The 2012-13 season was, in many ways, the best in the history of the Los Angeles Clippers.
However, it also feels like a massive missed opportunity, and it may be remembered as just that.
They finished the regular season with a record of 56-26; by far the best in franchise history. The next-best record they’ve posted was a 49-33 mark during the ’74-’75 season, when they were known as the Buffalo Braves.
They jumped out to a promising 2-0 lead over Memphis in the first round of the playoffs, only to falter miserably and lose the next four. Now, they’re sitting at home wondering what could have been.
With the season-ending injury to OKC’s Russell Westbrook, and the Spurs having to slug it out against the Warriors, the Western Conference is absolutely wide-open. Had they advanced past the Grizzlies, L.A. would’ve had a very realistic chance at making a Finals appearance. Alas.
So, where can they go from here, in what is likely the most important offseason in team history?
The savior, the guy that nearly single-handedly made the Los Angeles Clippers relevant, is an unrestricted free agent. Chris Paul, of course.
He’ll undoubtedly be the most sought-after player available on the open market, and, despite the disappointing playoff ouster, the Clippers should still be considered the odds-on favorite to land him. This is due in no small part to the fact that they can offer him one more year and nearly $20M more than any other team in the league.
The Clippers also still have a very young nucleus of solid talent around which to build. Unlike the Lakers’ relatively unenviable core of aging, expensive stars on the downsides of their respective careers.
All that said, Paul has not given any indication regarding whether he’ll actually remain in Los Angeles. As is his right, it wouldn’t be too surprising to see him accept meetings with a few other potential suitors, such as Dallas, Atlanta and Houston.
If Paul were to move, the Clippers are instantly back to where they were in 2010, the year before he arrived. It would be a devastating blow to the franchise, and, while they still may have enough talent to eke out one of the last few playoff spots in the West, their window as a legitimate title contender is nearly certainly slammed shut.
So, retaining Chris Paul is clearly priority No. 1.
Another area of concern is the head coach. Vinny Del Negro, despite two playoff appearances in three years at the helm, isn’t under contract for next season, and it seems more likely than not that he won’t be on the Clipper bench for the 2013-14 season.
Del Negro also isn’t really helped by the fact that there are severable desirable names on the free agent coaching front. If L.A. were to part ways with VDN, expect names like Stan/Jeff Van Gundy, Nate McMillan and…Phil Jackson? Phil reportedly isn’t interested in returning to be the coach of any team, but just throwing it out there, ya never know.
So, let’s say the Clippers are able to bring back CP3 and part ways with Vinny. What about the rest of the roster? Outside of Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan and Jamal Crawford, each of whom are under contract for the next couple of years, there’s big potential for turnover here. Lamar Odom, Chauncey Billups, Matt Barnes, Ronny Turiaf and Ryan Hollins are all unrestricted free agents.
Paul has publicly declared on numerous occasions his love for playing alongside Billups. Billups, following game six against the Grizz, stated that he’d love to return for another season. Sorry, guys. This is something that needs to not happen.
For as great as his leadership and locker room presence may be, Billups doesn’t appear to have much left in terms of actual playing ability. After rupturing his Achilles 20 games into last season, Billups battled several other injuries throughout the 2012-13 season, and wound up playing in just 22 games during the regular year.
And, in those games, he was pretty unremarkable. In the playoffs, it got even worse, as he shot just 30 percent from the field in about 19 ineffective minutes per game. Unless he’s willing to accept a bargain basement salary and a significantly reduced role next season, the Clippers would be wise to move in another direction here.
The same goes for Lamar Odom, the guy who curiously seems to have had all of his basketball talent immediately vanish over the course of two years. He’s like a player in Space Jam that had his ability sucked out of him by the MonStars. Quite bizarre, indeed.
Since winning the league’s Sixth Man of the Year award as a Laker in 2011, Odom has been one of the most useless players in the league. In the two seasons since, one with Dallas, one with the Clippers, Odom is averaging about five points and five rebounds per game while playing about 20 minutes per.
He’s come into camp out-of-shape in each of the last two years, and doesn’t exactly seem emotionally invested in much of anything, save for maybe candy. He played in all 82 games for the Clippers this past season and scored in double-figures three times. Oh, and he also made over $8M. See you at the crossroads, Lamar.
