For the first time since the Lob City Era, the Los Angeles Clippers are projected to be championship contenders this upcoming season. The team that finished their 2018-2019 campaign with a 48-34 record has kept the majority of their core in tact, while simultaneously adding two major superstar talents to the mix. Throughout the Lob City Era, the team's most consistent drawback was the wing position. The primary core of Chris, Blake, and DeAndre shuffled through the likes of Jeff Green, Matt Barnes, Caron Butler, Paul Pierce, Jared Dudley, Danny Granger and countless other wings that were just never able to produce on a consistent level. When Chris was gone, the team added Danilo Gallinari into the mix, a versatile wing that can shoot the long ball, get to the foul line, and set up his teammates. In the deal that sent Blake to Detroit, the team received Tobias Harris, a three-level scorer just entering his prime that showed flashes of All-Stardom during his short tenure with the Clippers. However, as good as the Tobias and Danilo tandem was, there's a big distinction between being good and being great.
In February of 2019, the team sent Harris to the Philadelphia 76ers. A contending team in the Eastern Conference that, like the Lob City Clippers, seemed to have every position accounted for, except for the SF position. However, like the Lob City Clippers, the 76ers lost in the second round of the playoffs in a heartbreaking manner. While the Clippers who had just traded away their leading scorer for a rookie, some role players, and some key draft picks went toe-to-toe with the defending champs. After going six games with a healthy Warriors team in the first round of the playoffs, the Clippers proved something to the world. The Clippers proved that they were really, really good. While the Warriors proved that they were really, really, great. But once again, there's a big distinction between being good and being great. The major standouts from that playoff series were Patrick Beverley, Lou Williams, Montrezl Harrell, Landry Shamet, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, and JaMychal Green. This core group of players showed no fear throughout the series and personified exactly what it meant to be a Clipper in the year 2019.
Given their lack of experience, Shamet and Gilgeous-Alexander in particular were very impressive. The two rookies showed no fear, as they even came together for the biggest play in the series when SGA dished it out to Shamet who then hit the game-winning shot in Game 2. However, while Gilgeous-Alexander was a really good rookie who played the game at his own pace. There's still a noticeable gap between Shai and the likes of Trae Young and Luka Dončić. That gap doesn't discredit Shai's talent. Gilgeous-Alexander is going to be a really good player in this league for many years to come. As of right now, his ceiling is multiyear All-Star. However, unless proven otherwise, I don't think Shai will ever be the best player on a championship team and that's the difference between a good player and a great player. Shai, Gallo, Tobias, CP3, Blake, and DeAndre are all really good players, but none of them will ever be the centerpiece of a championship team. Three of the six aforementioned players are on the same team in OKC, yet the Thunder are not even expected to make the playoffs. Blake just had the best statistical season of his career in Detroit, and yet the Pistons got swept in the first round of the weaker Eastern Conference. Tobias Harris has become an afterthought in Philadelphia and DeAndre Jordan is riding into the sunset with his two best friends in Brooklyn.
As painful as it was to lose each of these players in the past few years, the reward was well worth it. The reward was a two-time Finals MVP accompanied by an All-NBA talent. We are no longer juggling between the likes of Jared Dudley and Jeff Green. Kawhi Leonard and Paul George are the best two-way wings in the NBA. Furthermore, not only did we add two bonafide superstars to the mix, we also added Maurice Harkless, Rodney McGruder, and Terance Mann: three tough-minded, versatile players who can play on both sides of the court. The five key additions we made this past summer could be a competitive playoff team in their own right, but when you add these five to the core group of players that took the Warriors to six games last year, we finally have the opportunity to be great.