[Note: This story was published Wednesday morning. So if the Clippers trade Blake for half the Denver Nuggets roster or Doc sends off Lance with a first round draft pick to Beijing, unfortunately it won't be reflected here.]
The Scene: Clippers owner Steve Ballmer, general manager Dave Wohl and director of basketball analytics Jud Winton (yeup, that's the actual dude) are milling about a conference room inside Staples Center, anxiously checking their phones and sneaking glances at a clock mounted above a large-screen monitor. It is 9:00 AM local time on Thursday, February 18th--three hours before the NBA's trade deadline, or as Clipper fans have come to know it, the last day of the regular season before we start Googling "former NBA players China available?" to see who'll play backup point for us in the playoffs.
Flanked by an army of staffers and Surface tablets, Clippers brass are awaiting the arrival of Doc Rivers, Clippers head coach and President of Basketball Operations. Few coaches in all of professional sports attempt to pull such double duty, with many readily admitting that the demands of being a full-time coach are strenuous enough. In the NBA, only Rivers and the Detroit Pistons' Stan Van Gundy currently manage both daily x's and o's and major personnel decisions. Although in fairness, Byron Scott also finds the time to moonlight...
The mood is tense within the Clippers war room. By Rivers' own admission, this season represents a make-or-break year for the team's championship aspirations, making landing the right mid-season acquisition all the more important. And while Rivers' 2008 championship with the Boston Celtics legally prohibits media members from questioning his in-game decision making, a series of questionable trades and free-agent signings has left many to openly wonder about Rivers' front office competency. Adding additional pressure is the uncertainty surrounding Blake Griffin's future after an off-the-court incident with a team equipment manager that I don't really want to think about all that deeply.
Doc strides into the conference room a couple minutes after 9. Ballmer, Wohl and Winton rise to greet him.
Ballmer: Doc! Good to see you. Big day for us today, big day!
Doc: Hey Steve. Yeup, big day for us. And big game for us tonight too. Although once you beat the Spurs in the postseason, these regular season games just honestly have less meaning. Just keep that in mind when we're down double digits in the fourth.
Doc leans in close to Ballmer.
Doc: You do remember I beat the Spurs, right?
Ballmer: Of course I remember, Doc! That was my greatest moment as an NBA owner! Although last weekend was pretty fun too....
Ballmer: Anyway, very excited to see what you're planning to do with the roster in the months ahead. I know it's best to let basketball people make basketball decisions, so I'll be stepping outside the conference room now and let you do your thing. I also know it's in your contract that higher-ranking members of the organization not be within 1000 yards of you for any important personnel moves. Anyway, best of luck!
Ballmer leaves the room.
Wohl: Hey, Doc. Don't want to be too blunt, but time is kind of the essence here. On the table you'll find a briefing on possible remaining trade targets, and Jud has prepared a breakdown using some proprietary Synergy data...
Doc takes a cursory glance at the documents before looking down at his phone.
Doc: Great great great great great, data looks great, thank you Jeff. And thanks for printing these out, these tablets aren't very Ubuntu-friendly.
Jud: No problem, Doc. And it's Jud, by the way.
Doc: Oh sorry, I keep doing that don't I? Ok, let's get down to business. Did you guys send out those coupons I requested?
Doc: Oh no, tell me you didn't forget about the coupons. I wanted to send to all the other GM's one of those big Bed Bath and Beyond style coupons you get in the mail to make it known that Lance is definitely available. Those coupons are incredibly effective marketing.
Wohl: We're sorry Doc, we thought that was a joke. We can certainly make more calls about interest in Lance...
Doc: No point now, guys. But next time, you should take the power of the coupon more seriously. I got Danny Granger last year from one of those mile-long Rite Aid receipts.
Suddenly, a call comes in on on Wohl's cell phone.
Wohl: It's McDonough from Phoenix. I'm going to put him on on speaker. Hey Ryan, good to hear from you. I've got Doc and Jud here. What can we do for you?
McDonough: Hey guys. So as you know, this season hasn't gone like we'd hope. We're calling to see what you'd be willing to give up for Markieff. I know Dave and I had some discussions earlier this year, seems like he may be a good fit for you.
Rivers: Not interested.
McDonough: Look, I know he's had some off-the-court issues. But you don't even want to hear what we'd want in return?
McDonough: Is this about that Dudley-Bledsoe trade, Doc? I hope there's no hard feelings there.
Doc becomes visibly flustered.
Rivers: Not at all. Just a difference in philosophy.
Wohl: Ryan, let us discuss this internally and give you a call back.