Matt Barnes was brought in as something of an afterthought last summer, but wound up being one of the team’s most consistent and useful contributors. He averaged a career-high in points and shot a respectable 34 percent from three, and also provided solid defense on the wing. He’ll turn 34 midway through next season, but it’s tough to predict what kind of money he’ll command on the open market. If they can swing it financially, the Clippers need to bring Barnes back.
Hollins and Turiaf didn’t have regular playing time, but they’re a couple of guys that can come in and bring energy in limited minutes. They’re both dirt cheap, so retaining them wouldn’t exactly be crippling.
If Billups and Odom walk, there’s a starting off-guard slot and a reserve big man spot suddenly both available. Willie Green will likely be back, and he was the primary starter whenever Billups was sidelined. However, when Billups would actually be in the lineup, Green often times wouldn’t even see the floor in a reserve role. Clearly, they’d ideally like to find someone that can come in and start deservedly at shooting guard.
L.A. doesn’t have much money with which to play under the salary cap, but they can offer a player a full mid-level exception, which comes out to about $5M a year.
So, if we’re scouring the market looking for a shooting guard that may be able to come in at a price of about $5M, a few names pop up.
Atlanta’s Kyle Korver is coming off of a strong season during which he shot an insane 45.7 percent from three-point range. The Clippers have a dearth of totally reliable spot-up shooters, and Korver is arguably the league’s premier sharpshooter. He’d be an absolutely perfect fit, and, yes, it shouldn’t take much more than $5M annually to get him.
Chicago’s Marco Belinelli, Dallas’ O.J. Mayo (L.A. native), Denver’s Corey Brewer and OKC’s Kevin Martin are another few names to keep an eye on. Tony Allen of the Grizzlies would be an incredible find, as he’s possibly the best perimeter defender in the league, but I’d imagine he’ll be slightly out of LAC’s price range.
If we’re looking for a backup big to take Lamar Odom’s minutes, there are also a few possibilities. Golden State’s Carl Landry and Dallas’ Brandan Wright jump out, as do San Antonio’s Tiago Splitter and Portland’s J.J. Hickson. However, I can’t imagine the Spurs letting Splitter leave, and Hickson may command more than the Clippers are able to spend.
Wright was productive for the Mavericks in somewhat limited minutes, and he’s a guy that hasn’t quite been able to carve out a niche in the league since being taken by the Warriors in the lottery a few years back. He’s incredibly long and athletic, and has shown the capability of scoring a bit from time to time. With the proper tutelage, he’s surely a useful part that could come fairly cheap, as he’s still relatively unproven.
Assuming Paul and Griffin are off the table from a trade standpoint, the only real assets the Clippers have are Jordan and Eric Bledsoe. Bledsoe has one year remaining on his rookie deal, and, if he continues to improve next season, is likely in for a big pay day as someone’s starting point guard when he does hit the market after the 2014 season. In all likelihood, the Clippers are going to lose him after this coming season. If that’s the case, instead of losing him for nothing, they should explore the avenues of a trade.
We heard rumblings around the trade deadline regarding a rumor that involved Jordan and Bledsoe heading to Boston in exchange for Kevin Garnett, but, thankfully, nothing came of it. Not saying the Clippers wouldn’t love to have a player like KG, but it still seems like something better could be had for a package including a pair of useful young players.
Jordan’s contract is the only real hindrance here, as he’s still on the books for two more years at basically $11M per. He’s a capable defender and great shot-blocker, but still can’t hit a free throw to save his life, making him a very risky guy to play down-the-stretch of a close game. VDN often played Odom instead of Jordan in these situations, which, based on Odom’s general lack of production, obviously wasn’t a good thing for the Clippers.
The Clippers could also strike it lucky in the draft, but that doesn’t seem particularly likely. This year’s class is reportedly one of the weakest in years, and L.A. won’t have a pick until No. 25 rolls around. It’s always possible to get lucky with a sleeper, though. But don’t hold your breath.
As long as you have a core of Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, you’re going to be in contention in the West. But the Clippers actually have expectations and aspirations now.
56 win seasons mean nothing if you’re going home after one round of the playoffs. You can make the case that the Clippers had a far more successful season than did the Lakers, but in the end, neither team advanced beyond round one. So, was it actually more successful, or was it just less of a failure?
We’re heading into the most important summer in the history of the L.A. Clippers, and there are tons of questions to be answered. So stay tuned.
About the Author
Written by Taylor Smith
Taylor Smith is a writer for the Los Angeles Clippers.