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Can the Clippers Break Their Curse?

Young Clipper fans rooting for their teamAt the beginning of every NBA season, Clippers fans across the US (ok, maybe more like Orange County), exude the same optimism.

“This year will be different.”

“Our young talent is ready to make the leap.”

And perhaps most delusional of all: “We can contend for the 6 or 7 seed this year.”

Every year, these fans are dealt with the disappointment of a team that not only misses the playoffs, but as was the case this year, are out of the hunt by midseason. To add insult to injury, their neighbors across the way are the glamor franchise of the NBA, winning more than any other team in the last 40 years, and entering the elite status of other all-time great franchises: the Yankees, Canadiens, Steelers, and Celtics included.

This year however, feels a little different. Yes, the Clippers finally have a bonafide superstar in Blake Griffin, something they have never had in all of their years in Los Angeles (settle down, Danny Manning and Elton Brand enthusiasts – they don’t compare to Blake). Yes, they have an upcoming shooting guard in Eric Gordon who is lightning quick and able to score in bunches. And yes, they even seem to understand complex ideas, like getting rid of bad contracts and disengaged players — sending Baron Davis and his box of chocolates to a post LeBron Cleveland being a great start. So, is this time for real? Or will Clipper fans just continue to be basketball’s answer to Charlie Brown, waiting for Lucy to pull the football away at the last minute? Let’s take a look.

The Clippers have a 2 super-star model, but with only 1 superstar.

Recent comments by Clippers management after the Baron Davis trade centered around the need to build around Eric Gordon and Blake Griffin. This is all well and good — and Griffin is a certifiable A-level superstar. Eric Gordon, however, for all his talents, is not. He is a well above average scorer, and would be a great no. 3 piece on a contending team. To really move beyond the lower half of the Western Conference however, the Clippers still need another Griffin-caliber or close to Griffin-caliber player. Clipper fan should NOT fool themselves into thinking that a Griffin/Gordon nucleus can take them much further than a series of first round playoff exits.

The Clippers have salary cap flexibility.

That being said, the Clippers have set themselves up to acquire such a superstar (if they can convince someone who would be crazy enough to come). They are projected to have 9 players under contract heading into next season at a total of $44.9M. Assuming they want to re-sign DeAndre Jordan (which they have indicated they would like to do), we can estimate their number for 10 players may be somewhere just north of $50M. This is where the Clippers must be especially careful and use more discretion than they have shown in previous years. The Clipper Way would have they overpay for an over the hill veteran, using what little salary cap they have left (the 2011-12 salary cap is projected to be in the $57-60M range)

Player 2010-11 salary 2011-2012 2012-13 2013-14 2014-15
Chris Kaman $11,800,000 $       12,200,000
Mo Williams $9,300,000 $         8,500,000 $      8,500,000
Blake Griffin $5,357,280 $         5,731,080 $      7,226,862 $      9,384,959
Randy Foye $4,250,000 $         4,250,000
Ryan Gomes $4,000,000 $         4,000,000 $      4,000,000
Eric Gordon $3,016,680 $         3,831,184 $      5,137,617
Jamario Moon $3,000,000
Al-Farouq Aminu $2,563,320 $         2,755,560 $      2,947,800 $      3,749,602 $      5,054,463
Rasual Butler $2,400,000
Craig Smith $2,300,000
Eric Bledsoe $1,485,000 $         1,596,360 $      1,707,720 $      2,626,473 $      3,726,966
Brian Cook $1,146,337 $         1,265,976
DeAndre Jordan $854,389
Jarron Collins $676,090
Ike Diogu $417,221
Willie Warren $500,000 $            788,872
Total $             53,066,317 $       44,919,032 $    29,519,999 $    15,761,034 $      8,781,429

Figure 1: Los Angeles Clippers Projected Salary Cap from 2010-2014.

Making a signing of this type however would be short-sighted. In 2012-2013, the Clippers guaranteed contract allotment drops to $29.5M. They would still have a solid nucleus of nice young players including Griffin, Gordon, Mo Williams, Aminu, and Bledsoe.  If they play their cards right, they may have enough for 1 max player along with another talented piece. This particular summer also represents the next free agent bumper crop, with the likes of Dwight Howard and Deron Williams coming available.

They have plenty of young, tradeable assets – how will they use them?

This is probably the biggest question mark for the Clippers, and an area they have frequently stumbled — more often than not letting young talent walk out the door in return for nothing. Players like Bledsoe, Jordan, and Aminu are sought after by many teams. It is unlikely, given the youth of these players, that they can all be part of the Clipper solution. Just like the Thunder used Jeff Green to fill in a veteran hole, the Clippers should follow the same roadmap — parlaying their young talent into the final pieces to make their team into legitimate contenders.

They still need a coach.

We like Vinny Del Negro. He’s a nice guy — and probably got kind of the shaft by the Bulls (though no one over there’s complaining right now). With that said, he’s not the long term answer at head coach for this team. Just like the Bulls and the Thunder, the Clippers really need a strong, defensive-minded coach who can round out the games of Gordon and Griffin. Both of these players need to excel at the defensive end in order for the Clips to do anything. Calling Jeff Van Gundy

This team, as young as they are, can play…

It is undeniable that this team is not far off. Since the trade, they have won 5 out of 6. After a horrendous start, they have been playing above .500 basketball for most of this year, going 21-20 over their last 41 games. Chris Kaman just came back, giving the Clippers an “on paper” starting lineup of talent that includes Griffin, Kaman, Mo Williams, and Eric Gordon.

