Tuesday over at Sporting News, Danny Leroux explored the idea of the Clippers trading Chris Paul ahead of next month's trade deadline. The impetus for L.A. would be that they are running on the proverbial treadmill with their current core, and breaking things up may be their best path to success moving forward. Paul, who turns 31 in May, is the senior member of the team's "big three", and as a result his value will likely never be much higher than it is right now. If LAC were to make CP3 available, they'd likely be able to command a huge haul, thanks to the point guard being under contract through the 2016-17 season. Again, the logic is sound if the Clipper front office were to decide a big change is in order.
If you exclude any of the Clippers' "core four" (Paul, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, J.J. Redick), it's hard to figure out which player on the current roster holds the most league-wide trade appeal. Nobody has any real use for 38-year-old Paul Pierce. Lance Stephenson and Josh Smith are both still in their twenties, but any value they may have had seems to have been washed away thanks to their respective inauspicious starts to this season. Austin Rivers has become a decent role player, but he's not fetching you a ton on the trade market. The most likely-to-be-dealt Clipper over the past few years has been Jamal Crawford, but he, too, has seen a dip in value. He turns 36 in two months and is currently mired in his worst shooting season in several years.
The Clippers have as good a top-four as any team in the league, but the story over the past several seasons has been the lack of a viable supporting cast. With Griffin, Jordan and Paul all locked into long-term deals, the best solution to get the team over the hump may be to trade one of them, as Leroux writes. Otherwise, they may have already reached their collective ceiling. The earliest any of them can become a free agent is the summer of 2017, when both CP3 and Blake have opt-outs. As long as those three are on the books, it's going to be tough for Doc Rivers to build a well-rounded roster around them.
The salary cap is expected to make a gigantic leap this summer. The cap, which sits at about $67 million this season, is expected to be somewhere in the neighborhood of $90 million next year thanks to the lucrative new NBA television deal. Unfortunately, that still won't leave LAC with a ton of space with which to work.
Paul, Griffin, Jordan and Redick will collectively eat about $74 million in salary space alone next season. Stephenson has a team option for $9.4 million for next year, and declining that would give Doc a bit more wiggle room in free agency. On the surface it would seem unlikely that the Clippers would pick up that option given Lance's lack of a role with the current squad, but exercising it would give LAC a pretty sizable trade chip. If they were to chase a big fish via trade, it might be necessary to opt in on Lance's deal.
Doc Rivers came to L.A. in the first place because he didn't want to endure a rebuild with the Celtics. If Steve Ballmer wants Rivers to stick around, there's no reason to expect Doc would suddenly be open to a total overhaul. Dealing Paul now likely closes LAC's current title window. Is that something Rivers would be willing to sacrifice? On the other hand, with teams like the Warriors, Spurs and Cavaliers out there, do the Clippers really have an open title window right now?
He likely wouldn't attract as big a trade package as Paul, but if the Clippers were to decide to break up the core, then trading Jordan is the move to make. They moved heaven and earth (and Twitter) in order to bring him back last summer, but desperate times called for desperate measures. D.J. fleeing town as a free agent would have left the Clippers with no obvious contingency plan. Now, the Clippers suddenly have a 27-year-old center on a fine contract to dangle as a trade chip.
It may look bad if the Clippers suddenly trade Jordan so quickly after all the hell he took for his indecision over the summer, but would it really be much worse than what's currently happening with Josh Smith? Smith took the minimum to join the Clips when he almost certainly could've had more money elsewhere. In spite of that, it didn't even take a month until reports surfaced that Rivers was surveying Smith's league-wide trade market. He's now out of the rotation completely. Could a move like that discourage future free agents from signing with LAC? It's possible.
It wouldn't be easy for the Clippers to replace what Jordan gives them, but his attributes are more easily replicated than those of either Griffin or Paul. Griffin and Paul are generational talents. Jordan is an excellent player, but a generational talent he is not. He's a solid rim protector, but his blocked shot totals inflate his value considerably. Would the Clippers get crushed on the glass without him? Absolutely. Replacing a guy with a rebound rate of over 22 (second in the NBA) would be a tall order. But even with him out there, the Clips rank just 26th in the league in team rebound rate so far this season. They're getting crushed on the glass already.
A Jordan trade likely wouldn't net them some sort of superstar in return, but there's a good chance the Clips could get a solid group of players that could help fill out the roster. With the club's desire to win as soon as possible, trading D.J. for a bunch of young guys that won't be ready until five years from now wouldn't make a ton of sense. There are plenty of teams out there with a combination of appealing trade chips and the desire to improve. The Celtics, Magic, 76ers (I know, I know), Lakers, Pelicans, Mavericks (heh), Trail Blazers and Suns all fit the bill.
Without CP3, the Clippers would be completely directionless offensively. Without Redick, the Clippers' spacing would be so bad that even the Bucks would be laughing at them. Trading either of them doesn't seem a realistic option. Griffin isn't a candidate to be dealt, either. A Jordan trade would likely leave the Clippers without a scary rim protector (unless, of course, they get one back in said trade), but this move would be the easiest way for L.A. to alter the course of the franchise without dismantling it completely. Could it fail? Of course. But are the Clippers good enough with this current group to win a title? That looks increasingly less likely.
With Griffin, Paul and Redick all eligible to hit the free agent market in the summer of '17, waiting too long to shake things up could prove disastrous. Regarding the CP3 trade topic broached by Leroux, Peter Nygaard (@RetepAdam) of Nylon Calculus had a few excellent points:
1. The author seems to be advocating that they try to bring back long-term assets like draft picks or prospects in any such trade.— Peter Nygaard (@RetepAdam) January 6, 2016
How does that mesh with keeping Blake Griffin, a soon-to-be-27-year-old whose production is at least somewhat tied to his athleticism?— Peter Nygaard (@RetepAdam) January 6, 2016
Like, what's the plan there? Draft a bunch of 19-year-olds and hope that Griffin is still tops when he's 33 and they're hitting their prime?— Peter Nygaard (@RetepAdam) January 6, 2016
2. How on Earth do you expect to talk Blake Griffin, in the prime of his career and with an ETO in 2017, into that one?— Peter Nygaard (@RetepAdam) January 6, 2016
I don't profess to know Blake Griffin's mind, but I find it hard to believe that he'd be cool w/ throwing away his prime years on a rebuild.— Peter Nygaard (@RetepAdam) January 6, 2016
Exactly. Dealing Paul sets the Clippers back quite a bit in the short-term, which means you're taking a huge gamble on Griffin's willingness to stick around. He probably wouldn't be super pleased about a trade of his good pal DeAndre, either, but one would assume he could at least understand the reasoning behind it. Playing the long game by trading CP3 just isn't something the Clippers can afford right now. When you have star players in their primes under contract, waiting isn't really an option.
There is certainly something to be said about roster continuity, but what good is continuity when it's not getting you to the top? 55-win seasons are fun, but they're a lot less fun when you're routinely bounced in the second round of the playoffs. At that point you're getting into the definition of "insanity" and such by continuing to roll out the same roster on an annual basis. Doc's attempts at fortifying the bench were a nice idea, but it seems clear that a bigger shake-up is necessary.
Re-signing DeAndre Jordan was absolutely essential to the future of the Clippers. However, might it be for a different reason than originally thought?