show for it.
Since putting together their big three, if you will, the franchise is 23-27 in playoff games and 3-5 in postseason series. And these issues, while they may be due to Paul and Griffin getting injured, have not been a direct product of the duo's lack of production.
Of 50 possible games, Paul has missed four and Griffin has missed two. Even when playing, they haven't always been healthy. Now that might have something to do with the drop-off in game-to-game success, but they've produced when healthy.
When looking at their regular season and playoff numbers, stretched across five games and a 36-minute average, there hasn't been much of a difference.
|Griffin/Paul Per 36||PTS||ASTS||REBS||TOVS|
The two have seen a decrease in assists and a very small increase in turnovers, but outside of that, the numbers are very similar. However, the question has always been about the supporting cast.
In playoff games, Paul and Griffin have averaged 36.7 and 35.7 minutes per game, respectively. The issue is their team has needed them to log heavy minutes -- they've produced 38.7% of their team's points in games they've played.
That might not be cause for blowing it up, but as with everything in life, money is involved.
Roster and Cap
At this point, the Clippers have $113.3 million in guaranteed salaries, according to The Vertical. Next year, that figure falls to $108.4 million if Paul and Griffin don't exercise their early termination options. In today's NBA, though, players are looking to get their big money when the getting is good, so you have to think they will look to build upon their $24 and $21 million contracts in the offseason, whether with L.A. or elsewhere.
If they stay on for more money, the Clippers will be even more strapped for cash. Paul Pierce will be retiring at the end of the season while Redick and a trio of veterans at the minimum will look to free agency, but that's roughly $10.3 million off the books. Paul and Griffin could command max deals worth up to about $30 million per year, eliminating what savings the Clippers would gain from others walking at season's end.
If everything plays out that way, the Clippers are looking at roughly $5 million or less to work with in free agency, not to mention signing draft choices. They'd be devoting 63.6% of their cap to Paul, Griffin and Jordan for the 2017-18 season and possibly further.
Therein lies the problem. If owner Steve Ballmer is willing to cut those big checks, they'll be right back at the same issue -- having no supporting cast. The Clippers will again sign non-impact veterans and rely heavily on a 32-year-old Paul and 28-year-old Griffin.
The only way to avoid the problem is to talk Paul and Griffin into signing for less. If they're not willing to do so, maybe it is time to blow it all up.
Seeing how the playoffs this year play out could go a long way in determining the next move. But, for now, the future is looking rather dim for a franchise that once showed so much promise.