So what is the final analysis?

Unfortunately Clipper fans, like it has been for seemingly forever, while this season is more promising than most, major questions still linger. Can they get that elusive 2nd superstar? Will they attract a top notch coaching candidate? Can Donald Sterling prevent himself from pressing the detonate button and blowing everything up? The answer is: who knows.

If there is a time for them to break the Clipper Curse however, this seems as good a time as any.


11 Responses to “Can the Clippers Break Their Curse?”

  1. clips with gordon and griffin can be a 3 or 4 seed in the west. that’s 2 allstars…

    Posted by mzelliot | March 14, 2011, 9:24 pm
    • A 3 or 4 seed? Dude, you’re fucking stupid. Nice article from the Brown Mamba, but what about Kaman? You didn’t really say anything about him, what do expect they’ll do with him???

      Posted by Baller925 | March 14, 2011, 9:40 pm
      • This is an interesting one. Kaman had two outstanding years, in 07-08 and last year where he seemed like the answer at center for the Clippers (and frankly one of the best in the NBA). Unfortunately, he’s been injury prone, playing less than 57 games in 3 of the last 4 years.

        Additionally, it seems like the Clippers are all-in on the athleticism and talent of DeAndre Jordan. It seems unlikely they will commit dollars to both.

        My guess, Kaman either walks or is traded near the all-star break next year, but I don’t see him figuring into the long-term future with the Clippers (unless, possibly if he is willing to take a significant pay cut)

        Posted by Brown Mamba | March 15, 2011, 8:43 pm
  2. Brown Mamba, it’s very simple: the Clippers’ curse is Donald Sterling, and it won’t end until he either sells the team or passes on.

    Posted by E-Dog | March 21, 2011, 5:35 am
    • I’m in the minority here, but how many players can you name that Sterling has let go without resigning that have gone on to incredible NBA Careers? Elton Brand? Danny Manning? Lamar Odom? Antonio McDyess? Tyson Chandler? Darius Miles?

      Other players, e.g., Shaun Livingston, have been the subject to horrendous luck.

      That being said, if what you’re saying is that Sterling has some weird negative aura that brings bad news onto all of Clipper Nation, I’d have a hard time denying some bit of that is true…

      Posted by Brown Mamba | March 21, 2011, 11:21 pm
  3. Any article about the future of the Clippers would be remiss without the mention of the Minnesota 2012 draft pick.

    You’re undervaluing Eric Gordon. He’s already one of the best scorers in the L. Among those scorers, he’s one of the most efficient. Also, a very underrated defender. He needs to work on his handle and play making, but he’s only 22.

    Posted by William | March 21, 2011, 11:04 pm
    • William — thanks for the comment. I might be remiss in not mentioning the draft pick, but Griffin aside, the Clippers record on high draft picks has not exactly been stellar. That said, point taken, and it still should be noted as a tradeable asset.

      Re: Gordon. Sure, no denying he’s a very talented player, and I wasn’t trying to diss him by calling him a no. 3 on a championship contender (there are plenty of good players who fall into this category: Odom, Ray Allen, Chris Bosh, James Worthy, Dennis Rodman, Robert Parish to name a few). That being said, this is a 2-superstar (if not now becoming a 3-superstar) league. I just can’t put Eric Gordon into this category, and from all I’ve seen of him, am not sure he will make the leap to legit superstar.

      Posted by Brown Mamba | March 21, 2011, 11:17 pm
  4. under rating eric gordon is a major flaw in your article…24 points per game dont “just happen”…he is a first rate defender…and he is a part of a world championship team…i also dont get the reference to orange county…i didnt know that clip fans were only located there but im only “moderately intelligent”.

    Posted by dave r. | March 22, 2011, 8:17 am
    • Dave R. — thanks for the read. I’ll ask you the question a different way: do you think the Clippers can finish in the top 1/2 of the West consistently as comprised currently with a nucleus of Griffin and Gordon? I say no. Case in point the fact with those two playing well this year, they couldn’t even crack the top 10. No doubt they will continue to progress, but I just don’t see how they all of a sudden become an elite team just by Griffin and Gordon’s progression coupled by adding some nice role players.

      Re: the OC reference — it was a joke, no need to get defensive. That said, I challenge you to find many Clipper fans that live outside of California (or even who live on the West Side, Hollywood, or Downtown)

      Posted by Brown Mamba | March 22, 2011, 8:08 pm
      • Why not? The “old guard” of the West will be too old or retired BEFORE Bledsoe, Aminu, D.Jordan, Gordon, and Griffin EVEN HIT their prime.

        ClipsNation is an international community of the most knowledgeable and diehard fans there is. You have to be pretty diehard to love this team haha.

        Posted by William | March 22, 2011, 9:53 pm
  5. Donald Sterling must sell his team or resign. They are cursed. Look at what happened to Brand, Odom, or Archibald. It was because he is incompetent.

    Posted by Tyrone | August 16, 2012, 5:13 pm

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