Traditionally, Clip Chat has just been two Clips Nation guys riffing on the Clippers, but we’ve decided to try to shake it up a little and bring in some outside voices. Today, our first ever non-Clips Nation guest is Jared Mintz, who previously worked for ESPN and contributed to SB Nation and FanSided, and now writes for FanRag Sports. While he isn’t a Clippers fan, he writes about them regularly and knows his basketball as well as anyone. Plus he’s a Knicks fan, so he gets futility and heartbreak. You can follow Jared on Twitter at @jmintzhoops, and be sure to check him out on the Relatively Speaking Podcast, which he also co-hosts.
Adithya: The Clippers are still technically undefeated in 2017, but the Ls just keep coming off the court. Chris Paul is out for the next 6-8 weeks, Blake Griffin still needs another week or two before returning... this team just keeps catching the wrong kind of breaks.
At first I thought there was a silver lining in this, that the Clippers could fall to the 6th or 7th seed and secure a first round series with the Spurs, where they have (in my opinion) a huge matchup advantage. However, the more I think about it, the less likely it seems. They're already up 4 games on the 6th seed, they're probably a ~.500 team at worst with Blake Griffin healthy, and Memphis and OKC just aren't that good.
Plus they have a really easy finishing schedule once CP3 gets back, and their goal is still to win every game. I doubt Doc Rivers would consciously tank to get out of a second-round matchup with Golden State, because of the message he'd feel that would send to his team (and their goal is a title, not just a WCF appearance).
What do you think, Jared? How do these injuries change their long-term trajectory?
Jared: I really wasn't expecting to wake up Wednesday and find out CP3's out for the next two months, but with the way things have gone for the Clippers over the last calendar year I guess nothing's surprising anymore.
With that said, I think you hit the nail on the head in regards to the competition around them just not being all that scary, so I'd be pretty shocked to see them fall below the five seed. Even though it's been three years now since the last time the Clippers were without Paul for an extended period of time, I think we see a similar outcome here as we did in 2014, where Griffin reminds everyone how good he is (which he was doing before his latest knee injury) and keeps the Clippers playing well above .500 basketball.
I don't mean this to devalue CP's impact, or even to take away from just how ridiculously great he is, but I think this is the most well-rounded Clippers team we've seen in a couple of years. Both DeAndre Jordan and J.J. Redick have become top-tier role players, which is almost a slight to DeAndre, the bench has three players averaging double-figures in scoring, and if Jamal Crawford stops shooting so poorly they should be able to maintain their pace to host a playoff series come April.
Besides Blake, J.J. and DAJ, who are you looking to to step up with CP on the shelves?
Adithya: Well, there's always the guy who's buried on the bench. You know, the one who's gonna be a future Hall of Fa– OK, I couldn't type that out with a straight face. Anyone but Paul Pierce.
The guys who have the most weight on their shoulders now are the ones taking over CP3's responsibilities as lead ballhandler and playmaker — Raymond Felton and Austin Rivers. I know your last memories of Felton probably weren't positive, but he's having a late-career renaissance after washing out in New York. His defense has been nothing short of fantastic, and he brings a steady veteran hand to the bench. His ability to get to and finish at the rim shouldn't be overlooked either. He had his moments in Dallas last year, but right now he's probably playing his best ball since 2013.
Rivers has been riding a bit of a hot stretch recently — which Robert and I addressed in this space last week — but overall he's been having a good year, and I expect him to continue to put up good scoring performances in the starting lineup.
The guy who needs to step up the most (but probably won't) is Jamal Crawford, who's been miserable for a while now.
Jamal Crawford's last 5 games:— Adithya (@brownasthenight) January 17, 2017
9-44 FG (20%), 1-12 3P (8%)
4.4 PPG on ***23.8 TS%***
3.8 APG (!) to 2.4 TOPG
The problem is that he's probably playing through injury, but the Clippers can't really afford to rest him with Blake and CP3 both out. If he somehow bounced back with a hot streak, he could make up for some of the lost offensive production. But at this point I've learned better than to expect that.