Wohl hangs up the phone.
Jud: I understand where you're coming from on this one, Doc. In my line of work it's hard to quantify chemistry, but introducing someone like Morris to the clubhouse could really derail things.
Doc: That's not it at all, Jerry. Actually, Markieff fits two of the three major checkboxes on my personal rubric of talent evaluation.
Doc passes along a print-out to Wohl and Jud.
Doc: You see, Markieff is a having arguably the worst season of his career, which fits the "player who has underperformed to the point where you're not sure whether he's slumping or simply not good anymore" criteria. That means I'm getting value. And Markieff gets added points for a career-low percentage from three.
Wohl: I'm not quite sure I understand....
Doc: And Markieff also checks the "player with a legacy of both clubhouse and off-the-court personality issues that may erupt at any moment". That means I'm getting a fighter.
Wohl: Quite literally. Ok, so which criteria does he fail then?
Wohl: Age? He's 26.
Doc: That's right. That's about ten years too young for my taste. I'll make some exceptions here and there for talent and progeny, but overall I prefer a player who remembers voting for Dukakis. You can't measure the value guys like Grant Hill and Hedo and Paul have contributed over the years.
Jud: He's right. You literally can't measure it.
Doc: See, Dave? Even Jared the math guy understands.
Wohl: Well now I understand the Smoove signing a lot better than I used to.
Another call comes in on Wohl's cell. He puts it on speakerphone.
Wohl: Bob Meyers? How's it going Bob? I have to say, I didn't expect a call from the Warriors today.
Meyers: I have to say, I didn't expect to be calling you guys. Look, I'm just going to come out and say it. Steph did not take kindly to those Wojnarowski reports of us making a run for Durant this summer. Something about how he feels underappreciated and underpaid. We've been able to keep a lid on it so far, but he's been openly feuding with teammates and within the last 24 hours basically demanded that we move him.
Doc, Wohl and Jud exchange a skeptical glance.
Meyers: Look, I know this sounds insane. I brought on Steve to this call just so you guys know I mean business.
Steve Kerr: Hey guys, it's me. It's all true. It's a shame, but it's true.
Meyers: We're now in a position where we're looking for the best value we can get. And he says the Clippers are one of teams he's willing to go to.
Doc: So you're interested in some combination involving Blake, I'm assuming?
Meyers: Well, yes. But we want more than just Blake.
Wohl: DJ? JJ? First round pick in 2045?
Meyers: Nope. We're thinking of someone else.
Kerr: Austin. We want Austin, Doc.
Silence breaks over the call. Wohl and Jud look at a visibly pain-stricken Doc. A good fifteen seconds pass. Then uproarious laughter erupts over the speakerphone.
Meyers: Hahaha I'm sorry guys, I'm just fucking with ya. I just wanted to see what Doc would say. Kerr put me up to it.
Kerr: Oh God this is priceless. Sorry Doc, please don't take offense. Look we get bored around this time of year. Hey we'll see you in the second round alright?
Wohl hangs up the phone. Doc is visibly shaken.
Wohl: God I hate those guys.
Doc: I...I....would I have done it? Did I actually consider it? I had to, right?
Suddenly a call comes in on Doc's phone.
Doc: Oh shit.
Adrian Wojnarowski: Hey Doc. Heard the Warriors prank called you offering Steph for Austin, and now you're doubting yourself as both a GM and a father. Care to comment?
Doc: Not really.
Wohl's cell phone buzzes.
Wohl: Woj beat you.
Chris Broussard: Goddamnit. But to confirm, my sources say Doc tried to trade Callie Rivers for Steven Adams. Is that accurate?
Doc and Wohl hang up their phones. They both look up at the clock--11:00 AM. One hour till the deadline.
Doc: Alright, get Orlando on the phone. No point prolonging the inevitable. Actually, hold on a second. I have to pretend to get excited about Channing Frye.
Jud: Wait, do you guys hear that? What is that?
The faint sound of printer and paper echoes from an unoccupied corner of the conference room. Jud clears away a plant and some random office equipment to find an ancient fax machine, still somehow plugged into a forgotten power strip.
Jud: Who the hell is faxing us? What year is this?
Wohl: I bet I know who.
Doc: Hey, say what you will about me. Sure, I may have traded away all of our first-round picks until 2063. And yeah, maybe I could have avoided the current mess we're in by not forcing Jared Dudley to play on one leg. But at least we're not Sacramento.
Jud and Wohl: Amen.
As always, shout-out to the homie Connor Carroll for the beautiful deadline-themed art. Connor, you are the Cole to my Pablo.