Kenneth Armstrong: B+
After this summer the Clippers, in my opinion, are a worse off team, but one with a higher potential. The Clippers were basically in a straightjacket while they had the CP3-BG-DJ core because they were tied up financially and could only make decisions that would help them win "now." I give the Clippers a B+ for their offseason because I think that, although the Clippers will be worse than they were last year, they got younger and reshuffled in a way that gives them more flexibility and room to be creative with their moves.
I am also happy that the Clippers took steps to rethink their front office dynamics by bringing in new faces and resetting the roles of existing staff. I believe that, in addition to the new, more experimental roster the Clippers have, this new front office group will have a chance to keep the Clippers a playoff team-- but also be able to take bigger risks. With so much more knowledge and experience around the table - along with all of the relationships the new General Manager's staff has with NBA players - the Clippers will be able to start signing players other than those who have "Doc connections."
James Nisky: A-
The good—Clippers got younger, longer, slashed salary, avoided the repeater luxury tax, retained the NBA’s best executive, added the best player in Europe and depth, offloaded the Jamal Crawford overpay, avoided a J.J. Redick and Chris Paul overpay, and set themselves up to create a Spursian model of consistent competitiveness going forward. The bad—they lost Chris Paul.
Locking down Blake, the best available free agent at signing, was their best move. Getting younger was next. Last year, the Clippers had the league’s oldest roster with an average age of 29.6. The average age of the 2018 Clippers is 25.6 years old—likely the 8th youngest roster in the league.
Paul and Redick were on career paths 4-5 years ahead of this new Blake-centric core, and this placed an artificial “closing window” effect around Blake and DJ while they were still well under 30. Intelligently surrounding Blake with defined-skill players on reasonable contracts and the same age/career timelines removes the artificial closing window. With Blake at 28, only 2.5 years older than the average Clipper, and the oldest players (Milos and Lou) being 30, there’s a cohesive timeline with several years of room to work with.
Outside of Paul, the losses aren’t nearly as harmful. Crawford was dreadful recently, Luc’s defensive ability is severely overstated (evidenced by the fact that 30 GMs declined to offer him an above-minimum deal), and Redick is an elite shooter in decline who can’t defend, handle, or create. We can’t replace Chris with one new player, but we acquired Gallo, Lou, Milos, Beverly, and Dekker. Beverly is an equal defender to Paul, and I’m cautiously optimistic Milos is an equal passer. Overall, the new acquisitions collectively cover everything the outgoing players did, and they do it better. Paul is too much ability in one man, so there’s a drop off in our starting point guard role, but the massive cost savings on Paul allowed us to upgrade everywhere else in the lineup and depth chart. It’s an overall talent gain in an off season that could have been a complete exodus of talent.
Max Jeffrey: A
It might be hard to see how the Clippers could warrant such a high mark considering the departure of Chris Paul, arguably the most talented player in franchise history. But they were extremely aggressive this summer in fortifying every facet of their basketball operations. Every move they have made has helped put the organization in an excellent position for the present as well as the future.
For the first time ever, the Clippers have their own dedicated affiliate team: the Agua Caliente Clippers of Ontario. Part of what is now known as the G-League, the AC Clippers provide the franchise with an unprecedented opportunity to develop young and unrecognized talent with a staff of their very own choosing to see it all through. No longer will they have to move young or rehabbing players back and forth across the country to various rosters where minutes are inconsistent and personal growth is secondary. This exclusivity provides a path that is mutually beneficial for both the Clippers and a bevy of ambitious young players. It’s a model that the San Antonio Spurs, the gold standard for top-to-bottom organizational excellence, have used for over a decade now. It’s just one of many new advantages the Clippers have at their disposal.
During the 2017 NBA Draft, one during which the Clippers owned zero first or second round picks, they found a way to acquire two talented young players while giving up nothing more than cash. Second round picks Sindarius Thornwell and Jawun Evans, whom many regarded as possible draft day steals, appear poised to contribute in a meaningful way. They both ended up signing three-year, extremely cap-friendly rookie contracts, and look to be part of the Clippers’ future.
A Chris Paul departure could have been devastating… but the Clippers seized the opportunity to re-tool their roster with young and promising talent. The trade allowed them to acquire Patrick Beverley, Lou Williams, Sam Dekker, Montrezl Harrell, and a 2018 first round draft pick. They found a way, in just one trade, to get younger, acquire new talent on bargain contracts, and set themselves up for the future. That’s not all. Lou Williams made Jamal Crawford fully expendable at last, enabling the flip of him (and the newly arrived 2018 pick) in a three-team deal to acquire Danilo Gallinari. The Clippers finally got the versatile wing they had been looking for.
