NBA: Where do the Clippers go Now?

NBA - Los Angeles Clippers vs Houston Rockets
(Photo by Mintaha Neslihan Eroglu/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Early yesterday morning, before most on the West Coast had a chance to rub the sleep-dust out of their eyes, Chris Paul shocked the world by facilitating a trade to the Houston Rockets.

Paul informed the Clippers of his intent to sign with the Rockets in free agency, and gave them a chance to extract at least some value for him. Instead of signing a 4-year max contract with a lower value in Houston, Paul opted into his contract, sacrificing almost $10M in salary this year. There is a silver lining for him however – he is eligible to sign a 5-year, roughly $206M deal next summer. And, if this season in Houston goes badly, Paul can bolt for a better situation.

The trade was one of the most complex in league history, with moving parts all over the league involved. The Clippers got: SF Sam Dekker, PG Patrick Beverley, SG Lou Williams, SF DeAndre Liggins, SF Darun Hilliard, PF Montrezl Harell, PF Kyle Wiltjer, a top-3 protected 1st round pick in 2018, and $661,000. All of that – 7 players, 1 draft pick, and some cash – for Paul.

Dekker, a former 1st round pick (#18 overall) by Houston, has been very average since coming into the NBA. He’s not a great rebounder, defender, or scorer, but he will get every opportunity to improve in Clipper Land.

Williams, 30, is a pure scorer in the Jamaal Crawford mold. I hope 6ix Man Lou Will didn’t sell his place in LA (he was a Laker before being traded to Houston at last season’s trade deadline) because he’s headed back for at least a year.

Beverley is a ferocious defender who averaged a career high in both rebounds and assists last season. He’s not afraid to get in anyone’s face, including Russell Westbrook, and can provide an intimidating factor to your team. He’s vastly improved as a shooter, going 38.2% from 3-point land last season. He won’t have as much space to get his jumper off in LA, but luckily he can affect games in other ways. Beverley has two more seasons left on his bargain deal, which carries a cap hit of $5.5M this year, and a fully non-guaranteed salary of $5M in 2018-2019.

Harrell has one more year until he becomes an RFA, and is unlikely to even get a qualifying offer come that time. He was a stabilizing force at Louisville on both the offensive and defensive end, but has failed to transition to the NBA game. 

Wiltjer, Hilliard, and Liggins are mostly throw-ins that allow the salaries to work, with the Rockets keeping both the $8.4M MLE, and the bi-annual exception worth $3.3M. All of their contracts are fully non-guaranteed, and are expected to be waived by the Clippers. Hilliard and Liggins were both acquired from other teams  – Detroit and Dallas respectively – to make the salaries add up and keep the Rockets over the cap. Being over the salary cap means that they are eligible to receive both of those exceptions. 

Now that we’ve hashed out that absurd 7-for-1 trade, with cash flying all over the NBA out of Houston, we can ask the question on everyone’s minds – what the fuck is going on with the Clippers?

Yes, this deal is smart in a value standpoint, and according to Yahoo (now ESPN) cap genius Bobby Markscould create up to $70M+ in cap space during the summer of 2018. But, this trade leaves the Clippers in limbo – they want to win, but just don’t have the roster to do so. However, they do have a few options.

It’s been reported that the Clippers are still focused on signing Blake Griffin – and that wouldn’t necessarily be a bad move. Griffin has made Joffrey Lupul look healthy the past few seasons, but still has the talent and star power worth a max contract from the Clippers. Blake has excelled as a roll man in the high pick-and-roll with CP3. I mean, the guy can jump a car. How are you supposed to stop him rolling to the rim?  But where he really prospers is with the ball in his hands.

Griffin has averaged 4.9, 4.9, and 5.3 assists in the past 3 years, despite having the ball-dominant Paul playing point guard. With basketball’s transition to a positionless game where everyone on the court can run, dribble and shoot, Griffin could be the next revolutionary player – if used right. In Denver, there is a similar player, albeit minus the freaky athleticism, making a huge impression league wide for his passing. That big man’s name is Nikola Jokic. Jokic gets credit for being a better passer and shooter than most bigs, but in reality, Griffin is the superior player in both categories. Jokic shot 32.4% from 3, and averaged 4.9 assists in 2016-2017, while Griffin topped, or matched, both those marks, shooting 33.6% from 3 and dishing 4.9 assists per game. Griffin is the hidden “unicorn” of the NBA – even while playing in the biggest market.

Blake has interest from a whole load of teams however, and many are much more attractive than going back to the Clippers. If, or when, Griffin decides to leave, the Clippers’ path is actually clear. First, the team could decide to trade DeAndre Jordan, their long-time centre and defensive anchor.

Jordan is Tyson Chandler 2.0, catching ‘oops and blocking shots like nobodies business. But, and this is a big but, he isn’t someone you can build around. He isn’t even likely to be someone who can attract star players. He can, however, attract quite a ransom on the trade market (even with Phil Jackson no longer a decision maker in that market). Trading Jordan would leave a lot of options open for the Clippers.

One of those options would be to bring the Banana Boat Brothers to LA next summer. Although LeBron will reportedly “…never be a Clipper”the chance to play with his best friends will definitely be intriguing. Although Paul is gone, and presumably will not be back next year, LeBron would have to settle for his good friends Carmelo Anthony and Dwyane Wade. To be honest, that isn’t such an encouraging core, and would probably be worse than LeBron’s team in Cleveland right now. With Paul gone, this scenario is more than unlikely.

An alternative option – whether Jordan stays or not – would be to sign DeMarcus “Boogie” Cousins in the summer of 2018. Things are looking very bad for New Orleans, who are capped out and very top-heavy. Other than Cousins and Anthony Davis, the team is a collection of bargain-basement signings and role players in too large of a role. Cousins can become a free agent in the summer of 2018, and will likely be looking for greener and sunnier pastures. Why not a return to California, where he started his career? If Jordan is still there, Cousins will get to pair himself with another defensive centre that can cover for his deficiencies, albeit with less offensive talent than Davis. 

The Clippers would also have enough cap space, with or without Jordan, to allow Cousins to bring another star with him. Whether that star is Isaiah Thomas, Carmelo Anthony – both can be free agents in 2018 – or a trade for someone like Klay Thompson, the Clippers will have the ability to make a move.

Ultimately, the Clippers have a lot of options to consider and decisions to make. Owner Steve Ballmer and co. will have their sights set high, but luring those big fish is easier said than done. After all, there are a lot of fishermen in the sea including the neighbouring Lakers and Magic Johnson.

 What do you think of the CP3 trade? Which team won? What do you think the Clippers should do now? Comment in the comment section below, and don’t forget to click “Like” on our Facebook page and “Follow” our Twitter if you haven’t already!

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