“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)
|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|
|Al-Farouq Aminu||$2,563,320||$ 2,755,560||$ 2,947,800||$ 3,749,602||$ 5,054,463|
|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|
|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.