The Los Angeles Clippers have long been the face of failure for NBA fans. The franchise has the second lowest win percentage ever (40.3%). Despite this being the team’s 49th season, it has never once won a conference finals.
All of that aside, things have started to look better for Los Angeles in recent years. The lob city trio of Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, and DeAndre Jordan brought a level of excitement to a team that had long been inept. Their stretch from 2011-2017 proved to be their six best seasons ever. Their current win percentage would rank ninth in team history.
The Clippers have potential. They have hope. There are really three primary reasons for optimism going into next season: the Clippers’ front office and staff, the team’s flexible and promising roster situation, and the players around the league who will be free agents or on the trade block this summer.
Front Office and Staff
Steve Balmer has done an excellent job of giving his team every opportunity to become a winning basketball team. Balmer’s bonkers amount of Microsoft money makes going into the luxury tax no issue if needed. He has already agreed to build the team a new arena in Inglewood. The stadium is expected to be completed by 2024 and Balmer will pay for ints entirety out of pocket.
Anyone who has watched the Clippers play have likely noticed Balmer’s fiery Cuban-esque passion displayed on the sideline during games. Unquestionably, Balmer wants to win at all costs.
Balmer has went out and surrounded himself with winners. He poached the legendary Jerry West from the Golden State Warriors to act as a consultant for the team. West is the owner of two NBA Executive of the Year honors. He played a key roll in assembling the Lakers’ showtime ’80s and Kobe/Shaq ’00s dynasties and the current Warriors run of dominance. If anyone can land the players to transform the Clippers into title contenders, it’s West.
Balmer was also able to steal well-respected GM Michael Winger from Oklahoma City a couple of years ago. This past summer he hired longtime Sports Illustrated writer Lee Jenkins as the Executive Director of Research and Identity. The Clippers front office has become one of the best in the NBA.
Throw in future Hall-of-Fame coach Doc Rivers and the Clippers are set. Rivers identifies well with players and has proven he can still consistently win in the modern NBA. Plenty of high profile players would love the opportunity to e coached by Doc.
The Clippers have options—they’re deep and filled with guys on reasonable contracts. By trading Blake Griffin and electing not to bring back DeAndre Jordan, the team has given themselves freedom to chase after whomever player they so choose.
The Clippers can clear up somewhere between $50-60 million in cap space this summer despite key contributors like Danilo Gallinari, Lou Williams, Montrezl Harrell, and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander being under contract. They will have an interesting decision to make when it comes to free-agent-to-be Tobias Harris. Harris has been excellent and will likely command major money this offseason.
Those five guys are the best players on this year’s team. The fact that they have four of them under contract for next year and still have enough money to push for two major free agents is impressive. All of their players’ contracts are trade-able—a feat most teams cannot boast.
The Clippers can offer a free agent an impressive supporting cast, a top notch coach, the Los Angeles lifestyle, and likely the chance to add another free agent as a running mate a la LeBron and Bosh to the Heat in 2010. The talent and affordable contracts on the Clippers roster puts them in a unique situation to potentially capitalize through trade or free agency this summer.
Free Agent and Trade Targets
This summer is very top heavy with star free agents. Luckily for the Clippers, they’re looking to hit big. Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, Klay Thompson, Kemba Walker, and Kristaps Porzingis are some names the team will surely be monitoring.
There has been speculation that Kevin Durant might look for greener pastures next year. No matter how much he wins in Golden State, it will always be Steph Curry’s team. Winning a ring with another team would give him an opportunity to solidify himself as one of the best ever.
Durant would fit nicely next to the pieces the Clippers have in place. Joining the Clippers would also be a great chance for Durant to prove he’s the best in the world with LeBron James across town. The Clippers would have the opportunity to add another max free agent in addition to Durant with some minor maneuvers or they could just pair him with Harris.
Kawhi Leonard was reportedly set on landing in Los Angeles when he demanded a trade last season. In addition to this, it has been reported that he has no interest in sharing the court with LeBron because of his dominating style and presence. Durant and Kawhi would immediately become the best tandem in the league. A team with those two probably jumps Golden State as the title favorites.
Another intriguing option is Klay Thompson. Thompson seems to be content with his situation in Golden State, but the sharpshooter was born and raised in the LA area. Maybe an offer of a bigger role and a chance to return home would be enough to sway Thompson.
Walker and Porzingis are further down the line as potential targets but would still be welcome additions. Walker will have the chance to go wherever he wants as he is an unrestricted free agent. The Hornets have always underperformed and struggled to surround him with talent so maybe he decides to leave town.
Porzingis is restricted but the Knicks might be hesitant to offer him his full max because of injury history. If the Clippers are willing to offer him a fully guaranteed max contract, they might be able to poach the Latvian star.
The other option is signing a star and then trading for another. The Clippers players under contract have great trade value—enough to go out and get somebody meaningful. Would the Trailblazers be open to trading Damian Lillard or CJ McCollum if they do not advance in the playoffs this year? Maybe the Clippers would deal for John Wall or Bradley Beal.
The Clippers have options. If they can get a little luck this summer, they might have a chance to get to their first ever NBA finals sooner rather than later.