With news breaking that the Los Angeles Clippers are trading Chris Paul to the Houston Rockets, it appears that next season’s iteration will bear almost no resemblance to the “Lob City” teams of the past six years.
Blake Griffin has exercised his early-termination option and will test the free agent market. J.J. Redick is a free agent, too, along with role players Paul Pierce (who has since retired), Ray Felton, Brandon Bass and Marreese Speights. Without Paul, the team will turn to Austin Rivers to man the point. While it may be tempting to try to keep Griffin around to play alongside Rivers and DeAndre Jordan, the wiser move would be to start rebuilding.
Convincing Griffin to re-sign with the Clippers may be a difficult task, especially if competing for a championship is a high priority. With Paul, the team held the fourth-best record in the Western Conference, but were still clearly behind Golden State, San Antonio and Houston (who just got better after acquiring Paul). The team as currently assembled had no cap space, and the talent gap between the Clippers and the top 3 Western Conference teams was far wider than the talent that could be acquired via the Mid-Level Exception. Griffin could always take the same route as Paul, leveraging the situation so he can be traded to a team of his choosing, allowing Los Angeles to receive some level of compensation for him, while Griffin could have the option to “opt-in” to the last year of his contract, then re-upping for a max contract the following year.
DeAndre Jordan is the team’s most tradable asset, as he is among the league’s best in rebounding, shot-blocking and as a roll-man in pick and roll situations. At 28, he is still squarely in his prime, and doesn’t have a worrisome injury history like Griffin does. While it seems the league has placed more of a premium on “small-ball” lineups, an athletic, defense-first center like Jordan is sure to attract a fair amount of interest around the league.
The core of a rebuilt Clippers roster would likely include recently acquired players like Montrezl Harrell, DeAndre Liggins and Sam Dekker, as well as the 2018 first round pick being sent from Houston. These players would join Austin Rivers, Brice Johnson and Diamond Stone, whom are already on the Clippers roster.
It may be hard for the owner Steve Ballmer, advisor Jerry West and Doc Rivers to accept, but “Lob City” is no more. Perhaps it’s a blessing in disguise that Paul left, as the team can now focus on the future. While it’s difficult for fans to say ‘goodbye’ to the most successful six-year stretch in franchise history, the time has come to move on.