The story will always be told of how the Clippers possibly shortened their chance at their first championship years ago when they traded an unprotected, 2011 first-round pick to the Cleveland Cavaliers, a gem that later evolved into Kyrie Irving. While the soon-to-be “Lob City” squad did eventually trade for Chris Paul in efforts to pair someone with Blake Griffin and even DeAndre Jordan, the same could’ve been done if the front office had simply held firm in their regards to that Irving-pick.
Apart from that, let’s look at the dilemma the Clippers were faced with at that time. The experiment of a Baron Davis-Blake Griffin duo didn’t live up to the hype during its first season. Davis was entering his 30’s and seemed hobbled at every turn of his stint with the Clippers. Becoming desperate to compete with Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers, the Clippers front office decided to find a salary-dumping trade for Davis, one that ultimately cost them Irving.
How much was Irving, in hindsight, worth to the Clippers organization? According to Davis’ then-contract, about $35 million with the time that remained on his five-year, $65 million contract he signed with the Clippers.
It may not be the worst trade in history, but being able to say that you traded Baron Davis and Kyrie Irving (more so the Irving portion) for a decent guard in Mo Williams doesn’t say much.
Where the Clippers were able to make up for the horrible trade was their next move in acquiring then-New Orleans Pelicans guard Chris Paul. Now, to make this a bit more transparent, let’s observe what exactly the Clippers gave up to obtain the ten-time All-Star.
The Pelicans received: Eric Gordon, Chris Kaman, Al-Farouq Aminu and a 2012 unprotected first-round pick via the Minnesota Timberwolves along with two second-round picks; the Clippers received Chris Paul. That 2012 pick the Clippers shipped off later turned into Austin Rivers.
The case that can be made, and could’ve very well materialized, is the failed-attempt by the Clippers to retain at least the Irving-pick they shipped off to Cleveland while also pulling off the trade for Chris Paul. The Clippers could’ve actually navigated that salary dump to the Pelicans, opting to trade Baron Davis, the Minnesota pick, along with Eric Gordon and Al-Farouq Aminu. The eventual pick that was Rivers still lands with the Pelicans along with most of what they actually traded for. Furthermore, if the Pelicans opted for the same route as the Cavaliers did, they would’ve likely waived Davis shortly afterwards.
Back in LA, this would’ve paired Chris Paul with Blake Griffin that season, with Irving soon to arrive in the following season. Though they also had Jordan, this surely would’ve formed a legitimate Big 3 in LA with Paul, Irving and Griffin. The Lakers had since started to materialize their own idea of a Big 3 compiled of Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash and Dwight Howard, though two of the three were further along in their careers and out of their primes. The Clippers could’ve struck with a tantalizing trio led by Paul, who was only 26 at the time and entering his prime. Griffin had a sensational rookie campaign during the 2010-2011 season, averaging 22.5 points along with 12.1 rebounds per game, granting him the Rookie of the Year award.
During his first season with the Cavaliers, Irving averaged 18.5 points and 5.4 assists while connecting on 46 percent of his shots from the field. He, like Griffin, was also the recipient of the Rookie of the Year award for the 2011-2012 season. Irving then went on, with the help of LeBron James, to accomplish something that the Clippers still to date haven’t been fortunate enough to achieve: win a championship.
In today’s game of positionless basketball, picturing Irving alongside Paul isn’t a hard sell. The Clippers did begin their act with Paul playing beside Chauncey Billups who was also a guard. The Clippers could’ve possibly secured one of the deadliest backcourts in NBA history, while also having an all-around talent in Griffin showing up the frontcourt with a defensive anchor in Jordan. The Clippers finished fifth in the Western Conference during Paul’s first year, and never were able to get over the hump during his time in Lob City.
Griffin has since been shipped off to the Detroit Pistons after signing a five-year, $175 million max extension with the Clippers shortly before being traded. Paul was also dealt to the Rockets as the Clippers looked to reform once more and take aim at ruling the Western Conference.
He now resides with the Oklahoma City Thunder, a squad that he saw his share of postseason troubles against with the Clippers. All the while, the most coveted piece of them all in Irving now looks to compete for another championship beside his close friend Kevin Durant with the Brooklyn Nets, while the Clippers have wrapped up what’s concluded as another dysfunctional season.