For a long time, the minutiae of a contract didn’t make crazy waves outside of salary cap nuts or hardcore NBA fans who know what “bird rights” mean. While LeBron James had a hand in changing this with the 1 + 1 deals he executed in Cleveland, the player empowerment era has led to players taking matters into their own hands, and complex details on contracts have become real news as a result. Being tied down to a specific team for four+ years is starting to look antiquated in this league. Trade demands by stars are now more frequent, and movement to be with friends or to create a star duo or trio is commonplace. The Clippers benefited from the empowerment era this summer when future Hall-of-Famer Paul George demanded a trade from the sputtering Oklahoma City Thunder to be with the reigning NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard in L.A.
In a league-shattering move that sent a lot of the Clippers’ future away and obtained one of the best players in the league right now, L.A. seized upon the extensive player movement this summer. The scary part? Well, it could happen again in two seasons. They now have a player that moved teams after dominating in the NBA Finals, and a player who just had his best individual season on a team where he had re-signed, just a summer ago, on a long term deal. On paper, the Clippers have the most talent on any one team in the league right now. However, we have seen what can happen in a year or two, positively or negatively. The pressure to win now is at a point so high, I don’t even know how to properly describe it. These players have no qualms in moving teams. It’s rings or bust over the next two seasons, and the Clippers front-office and fans know it. There’s no time for celebrating the acquisitions. Now, they go to work.
The question remains: should this team be the favorites to win the 2020 NBA Finals? So far, everything points to the Clippers being a near-dominant force at both ends of the floor. The projected starting backcourt — Patrick Beverley, Kawhi and George — have a combined 11 all-defense honors. The offensively historic six and seventh man performance from last season with Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell? Don’t expect that to slow down any time soon. Oh, and with sniper Landry Shamet in tow off the bench, along with tough newcomer Rodney McGruder and the return of JaMychal Green, who shot 41.3% from three with L.A. last season, this team is DEEP. That’s not even mentioning incumbent 7’1” starting center Ivica Zubac (who looks like he is expanding his range), veteran wing presence Maurice Harkless, and new guys like Mfiondu Kabengele and Terance Mann. Depth is what wins you rings these days (just look at what Toronto did), and getting contributions from everyone is what the Clippers have excelled at over the last two seasons. This year, they’re deeper than ever.
While this is probably the best Clipper team we’ve ever seen on paper, the West doesn’t relent. The Golden State Warriors dynasty is likely over, with the exodus of Kevin Durant and the torn ACL Klay Thompson suffered in the Finals, but you can’t really count out any of the top 8 teams. The Lakers, like the Clippers, waged a lot of their future in return for a superstar in Anthony Davis, whose current contract is shorter (free-agent this summer) than they would like. Trading away three effective players under the age of 24 and a multitude of first-round picks for the injury-prone forward was a lot. However, the return could be massive. Davis is a genuine superstar and still has more room to grow. Paired with LeBron James and DeMarcus Cousins, with a rebuilt bench, the Lakers are legitimately dangerous this year. They also have the ultimate X-factor in “Playoff LeBron.” The Lakers scored big this offseason, and, on paper, seem to be near neck-and-neck with the Clippers. Along with L.A.’s other team, squads like the Houston Rockets, Utah Jazz and Denver Nuggets all got better with solid additions via trade and free-agency, and teams like the Portland Trail Blazers and San Antonio Spurs can never be counted out. Yes, the Clippers are better than they perhaps ever have been. The competition however in the West? Perhaps the toughest it’s ever been as well.
This is a long beleaguered franchise that has not given their fans much to root for prior to 2012, and since then has given us more disappointment than true success. The very definition of a “tease.” This could be another situation of the latter, given the recent injury-history of their two new stars, the talented and competitive West, and the “Clipper Curse” that perhaps still lingers. There is rampant fear among Clipper fans that if they don’t capitalize on this two-year window, and by “capitalize” meaning RANGSSS, Kawhi and PG could walk away together. Yes, they are in their home city. Yes, they both chose to be in a Clippers uniform and yes, the Clippers have a very strong culture and front-office. However, without super positive results, there is a very likely world where these two end up going elsewhere. Remember, these are players that have already walked from teams with strong coaching, front-offices and a lot of success. In this empowering era for star individuals, anything goes.
On the bright side, the Clippers are the favorites by most Vegas bookers and by most NBA pundits. With a healthy team in the playoffs, this team will be incredibly difficult to beat, and with Doc helming the brigade and the continued involvement of Jerry West and Lawrence Frank, the Clips are strong, tough, smart, and extremely talented. They will have a full 82 games to get accustomed to one another, and Kawhi just won a championship last season with less talent around him than he currently has in L.A. The pressure to win now is of epic proportions. But this isn’t the Sterling-led Clippers. and this isn’t a franchise that should be considered the little brother to the Lakers anymore. Forget about what Ice Cube or Snoop Dogg say — the Clips have been, and will continue to be, here to stay. Hopefully, of course, with some chips in tow. So bring them dips.