With the Clippers’ season winding down here (just one home game remaining), it’s time for a bit of a retrospective on the season that was.
A few things we did see were Blake Griffin’s emergence as a potential NBA superstar, Eric Gordon turning into an All-Star, DeAndre Jordan showing signs of steady development and much more.
While there’s plenty of reason for hope for the future, sometimes it’s fun to think of what could have been.
Let’s delve into a few scenarios, shall we?
What if the Clippers hadn’t started the season 1-13?
This “what if” was more relevant about midway through January, when the Clippers seemed as though they were poised for making a run at the Western Conference’s final playoff spot. They got to within a few games of that spot, but a tough 11-game February road trip put any chances of our little Clips streaking to the playoffs quickly to bed.
Obviously, for the Clippers to have avoided that 1-13 start, Baron Davis and Chris Kaman likely would’ve had to avoid injuries that cost them most of the beginning of the season. But then, if Kaman never gets hurt, does DeAndre Jordan get the opportunity to show his real potential? (Note: My head just exploded.)
There were plenty of very winnable games on the early-season schedule. The Clips took some terrible losses at the hands of Detroit, New Jersey, Minnesota and Golden State. As it stands today, the Clippers find themselves at 31-47, 13 games out of the West’s eighth and final playoff spot.
Without that brutal beginning, maybe the team would’ve been able to find more motivation midway through that February road trip. Obviously, this isn’t to say that it would’ve been possible. The Clippers played every night about as hard as an NBA team can. However, the 1-13 mark to open the season has to make you wonder about what could’ve been this season.
A playoff berth would still seem like a bit of a longshot, but then again, who imagined the Grizzlies would be the team sitting pretty with a playoff spot before the season began?
What if the Baron Davis-Mo Williams trade isn’t made?
This is no indictment on either Mo Williams or Jamario Moon. Both players have been very solid since coming to L.A., and it’s hard to imagine the team performing any better with Baron Davis in charge.
This is, however, about the draft pick. In order to get the Cavaliers to take on the final three years and nearly $42 million remaining on Davis’ contract, the Clippers had to send their first-round draft pick in 2011 to Cleveland. So, instead of partaking in the lottery themselves, the Cavs will have two chances.
Many consider the upcoming draft class to be relatively “weak”, but they said the same thing in 2009. What happened in 2009? The likes of Blake Griffin, Tyreke Evans, James Harden, Stephen Curry, DeMar DeRozan, Brandon Jennings, Jrue Holiday, Ty Lawson and more entered the league. So, even if the class is “weak” according to experts, there’s really no way to know without seeing the draftees in action on an NBA floor.
The Clips’ front office has been fairly open with their desire to find themselves an upgrade at small forward, and, obviously, the draft would have provided a very good opportunity to do just that.
Now, had the Clippers kept their pick, there’s still a fairly low percentage chance that they wind up with a top-three choice. As it stands, the Clips have the eighth-worst record in the league. However, that’s not to say it’s impossible. The 2008 Chicago Bulls entered the draft lottery with the league’s ninth-worst record, yet won the lottery.
Ironically, the Clippers drafted at No. 8 last year, and took a small forward, Al-Farouq Aminu. Aminu has had a nice rookie season, but the team must feel that he’s more of a role player rather than the star-caliber player they’re in the market for.
Some small forwards in this class include Derrick Williams, Jan Vesely, Perry Jones, Terrence Jones, Marcus Morris, Jordan Hamilton and Kawhi Leonard. Let’s just suppose they draft Leonard, for example.
While Aminu is more of a raw, athletic talent, Leonard is a proven scorer at the college level. He led San Diego State, averaging 15.5 points per game this season, to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament. He has perfect size for a small forward, and would complement Eric Gordon extremely well on the wing.
This is a pretty small forward-heavy draft class, but alas, no pick for the Clips.
What if the Clippers had made the playoffs?
Clearly, this “what if” is strongly tied to the first one, but it is interesting as a stand alone question.
Had they qualified for the playoffs, would the Clippers have been able to make much noise, or would they be fodder for the likes of the Spurs, Lakers or Mavericks?
Let’s say our little Clippers wind up with the No. 8 seed. The Spurs, at 59-19 as of Wednesday, are lined up to finish with the top spot. Excluding the possibility (if not likelihood) that the “just happy to be here” Clippers would get smoked by the veteran Spurs, this is potentially a thrilling playoff series.
L.A.’s youth and athleticism has given the Spurs trouble at times this season, and, with the way San Antonio’s injuries have begun to pile up, you have to wonder how they’d be able to deal with it. The Clippers have thrived on the “dragon-slaying” mentality all season long, and a short playoff series against a heavily-favored opponent would seem to be an ideal situation for that.
The Clippers’ inexperience and propensity for untimely turnovers would likely ultimately come back to haunt them, but just seeing this group perform in a playoff series would be absolutely electric.
Fortunately, with a core including 22-year-old Blake Griffin and 22-year-old Eric Gordon, the days in which we’ll have to ask “what if” don’t seem too far off.
About the Author
Written by Taylor Smith
Taylor Smith is a writer for the Los Angeles Clippers.