There's one other option out there, but he's not on the team currently. It's Carmelo Anthony, who's currently mired with the Knicks. Personally, I'm skeptical of his fit with the Clippers (particularly Blake Griffin), but others think he can still add a lot to the team. What could a Carmelo trade (Lucas discussed potential packages here) do for the Clippers, both now and in May? Could he buoy the team without their two best players, or would it just be a rerun of the 2014 Knicks?
Jared: Whoa whoa whoa...are you really suggesting that the Clippers could pry Melo from the Knicks for a package, that at best, nets back Austin Rivers and a couple of picks a few years down the line?
I know the Phil Jackson/Melo relationship is probably near rock bottom right now, I also understand not equaling Melo's value to say Blake because of his clear decline, but there's no way Knicks owner James Dolan would consider trading Melo for that kind of haul, regardless of how desperate both the Knicks and Melo are.
With that said, if the two teams were able to meet closer to the middle there's no doubt that Melo would give this star-depleted Clippers team a major boost over the next month or two.
It's hard to envision Melo waiving his no trade clause, regardless of where the destination would be, but obviously the Clippers are one of the most appealing — and relatively realistic — possibilities for him. We know he's close with Paul, he's won with Felton, and players like Jordan and Redick are ideal pairs for his skillset, especially in lineups featuring Melo as a small ball power forward.
My main concern with mortgaging the future for Melo is I'm not sure he necessarily gives them any more of a shot at getting past the Warriors, Spurs, or even the fast-paced Rockets. Swapping Melo for LRMAM in crunch time surely won't give the team a defensive edge, and seeing how he hasn't exactly flourished sharing the ball with Derrick Rose, there's no guarantee that he and Paul will be able to get the most out of each other.
Keeping the focus on what the Clippers could do to improve, are there any other players you feel are realistic trade options that they should target?
Adithya: Realistically, there's not much the Clippers can do. They have no movable first round picks earlier than 2021, and what assets they do have don't make sense for the teams that can return them the players they want. They might be able to make a marginal upgrade with a guy like PJ Tucker, but that's just tinkering with the fringe; it doesn't really move the needle. But like you said, no one really does that when it comes to the Warriors, not even Melo.
And the only other reasonable big deal they could've pulled off just vanished when Rudy Gay tore his Achilles. He was someone the Clippers have inquired about in the past, and they might have been able to grab him at the deadline at a reasonable price had he stayed healthy. The only other guy I can think of is Wilson Chandler, but the Clippers have nothing the Nuggets could possibly be interested in.
Ultimately, the problem is that team construction at a championship level requires some shrewd management and luck to maximize the supporting cast around your core guys, and (as we know all too well) the Clippers have been unable to accomplish that. The Cavaliers got three #1 overall picks in four years and acquired a bevy of shooters through smart moves from GM David Griffin, combined with some missteps by trade partners; the Warriors have had a great front office but also benefitted from extra space thanks to Steph Curry's contract. While the Clippers haven't quite caught those kinds of breaks, they've also blown far too many of the few opportunities they did have to maximize their supporting cast.
Jared: Which really brings us full circle... not just on this conversation, but on the Clippers in general. When healthy, they have as good of a core as anyone outside of the Bay Area, and their best hope for competing this season is entering the playoffs as close to full strength as possible.
... And not drawing the Warriors until the conference finals.
It's pretty crazy that after all of the hype leading into the season with this potentially being the last year of the Lob City Clippers, then them getting off to such a hot start, and now being without Paul for the next two months, that there's just so much uncertainty attached to a team with such little wiggle room. Still, it isn't completely out of the norm for the team to have to weather injuries to its two star players, and considering the depth this team has and how good Jordan and Redick are they should be able to maintain their standing for the next couple of months.