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The Clippers’ 2018 Off-Season Will Set the Course for Years to Come

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What’s next for LAC?

NBA: Los Angeles Clippers-Press Conference Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

The 2018 off-season will be my seventh blogging here at Clips Nation about various rumors, possibilities, and developments. This summer is going to be a little bit different.

Ever since the Clippers acquired Chris Paul ahead of the start of the 2011 season, the franchise has had what I’ve been calling “direction,” meaning that team-building was pointed in a certain direction with specific goals. It’s important for a team to have a direction, and for everyone in the organization to be on the same page. Everything from scouting to off-season workouts to major trades to substitution patterns can be tailored towards the franchise’s direction, and sometimes things can be done in a way that would be fine in a vacuum but doesn’t match that direction.

The direction for the entirety of the Chris Paul era was very clear: short-term moves to try to win a championship during the window of Chris Paul’s prime. While the team ultimately fell short of that goal during Paul’s 6 years, that direction influenced the front office’s (sometimes questionable) moves: trading future first-round picks for short-term help was justified as a way of strengthening Paul and Griffin’s supporting cast. Similarly, signing veterans for depth was prioritized over looking for undrafted and D-League prospects because the Clippers needed more dependable options at 11th and 12th man when they had injuries.

Last June, when the Clippers and Chris Paul parted ways, the direction of the team was thrown somewhat into question: what would happen with Blake Griffin’s free agency, and would the Clippers be able to open a new championship window? That was somewhat settled by the franchise’s decision-making last off-season, with a five-year contract for Griffin and a sign-and-trade where the team gave up Houston’s 2018 first-round pick to sign Danilo Gallinari to a 3-year contract. The direction of the franchise became clear, even if it seemed unlikely that a new championship window had been opened: big, long-term money spent on two 28-year old free agents meant an expectation to be a solid playoff team while trying to add more talent on the fly. Patrick Beverley’s emergence as a veteran leader, the use of the mid-level exception on 30-year-old Milos Teodosic, and the continued presence of 28-year-old DeAndre Jordan rounding out the starting lineup—all signs pointed towards the same goal.

Of course, we all know how that story went. Beverley only played 11 games, and Gallinari played just 21. Teodosic played 45 but spent the entire season limited by a nagging plantar fascia injury. Blake Griffin was traded mid-season, and Jordan was mired in trade rumors throughout as the depleted team fell short of a playoff berth.

After trading Griffin for Tobias Harris, who is only 25, the Clippers have opened themselves up to more team-building possibilities in the short and long-term. There isn’t pressure any more to win immediately around an all-star forward nearing 30. The team will have a lot of decisions in the next two months or so, and it’s important for them to enter this summer knowing which direction they want to pursue so that they can tailor their decision-making process towards that direction.

Going forward, we’ll be looking in detail at four potential directions that the team can choose to pursue this summer, breaking down what they’ll decide to do at every critical juncture if they follow each path. None of these scenarios are direct predictions, and it’s likely that the team will employ some combination of them as they try to balance short-term success with long-term asset development. Here are the directions I’ll be looking at:

  1. The Home-Run Swing: The NBA is a superstar’s league—it’s incredibly rare to win a championship without one. Eventually, the goal of acquiring assets has to be to cash them out to get a star, either by trading for an established player, using your flexibility to open up cap space to sign a free agent, or drafting (or trading for a pick to use to draft) a future prospect. This is a direction that’s obviously the best of the bunch, but also one that might not be especially available to the Clippers this summer. We’ll look at some possibilities for home-run swings.
  2. Running It Back: Last summer, the Clippers were content to put together a team that would win 46-48 games and be competitive in the playoff race. They fell short due to injuries, but there’s a strong sense that re-signing Avery Bradley and DeAndre Jordan, along with improved health for players like Patrick Beverley and Danilo Gallinari, could propel the Clippers to a playoff berth.
  3. Consolidating Assets: One of the Clippers biggest issues this summer is going to be roster spots. Running it back would mean using a large number of those spots on the veterans that would return to populate the team’s rotation, which would mean fewer spots to keep the team’s current prospects around and add young talent in the draft. Consolidating assets doesn’t necessarily throw away competing for a playoff spot, but it clearly prioritizes using roster spots on prospects, possibly by trading, releasing, or not re-signing veteran players.
  4. Tank: This is an obvious, and clear-cut, direction. You cash out all of your veteran players for prospects or future draft picks, give tons of minutes to young players, farm the G-League for diamonds in the rough, and lose a lot of basketball games to get high picks in the draft.