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Did the Clippers underachieve this year?

Did the 2015 Clippers underachieve? There's an argument to be made that they did, but it doesn't much matter. They still need to keep the core of the team together and move forward.

Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Did the 2014-15 Los Angeles Clippers underachieve? If you believe that they had the talent to win an NBA title, then sure. Because guess what? They didn't win.

But as it happens, only one team actually gets to win the title each year, so if x teams have the talent to win it all, then x minus 1 teams underachieve. It happens. But it's not the end of the world.

The Clippers should have beaten the Houston Rockets in the second round of the playoffs -- that much is clear. Sometimes things don't go as they should. You will never be able to convince me that the performances of Josh Smith and Corey Brewer were anything other than outliers in games 5, 6 and 7. If those guys play like the players they've always been, the Clippers win that series. Instead, they shot .534 from the field for three games -- with the Warriors benefiting from their inevitable regression to the mean (Smith is 17-47 through three games in the Western Conference Finals while Brewer is 9-27). Too bad for the Clippers.

The obvious argument for underachievement comes from the All-NBA voting. The Clippers placed each of their Big Three, Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, among the 15 players selected to an All-NBA squad -- no other team had more than two on the team, not even the Warriors. Does that imply that the LAC should still be playing, that they underachieved? If you like. Then again, no one ever questioned the Clippers starters, while everyone questioned their depth, so even the All-NBA voting isn't really an indictment of the team's overall performance.

The fact is, the idea that the Clippers need to make radical changes this off-season is pure idiocy. People are entitled to their opinions of course, but the Clippers need to keep their core in tact, and they certainly will. Let's not forget -- in the 2015 playoffs the Clippers beat the 2014 champs in a seven game series, while in the 2014 series they beat the likely 2015 champs -- LA has been one of the few legitimate contenders for a title for two straight years. The fact that they came up short doesn't change that.

Here's what you need to understand: this is the first off-season where new owner Steve Ballmer's billions will make a difference. Last season there was nothing to spend on -- there was no one to re-sign, no cap space to use. The advantage of deep (or rather bottomless in Ballmer's case) pockets in the modern NBA is that you can keep everyone you have.

Will the Clippers keep DeAndre Jordan? Are you kidding me? As a first team All Defense and third team All NBA selection, of course Jordan is going to get maximum offers this off-season. And of course the Clippers, who can pay him more and for more years, are going to do whatever is necessary to keep him in LA. If Jordan wants to go home to Texas that's his business. But the Dallas talk is way overhyped. Jordan loves LA, he loves Doc Rivers, he loves his situation and he'll re-sign with the Clippers. Writers will continue to push the Dallas storyline to drive some page views, but it's not happening. No chance.

(Note that Jordan might be a bit overrated at this point, but even so, he won't be overpaid. Third team All NBA implies that he's among the best 15 players in the league, but the dearth of true centers skews that a bit. DJ is not one of the best 15 players -- but then again far more than 15 players draw maximum salaries, and Jordan is clearly worth a maximum salary to the Clippers. Don't forget that the new TV contract money won't have kicked in yet this summer -- if the Clippers can convince Jordan to sign a long term deal, he'll be a bargain by the end of it.)

And it's not just Jordan. The Clippers should (and I'm fairly center will) re-sign everyone they can this summer -- for several reasons.

Let's take Glen "Big Baby" Davis. First of all, he was a useful big man off the bench -- easily the most productive reserve big for the Clippers this season (though that's primarily an indictment of Spencer Hawes). Because the Clippers have now paid Davis for two seasons, they have earned the very valuable right to significantly overpay him using his early Bird rights. That sounds ridiculous, but the Clippers have entered an era where they have no choice other than to be over the salary cap for the foreseeable future. In that situation, the only way you improve your team is to trade overpaid expiring contracts for more useful players who are also overpaid.

So the Clippers should retain Big Baby this off-season -- and there's an argument to be made for paying him the full $5.6M allowed with his early Bird rights, even if no other team is willing to pay him anything close to that much. Why? Well they should retain him because their options for replacing his production via free agency are severely limited -- basically, they can sign one player with the mini MLE, after which they're down to minimum players. Davis isn't great, but he's better than anything they're going to get for that. More importantly, if they sign Davis for $5.6M, then they can trade him for a player making $7M -- or more if they combine him with other players. The Clippers best chance of adding useful players at this point is to take on good players on bad contracts.

Look at another free-spending billionaire owner, Mark Cuban. When the 2011 Dallas Mavericks won the title, four of their top six playoff contributors were acquired by trade. Jason Kidd, Tyson Chandler and Shawn Marion in particular appeared to be crazy acquisitions at the time -- but eventually the Mavericks found a championship formula, without ever making a major free agent acquisition.

That's why the Clippers' current lack of roster flexibility isn't really so dire as it seems (assuming of course that Ballmer is willing to spend freely, which seems like a safe assumption). Imagine flipping Glen Davis ($5.6M) and Jamal Crawford ($5.7M) for Nicholas Batum or Andre Iguodala. I'm not suggesting that either Portland or Golden State would make those players available -- but the point is that sometimes teams decide that they can't afford to pay role players $12M per season, while it turns out that Ballmer CAN afford to overpay. So having big short term contracts -- preferably some staggered to expire every year -- is the best way to improve a team over the cap.

Heck, even a player like Hedo Turkoglu who has extremely limited value on the court, could prove to be valuable as an expiring deal.

(It's worth noting that the old base year compensation rule in the the collective bargaining agreement was designed to curtail these sorts of shenanigans. However, in the current CBA its applicability is more or less limited to sign and trade deals. If the Clippers were to sign Turkoglu to a one year, $5.6M contract during the off-season, he would become trade eligible, for the full value of his contract, on January 15 2016.)

So keep everyone. Keep Davis. Especially keep Jordan. Definitely keep Austin Rivers. Keep Crawford and Matt Barnes (unless you can trade them before July as partially guaranteed deals and get something useful in return.) Keep them as potential trade chips, and try to put some other pieces around the core.

Just because you underachieved in 2015 doesn't mean you can't overachieve in 2016.