As Clippers fans, one of the loathsome words of our time has been "future". All signs always pointed towards this uncertain direction. We had no idea what the plan was except for the simple notion that we were always building towards something. A summer ago, around this time, we were building towards a prospective goal. We wanted to become contenders. But how do you become a contender when you all you have are assets? Well, you trade those assets for a piece that makes you a contender. And that's what happened. Three building blocks, plus a reliable resource, were sent to New Orleans in order to acquire a figurehead that would make the Clippers relevant in this ever-turning day-by-day grind of sports. However, what was truly given away might be looked back at in the future as something of complete semblance and we could be viewed as "those same old Clippers" if the cards don't hit the table like we hope.
When looking at what assets the Clippers gave away, you have to first look at the main three pieces -- Eric Gordon, Al-Farouq Aminu, and the pick the Los Angeles Clippers acquired from the Minnesota Timberwolves way back when. These weren't just average pieces. They were pretty high quality pieces. One reason, and probably the main reason, that the league did not allow the other trade to go through. It was because they felt the Hornets were not getting enough pieces to facilitate a future in New Orleans. The trade with the Clippers did that. Counting Chris Kaman, the New Orleans Hornets walked away with four past or future top ten picks. But let's not sleep on these assets.
Eric Gordon, while he was injured this season, is a premier shooting guard in the NBA by all accounts. A terrific all-around scorer with the ability to be a quality passer and excellent defender. Something that cannot be overstated. Al-Farouq Aminu, while still young and figuring out his niche in the league, is a talented small forward that can rebound and play defense better than some people give him credit for. On top of that he can also put the ball in the basket in the right situation. At best, a third option. But a crucial option. A top ten pick from 2010. And then the unprotected Minnesota pick. A top ten pick as it turned out to be. A pick that could net any variety of players in the 2012 NBA Draft. And, of course, Chris Kaman. A reliable and steadfast performer in the paint who can score and rebound while being a decent defender. Much needed qualities as a center.
When looking back on what the Clippers gave up, you realize they gave up a large portion of their future and cap flexibility when they did this deal. That's why the future is being discussed right now. What's left? Well, Chris Paul is in the final year of his deal with the Clippers while the front office is going to do everything in their power to extend Blake Griffin in the offseason. They have a lot of money tied up in DeAndre Jordan and Caron Butler, making them seemingly immovable in deals. They're locked into Ryan Gomes for another season but could amnesty him which would save them roughly $4 million. And let's not forget Mo Williams. He of the differing opinions among Clipper faithful. You either love him or hate him. There's really no in-between there. The front office could either decide to stick with him for another year if he picks up his player option or try to deal him within the next short while, presumably on draft night, in order to make him a tad happier about his playing time and role.
Then we come to Eric Bledsoe, Trey Thompkins, and Travis Leslie. Outside of Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, these are the lone remaining Clippers draft picks on the roster. While Thompkins and Leslie didn't really get much playing time during their rookie season, they seem to figure prominently in the Clippers future from a depth standpoint. Thompkins has range for a big man while Leslie is an athletically gifted wing player who can play defense. Two things teams love this day in age. But the real talking point here is Eric Bledsoe. A combo guard who plays too fast, too aggressive, and too out-of-control at times but can also be extremely valuable, incredibly talented, and defensively dynamic. Much like Mo Williams, you either love him or hate him. He has plays where he'll make you scratch your head and have plays where he'll leave you in awe. That's Eric Bledsoe. A boom or bust type.
The key to the Clippers future rests solely on the shoulders of Eric Bledsoe. As messed up as that sounds, it's entirely true. Whether or not the Clippers can move him during the draft for a draft pick in order to pick up a shooting guard to team up in the backcourt with Chris Paul is just one of the storylines that is going on right now with the Clippers. Does a team in the lottery hate the point guard crop so much this year, outside of Damian Lillard of course, that they would deal their lottery pick for the services of Eric Bledsoe, who tore it up in the playoffs? It's the biggest question that involves the Clippers. There's been a link with Portland and New Orleans but nothing more than hearsay. Then again, the Clippers could hold onto him with the hope that he could play next to Chris Paul in the future or even replace him should Paul decide to go somewhere else next offseason.
So, then, what do the Clippers do for the future? If Blake Griffin signs that maximum contract extension, which I don't see any reason why he wouldn't, the Clippers would at least have one building block firmly in place for the foreseeable future. It would all, at that point, come down to whether or not Chris Paul decides he wants to remain in Los Angeles for the glory days of his career. I see no reason why he wouldn't if Blake Griffin has already put his name to paper and committed himself to the city, the team, and the fans. Chris Paul wants a reason to stay. It's up to Blake Griffin to give him that reason. And I think he will.
So, with that said, if the Clippers have those two building blocks entrenched squarely in their starting rotation for the next several years, alongside DeAndre Jordan, then the future of the Clippers is looking as bright as it ever has. Yes, they lack a first round pick this year. Yes, they seem to lack the financial means to make a big splash this offseason, or even next offseason, for the most part. However, at the present pace that they're on, the Clippers are almost guaranteed to be contenders for quite a few years barring any unforeseeable setbacks (i.e. injuries). That is, of course, if the right thing is done by Blake Griffin and then followed by Chris Paul. If not, then the Clippers could be in a world of hurt should they see themselves deal Eric Bledsoe for someone who doesn't pan out, see Chris Paul walk in the offseason of 2013, and watch Blake Griffin not sign that extension in the offseason and opt for unrestricted free agency in the offseason of 2014.
In the next few months, we'll know for sure which direction the Clippers ship is headed. If Blake Griffin signs that extension, the Clippers have dodged the iceberg dead ahead. If Blake Griffin doesn't sign that extension, then the ship might very well be churning headlong into a sea of ice without someone at the helm. And that, my friends, is a very scary and very realistic thought.