Not to be overlooked, re-signing Blake Griffin to a five-year max contract, a no-brainer considering everything he has meant to the franchise, made this all possible. Danilo Gallinari wanted to play with him and DeAndre Jordan. Gallo would not be here if the Clippers didn’t bring back Blake. Similarly, Milos Teodosic, the passing wizard from Europe, would not be here if he didn’t think the Clippers would be competitive. It’s impossible to know how effective he will be in the NBA, but at the mid-level exception, he’s worth every cent in possibility.
Most recently came all of the front office changes. Lawrence Frank, who deserves far more credit than he’s been given in the public eye, is now leading the team’s basketball operations while being supported by a growing team of elite basketball minds. The Clippers added Michael Winger as General Manager, most recently serving as Assistant GM and a special advisor for the Oklahoma City Thunder; he had a lot of success growing under the tutelage of Thunder GM Sam Presti. In addition, the Clippers added two new assistant GMs: Trent Redden, formerly an assistant of David Griffin with the Cleveland Cavaliers, and Mark Hughes, formerly with the Knicks as Director of Player Personnel. This all comes following the decision to relieve Doc Rivers of his front office duties so that he may focus solely on what he does best: coaching.
And it all began with the acquisition of Jerry West. Tales of his influence and savvy for both the early 2000s Lakers teams and the current Warriors’ teams have been discussed ad nauseam, but his presence has been quite tangible this offseason. As a consultant for the Clippers, it’s been unclear exactly what moves he has and hasn’t been at all responsible for. What is clear is that the organizational moves the Clippers have made have been unlike anything they’ve done in the past: focusing on developing youth, finding value and tremendous upside in the draft, and filling their executive ranks with a level of depth and experience they never previously had. His foresight might be extremely instrumental in the future of this Clippers franchise.
Steve Ballmer, a far more astute owner than he was when he acquired the team, has always been devoted to improving the franchise at any cost, and this offseason has only reinforced such devotion. The Clippers’ front office got stronger, their roster got younger while sporting a new identity, their development is valued more highly than ever before, and the future looks bright because of such an eventful summer. Things are looking up for the Clippers, and I couldn’t be more excited.
Also, thank goodness they improved those jerseys.
Robert Flom: A-
If this grade were only for actual player signings, it would be lower. The Clippers lost Chris Paul, a top 10 NBA player. Even though the return was good, and I’m excited for the players the Clippers received, none of them measure up to the Point God. Additionally, the Blake Griffin contract, while necessary, is still worrying based on his age, injury history, and decline over the past couple years. Danilo Gallinari’s signing was a great symbol for the Clippers’ continued relevance, but I’m not sure of his fit on the team as he ages into a power forward. The Clippers did nail some moves around the edges, such as picking up Milos Teodosic on the cheap, and buying Sindarius Thornwell and Jawun Evans in the draft, but those are relatively minor pieces. The reason the Clippers’ grade for the summer is an A- has only somewhat to do with the on-court product (I’d give a B-/B for that aspect by itself). Far more important are the organizational changes that occurred over the past two months.
The Clippers obtaining a G-League team is monumental. The Agua Caliente Clippers will act as a farm system and proving ground for the LA Clippers. Players on the new two-way contracts, rookies, and other intriguing prospects will be observed in the Clippers’ system. Practice habits, training routines, and game skills can be shaped and molded in the direction the Clippers’ want. Other teams (the Houston Rockets, notably) have also used their D-League teams as a kind of testing area for tactics and strategies. Playing ultra-small (or large), shooting an inordinate number of threes, and trying new defensive schemes are just some of the ways the Clippers can experiment without jeopardizing the immediate success of their own record. Finally, the presence of a Clippers’ affiliate in Ontario could help to spread Clippers fandom into the San Bernardino and Orange Counties. That is no small thing for a franchise that still trails the Lakers in terms of overall popularity in Southern California.
Perhaps the brightest signs for the future, however, are the front office moves that have taken place in recent weeks. Bringing in execs with the respect, accolades, and connections of Mike Winger and Trent Redden is a coup unheard of in Clippers’ history. Usually the Clippers have had no-name GMs at best, and utter disasters at worst. Mark Hughes isn’t an up-and-comer like the other two, but he’s still a known front office presence who has been around for a decade plus. That is a stacked front office, even before you get to Jerry West up top. The Clippers’ ability to bring in all these guys is fantastic based on their own merits, certainly. Even more significantly, however, is what it means about Steve Ballmer. Having a great owner is perhaps the most important key to long-term success in the NBA, and this summer seems to suggest that if Ballmer isn’t already an amazing owner (I’d argue he is), he’s certainly well on his way.
Chris Paul may be gone. The Clippers are no longer contenders, and might not be anytime soon. But they are in good hands going forward, and that matters far more to me than immediate success. I’m incredibly excited for what the Clippers’ future will hold, and a lot of that optimism is based on the events of this summer.