After a whirlwind of rumors on Saturday, let's take a look at where the Los Angeles Clippers stand regarding their big issues. Every team has off-season business, but the Clippers seem to be at the center of every NBA rumor right now.
The Clippers have three big action items this summer: (1) re-sign Chris Paul, (2) hire a coach to replace the departed Vinny Del Negro and (3) use Eric Bledsoe as a trade chip to upgrade the roster. Somehow, all three of those issues played a part in yesterday's machination's regarding Doc Rivers and the Boston Celtics.
Let's begin as I almost always do with the stipulation that I don't believe that Chris Paul is going anywhere. It is completely appropriate for the Clippers, recognizing the opportunity that they have to compete for a championship sooner rather than later, to aggressively look to improve the roster -- an aggressiveness that will almost inevitably entail spending money and sacrificing long term assets. The media's tendency to attribute that aggressiveness as primarily motivated primarily by the desire to retain Paul -- i.e. "The Clippers hope that acquiring Garnett and installing Rivers as the head coach will convince Paul to remain when he becomes a free agent" -- is missing the point. When you have a superstar, you need to put the resources around him to succeed. Yes, being aggressive this off-season is a message to Paul, but the message isn't "Please, please, please don't leave us!" It's "We're committed to making this team a contender with you." Paul isn't going anywhere, and he never was: but the Clippers are playing the off-season right in order to keep it that way (provided they don't let Donald Sterling do any more interviews).
The big rumor obviously involves the Celtics. If you partied too much Friday and slept through Saturday, here's the gist: according to multiple reports, the Clippers and Celtics spent most of the day Saturday in serious discussions about a trade that would send Kevin Garnett to the Clippers for DeAndre Jordan. Part of the deal would be the Celtics releasing Doc Rivers from his non-compete clause in Boston, allowing him to coach the Clippers, in exchange for which the Clippers would give the Celtics multiple additional assets in the Garnett trade. The deal eventually broke down over exactly what those assets would be. Boston wanted two future first round draft picks and Eric Bledsoe; the Clippers were offering one future first round pick. And while there would seem to be a ready compromise there (Boston wants three assets, the Clippers offered one, split the difference and make it two assets, easy peasy) the reality is that Bledsoe is the show-stopper. The Celtics won't do the deal without him, and the Clippers won't include him.
Interestingly, there are a couple of different versions of the story as to why the Clippers are so adamant about excluding Bledsoe. The most obvious explanation, and the one put forth by Marc Stein and Ramona Shelburne at ESPN.com, is that the Clippers need to retain Bledsoe for use in another trade, since he's their most valuable bargaining chip. Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports offers a different, more intriguing possibility -- Rivers has told the Clippers not to trade Bledsoe because he wants to coach a Paul/Bledsoe backcourt.
If Woj's information is correct, it raises some interesting possibilities. For one thing, it's certainly exciting to think that a top coach is so enamored of the idea of playing Paul and Bledsoe together -- we wanted more of that backcourt all last season and never got it. Would Rivers finally unleash the potential of those two together, despite their limitations? Of more immediate concern, Rivers is facing a Catch-22 if indeed he's the one pushing the Clippers to keep Bledsoe. By insisting that Bledsoe be part of the team when he takes the Clippers job, he's ensuring that he won't get the job since the Celtics say they need Bledsoe in the deal. Which makes me wonder if Doc knows something we don;t know. Danny Ainge believes he has leverage regarding Rivers' contract -- but Doc isn't interested in coaching any other teams so if the Clippers won't pay Ainge's price, no one else will either. Maybe Doc believes that Ainge is ultimately going to opt to rebuild in Boston, in which case it will make sense to take what he can get from the Clippers -- who would almost certainly include two future first rounders if it meant they could keep Bledsoe.
At any rate, those talks are currently stalled with neither team willing to back down at this point. The next question is which team will move on to plan B first.
The Clippers of course need a coach still, and with the draft just 11 days away, they can't afford to wait indefinitely on Rivers. Reports are that if they can't reach a deal that lands Rivers in L.A., they'll choose between their next two candidates, Brian Shaw and Lionel Hollins. (Sadly George Karl's name seems to have dropped out of the discussion without Karl so much as interviewing for the job.) Stein and Shelburne indicate that the Clippers will decide between Shaw and Hollins by Wednesday, putting a deadline on the standoff with the Celtics.
Meanwhile, there are any number of potential plan B's on the roster upgrade. Rumors surfaced (or rather resurfaced) recently of a Bledsoe and Caron Butler for Arron Afflalo deal (as you'll recall, I think the Clippers can do better) and of trade discussions with Indiana about Danny Granger. Of course, if the Clippers are serious about keeping Bledsoe out of the Boston deal, these discussions could be in addition to a Celtics trade, not instead of.
Where does that leave us? Exactly where we started, at least for the time being. But it's pretty clear from the amount of chatter that the Clippers are looking at every possible angle for making the team better this off-season. And when was the last time that happened?