The Clippers lost game 7 at home to the Utah Jazz, and they lost it badly. With it, they also lost another opportunity at a deep playoff run, and quite possibly the last chance for this core to make some noise together in the postseason.
Chris Paul, J.J. Redick, and Blake Griffin—three of the Clippers’ “core four”—are going to be free agents. The team’s fifth starter, Luc Mbah a Moute, will be a free agent as well, and with him will go key reserves like Raymond Felton and Marreese Speights. Doc Rivers, the team’s head coach and President of basketball operations, has slowly felt his seat grow warmer over recent years.
There’s going to be a lot of drama, excitement, and existential dread in the next two months as the NBA Playoffs play out without the Clippers, the NBA Draft goes by without a Clippers pick, and we wait for a free agency period that will surely take years off of all of our lives. As we enter this chaotic period, here are 6 predictions for the hellstorm that is to come. May we look back on this post and laugh when it all goes to shit two months from now.
Chris Paul will re-sign with the Los Angeles Clippers
Ok, maybe this one isn’t sexy, but it’s important. Paul can make an obscene amount of money (we’re talking over 200 million over the next 5 years) by signing a max contract with his bird rights, and he’s not walking away from that—or the city of Los Angeles, where his family has settled in.
This is great for the Clippers, because it means that they keep being good, but it’s also important—it means that the direction of the franchise for the next half-decade will continue to be focused on the short-term, maximizing Paul’s championship window.
Blake Griffin will too, but it’s going to be stressful
Ultimately, all of the talk about big change for these superstars is going to come down to this: the Clippers’ best pathway towards building a contender is to re-sign these two and either build successfully around them, or have them as trade chips down the line. For Chris Paul, that’s what makes the decision so easy. But for Blake Griffin, who has had injury issues for years and has seemingly lost some athleticism, the Clippers front office will be a little less willing to pony up a max offer.
Still, they’ll ultimately accept that they have to. Chandler Parsons got a max deal last summer—and Blake Griffin is a better player with a less troubling injury history. There’s going to be max interest for Blake, but staying a Clipper both gives him more money and lets him stay in Los Angeles, where he has some other business ventures.
J.J. Redick is going to leave, and it’s not gonna be pretty
Redick has had a phenomenal four-year run with the Clippers, and I’ve loved watching him play, so this kills me—but he’s not going to be a Clipper next year. He’s slowed down on both ends of the floor, and while offensively that leaves him as just slightly less elite, his lack of size and athleticism on the defensive end was exposed more than ever this season, especially in the starting lineup alongside the diminutive Chris Paul.
Mix in the feeling that the Clippers need to make some kind of change, the necessity of retaining Paul and Griffin to be relevant, Redick’s miserable playoff performance, and the massive offers that he’s going to get, and it just makes too much sense that J.J. won’t be back in L.A. next year. Some team like the Knicks, who will spend recklessly on an aging, declining wing, will throw 18 million a year at Redick. It’s the kind of money that the Clippers should balk at, and J.J. should take in a heartbeat.
Here’s what’s most interesting though—I don’t think it will be an amicable divorce. Redick’s frustration levels peaked this season, and occasionally boiled over, regarding locker room drama and tension within the Clippers’ organization. I get the feeling that after four years as his backcourt partner, J.J. is less than enamored with Chris Paul’s grating, competitive personality, and we saw that on national television during game 7 when the two exchanged words during a timeout.
There’s been an undeniable level of dysfunction within this Clippers group, although we haven’t quite nailed down specifics. I think Redick, after his departure, will take some shots at the Clippers in the press, whether it be immediately or years down the line. It will probably sour the way we remember the greatest shooter in Clippers history.
Carmelo Anthony will be a Clipper
This is part B of “shaking up the core”, which begins with letting J.J. Redick walk. I’m not sure exactly how this deal will wind up (a lot depends on if the Knicks are the team that ends up signing J.J., in which case some sign-and-trade scenarios become possible), but the Clippers are going to aggressively make a play to add another star scorer. Anthony’s biggest red flag is his sub-par defense, but with Redick moving on, the Clippers can look to pair Anthony with a superior defender on the wing. Plus, they should still be able to re-sign Luc Mbah a Moute as a 2nd unit combo forward and defensive specialist.
Anthony is a big part of selling the vision that this franchise can reload and run it back without being “the same thing over and over again.” Adding a solid 3rd big with the MLE isn’t going to cut it anymore, but this presents a compelling product for the Clippers’ free agents, the team’s fanbase, and veterans that LAC will recruit at a discount to round out the roster. You know how great and fun the Clippers are, but it was growing stale and you were bored. Well, we’ve got the same Clippers that you love, but with a twist: Melo.
Doc Rivers is going home
By draft day in late June, Doc Rivers will be the President of Basketball Operations for the Orlando Magic. After Rob Hennigan’s experiment crashed and burned in Orlando, there’s an opening for Rivers to return. I believe that Doc’s wife has stayed in Florida for the last several years, even with Doc living in Los Angeles to coach the Clippers, and it makes a lot of sense for him to take a step back from coaching and focus on running a team so he doesn’t have to deal with the day-to-day burdens and the long road trips.
Still, why would he leave the Clippers? Well, after four years of failure to build a contending supporting cast around the Clippers’ core, it’s time for Steve Ballmer to pull Doc’s basketball operations duties. If Rivers stays in L.A., I believe it will be strictly as the head coach, and rather than deal with a new boss, Doc will choose to go home and be the boss in Orlando.
The Clippers will poach David Griffin from the Cavaliers
Perhaps the scariest thing about losing Doc Rivers isn’t that we’ll miss the positive contributions that he makes, but rather that the grass isn’t necessarily greener. Steve Ballmer is relatively inexperienced as an NBA owner and doesn’t have an incredibly deep knowledge of how to run a team. Doc Rivers is a veteran who has been around the league forever, and even if you thought he wasn’t doing a good job, he had a steady hand.
Now, with Rivers out of the picture, Ballmer will be left on his own to find a replacement general manager—someone whose vision for the franchise will determine a coaching hire and this summer’s roster moves, shaping the next half-decade of Clipper basketball. Even if you don’t trust Doc Rivers to be that guy anymore, I’m not sure that we trust Ballmer to bring in the right man for the job in a market that is murky at best.
There’s one clear-cut big-time NBA executive who is going to be available, and Steve Ballmer can offer him a contending roster, the greatest city on the planet, and a really big salary. When push comes to shove, Ballmer will write whatever check is necessary to lure David Griffin to Los Angeles. Griffin has had success building make-shift rosters around the Cavaliers’ maximum-salary players, and he’ll face a similar predicament with LAC. Tension from both parties has led Cleveland to let his contract expire at the end of this season without an extension, and teams will be ready to pounce on the architect of the 2016 NBA Champions, but none will come with more money or a better situation than the L.A. Clippers