With one unfortunate accident, one snapping of a bone in Chris Paul’s hand, the Clippers playoffs and season came to an abrupt end. It was clear from the expressions and body language of all the Clippers players, without their leader, they didn’t stand a chance against a surprisingly formidable and well coaches Blazers team with an underrated MVP candidate in Damian Lillard. When it was announced Blake would also miss time, it was just extra nails to shut the coffin nice and tight.
The end of their playoffs chances is one thing, the Clippers have faced playoffs disappointment before. But there is a sense that this is the final run for this Clippers team as it is. A team that was a fresh and excited start to the rebirth of the Clippers, this team gave Clippers fans something to get excited about, much more than they have in Clippers history. A high flying, power dunking #1 draft pick in Blake Griffin, followed by the signing of then-undisputed number one point guard in basketball Chris Paul, the team was finally on to something. Add to that one of the most athletic seven footers who knew well enough to focus on rebounding and protecting the rim, and a championship winning coach who knew how to get his players going, even the neutrals had this team pegged to appear in one finals or two.
When the Donald Sterling fiasco happened it suddenly made the Clippers the neutral fans second favorite team in the league. It was a nice story, the players and the coach standing up against the racist oppressive owner. Things were looking up in Lob City.
But since then, the Clippers have been mostly frustrating for fans who had their hopes raised. While a seemingly strung contender throughout most regular seasons, they never could find a next gear in the playoffs, getting bounced in first and second round year after year. Last season when they impressively knocked the Spurs out in first round, everyone had their hopes up again thinking this could finally be the break though. But in typical Clippers fashion they choked away a 3-1 less and humiliating got bounced by a Rockets team who themselves were never great in the playoffs.
When they almost lost Deandre Jordan the last off-season, I thought they might have been better off. With DJ gone Blake would’ve been forced to revert to his inside game which he was always better at. They wouldn’t have to be handicapped every 4th quarter of a close game by the hack-a-deandre, and the offense would probably flow a lot better. They got him back though, and fortunately enough it appeared when Blake missed half the season. Still didn’t make much difference in the playoffs.
Bad luck was a factor sure, but the Clippers had their chances, most of all last season when they choked against Houston. For a team with a guy anointed the point god of his generation, and two of the most athletically gifted bigs in the league, this team just didn’t show anything when it mattered most. And at one point it became pretty clear the gap had worked between them and the elite in the West (Golden State, San Antonio and OKC).
I think most people realize by now this team as it is will never make a Conference finals as long as those 3 teams remain intact. So this off-season is a good opportunity to admit that this ride has cine to its end, and start the rebuilding process.
First, decide between Blake and DJ. Based on this season, I think the Clippers may have some concerns with Blake be it the fight he had or the niggling injuries that keep creeping up. With the way CP3 and DJ held up the fort in Blake’s absence, they may be better off trying to build without him. And he would fetch the higher return price. I’d think it wouldn’t be too hard to convince Carmelo Anthony to waive his no trade clause to be part of his own superstar trio and finally be able to compete with guys like LeBron and KD. And if he were to leave NYC, LA is probably the only place he’d go. He could replace Blake at PF, where he has his best season as a Knick, or he could slot in at SF, which has been a gaping black hole for the Clippers since the name Lob City first came up.
Next, get some help on the bench. For years it seems the only bench player they could look to when they needed buckets was Jamal Crawford, and he’s not getting any younger. Austin Rivers showed some promise this year and could be their new sixth man. But they need some bigs who could spell DJ and Melo and make some buckets inside when they need them. The Warriors have 5 guys who can get buckets off the bench, so this is one area the Clippers need to shore up if they want to get past their arch rivals in the West.
And lastly, find some defensive help. Not just guys who can get steals and blocks, but the Matt Barnes enforce type of guy. CP3 aside, the Clippers have always been kind of a softy bunch. Blake gets thrown off his game by more physical opponents (Memphis), DJ was never one for confrontation, and you don’t want your best player CP3 leading the physical altercations. Easy way out, just being back Matt Barnes.