When we talk about a rebuild in the NBA, we think of a team having to undergo a dark period where losing has to precede going back to the top.
The Philadelphia 76ers who had to be the doormat of the league year after year while trading away every good player they had to acquire draft picks. This was known as former GM Sam Hinkie’s “The Process”. While it was successful, Hinkie was no longer there to reap its rewards. The Sixers are now contenders in the East but it took years and Hinkie’s job before it happened.
We thought that more or less the same would happen with the Los Angeles Clippers after the team decided to end its Lob City era. Lob City turned the Clippers from a cellar dweller to a playoff team. However, they could not transcend from a playoff team to a legit contender. So hard as it was, the Clippers erased the only identity they had for a shot at rebuilding.
But the Clippers didn’t just rebuild and go back to the bottom. Owner Steve Ballmer and coach Doc Rivers wanted the teams to retain its competitiveness while creating a new identity. They didn’t want to disappear. Rivers wanted to have a team that could still fight for the playoffs. And they did. While many say that the Denver Nuggets and Milwaukee Bucks are the biggest surprises of the season, I beg to disagree and say it’s the Los Angeles Clippers.
Making Shrewd Moves
After the Clippers signed Blake Griffin to a 5-year $173M deal, they traded him the same season. Was that a mistake? Not really. It was reported that management had met and decided that with Paul gone and Jordan probably going out as well, Lob City was over. With the team tied to a huge deal with Blake Griffin, they agreed that their window of opportunity had already closed. It was hard to accept, the Clippers admitted that the Blake Griffin era was over. They had to let him go, even if it meant playing on without a superstar.
But Doc Rivers and the management team were shrewd. While they gave up Paul and Griffin, they didn’t just acquire future draft picks, they also got low-maintenance veterans who played without egos. Aside from those, they also achieved their main goal of creating cap space for the summer so they can sign big name free agents during the offseason.
The Clippers didn’t plan to empty their superstar roster. But after accepting the fact that they needed to reboot, there were happening around the league that helped them make the decision. Kawhi Leonard was traded to the Raptors, Jimmy Butler was traded to the Sixers. Reports that Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving might leave their teams this summer made the Clippers realize they could fetch a true superstar this summer. So they worked out a way to send Griffin packing.
The Chris Paul trade of 2017 yielded the Clippers veterans like Lou Williams, Montrezl Harrell and Patrick Beverley. The cap space they saved enabled them to sign Danilo Gallinari in free agency. Then Los Angeles traded Blake Griffin for Avery Bradley, Tobias Harris, and Boban Marjanovic last season. At the trade deadline this past season, the Clippers flipped Bradley for JaMychal Green and Garrett Temple. Harris and Marjanovic fetched Landry Shamet, Wilson Chandler, two first round and two second round picks. And don’t forget too that the Clippers also flipped Mike Muscala for the promising Ivica Zubac.
Keeping The Competitiveness
Despite giving away their top scorers in the last two trade deadlines plus dealing with one of the best point guards in the game, the Clippers remained competitive. Behind 6th man supreme Lou Williams and Gallinari who is had one of his best and healthiest seasons ever.
As a result, the Clippers made the playoffs as the 8th seed in the West. They even managed to get a win over the Warriors in their first-round series. Making the playoffs was the icing on the cake because while the Clippers wanted to continue to compete this year, the playoffs weren’t their main goal.
As a result of their moves, the Clippers will have $54-$75M in cap space this summer, depending on the moves they make. And the Clippers will still keep Lou Williams, Danilo Gallinari, Gilgeous-Alexander, Shamet and Harrell for at least another season. With that kind of cap space, they will still have the ability to sign two maximum free agents this summer and still have the core of their playoff team. That’s impressive.
And to think that their current core, Gilgeous-Alexander, and Shamet in particular, got invaluable playoff experience along the way is a testament to excellent management decision-making by Steve Ballmer’s team. Now the Clippers are headed to the offseason as if they won the title themselves. They have the three ingredients needed to build a contender: Draft picks, Solid young players and Cap Space.
Ingredients For A Rebuild
The Clippers are going to give Boston their first round pick of 2019 because of a prior obligation. But the Tobias Harris deal got them four future picks, including two first rounders. Not to mention what they already had in previous deals. When it comes to future assets, you can check the Clippers on that.
As for young talent, there’s no question they have plenty: Harrell, Alexander, Shamet, Zubac, Green, Jerome Robinson, and even Patrick Beverley. Beverley is the oldest in the group at 30 years old. If they keep Gallinari, he’s also just 30 so this is a young team that Doc Rivers has.
Cap space? The Clippers can surely sign one max free agent. If they choose to get two, they have the assets to flip a deal too. This financial flexibility gives the Clippers all the options they need to build their contender. Given how they’ve retooled the team in the last two years I do not doubt that they are going to be winners in the free agency.
There are reports that Kawhi Leonard is preferring the Clippers over the Lakers and that is supposedly what Jimmy Butler thinks as well. Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving may be looking for big market cities. Los Angeles is perfect and if they don’t want to play alongside LeBron James, the Clippers are a legit option- a playoff team loaded with young talent who don’t have (yet?) big egos.
If the Clippers can get one of those names (or maybe two?) plus another star, maybe even just a pseudo-star, then you have a contender in Los Angeles that’s not Lebron-led. Gallinari’s expiring contract could be a trade bait too, so they can flip him if they want to. The possibilities are limitless for the Clippers this summer. They can move in various directions and the ending would still be the same: Steve Ballmer will have a better team next season, no doubt about that.