The Lob City Clippers from the 2010s completely changed the future of the franchise for decades to come. In just a few years, they finally landed superstar players, got rid of the worst owner in sports, and began developing a winning franchise. He may have only played two seasons with the Los Angeles Clippers, but Caron Butler played a significant role in helping to jumpstart the franchise.
Coming off an NBA championship as well as a right patellar tendon rupture, Butler decided to come play in Los Angeles, a place he wanted to put down roots for his post-NBA life. Butler previously played in LA for the Lakers, but this time elected to sign with the Clippers, a team he saw the potential to help mentor and contribute to towards the end of his NBA prime.
The 2011 NBA champion joined ClutchPoints’ Battle for LA Podcast with Tomer Azarly and Ryan Ward earlier this month, where he really opened up about his time with the LA Clippers, what went wrong, and much more.
“At the end of the day, I knew that I wanted to go back to Los Angeles and live and have a life after basketball and I was preparing for that always,” Butler said on the podcast. “That was a great chance for me to still be in somewhat in the prime of my career where I was able to play, I was able to still get some traction on the court that would eventually get me some traction off the court and I just took full advantage of that.
“I was just like, ‘This is a golden opportunity, some young talent, I can help these guys. Blake [Griffin], DeAndre [Jordan], I can pour into these individuals and really help them.’ I didn’t know the Chris Paul thing would possibly happen and all of a sudden we would become an elite team, so it was just a great time for us.”
The formation of the Lob City Clippers was wild in that it almost certainly wouldn’t have happened if not for then-commissioner David Stern. Stern infamously vetoed the Lakers-Hornets trade that would’ve paired Chris Paul up with Kobe Bryant. His reasoning was that then-GM Dell Demps wasn’t getting nearly enough back in the trade, and that an owner wouldn’t approve of trading their future Hall of Famer like Paul away for anything other than a sizable package.
Not long after that, news broke that the Clippers had agreed to a blockbuster trade for Paul.
Most NBA fans have seen the famous Lob City video after a team practice, where Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, and other players reacted to the news that the four-time All-Star was heading to Los Angeles.
“This is when Lob City was created,” Caron Butler recalled. “When I heard that the Lakers trade for Chris Paul was vetoed, his other destination was that he wouldn’t mind going to the Clippers, I was talking closely. You know, we’ve uhh … We’ve got a lot of mutual friends and folks in that circle. [In the video], I heard that he was coming to the Clippers and I was just waiting on the news to break. That’s why in that epic video you saw me on the phone while everybody else was jumping around. I was actually talking to my brother, Chris, saying get the camera away from me because I already knew that the deal was in motion and he was coming. I was excited about the whole thing. That’s when Lob City was created. That’s when the culture had changed for the Los Angeles Clippers.”
The transition from a mediocre and constantly rebuilding franchise to championship contender appeared to be a smooth one, at least throughout the regular season. The Clippers went 40-26 in the 2011-12 lockout season, Paul’s first with the franchise, and won a then-franchise record 56 games in 2012-13.
The Spurs, Thunder, Lakers, Grizzlies, and Clippers all had solid teams, but none were unbeatable. On paper, those Clippers teams should’ve at least reached a conference finals in a West that didn’t really have a clear-cut title contender at the top. Whether it was injuries or inconsistencies, however, they faltered in the postseason repeatedly.
“I think that the second year, that was the best Clippers team ever and we should’ve really competed for a championship that season,” Butler conceded. “I feel like what happens is that sometimes people overthink chemistry and you start tying to do favors and look out after people’s guys and friends. Then all of a sudden, the chemistry that once existed is taken away. That’s what happened with that ball club. I think that egos played a huge part of it and I think that Chris, Blake, DeAndre — all close friends now — definitely will tell you that back then, it was just a lot of immaturity. If everybody would’ve got out their own way, including myself, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t have been more successful.”
Prior to the Kawhi Leonard, Paul George-led Clippers, the best Clippers roster was likely the 2012-13 team. The team was able to surround Paul, Griffin, Jordan, and Butler with Jamal Crawford, Matt Barnes, Chauncey Billups, Eric Bledsoe, and Lamar Odom. The future looked especially bright for them during an unbeaten December of 2012, as the Clippers ran off a whopping 17-game winning streak.
Unfortunately, Griffin suffered an ankle injury in the latter half of the first-round series against the grit-and-grind Grizzlies. The Clippers ended up dropping four in a row after taking a 2-0 series lead.
“I felt like we had everything in place and it was just immaturity,” Caron Butler added. “I felt like a lot of guys now, after you go through the hardships, you understand that longevity isn’t so long. You look at it like, ‘Damn, you know what … We just crapped out on a fixed hand. This was a great opportunity and we just like just threw it away. Just forfeited the whole thing,’ and that’s unfortunate.”
Does every member of the team feel that way about that era of Clippers basketball?
“100%. Absolutely. Chauncey was a perennial All-Star. He got a championship, Finals MVP, he’s done it already, so it’s not gonna hurt him. With me, everything that I wanted to do in basketball, I did. I got me championship, multiple All-Stars, all that stuff.
“When you look at the legacies of some of these players, you’re gonna look back at your basketball shelf life and be like, ‘Damn, what team did I realistically have the best shot at capturing the title with?’ Matt Barnes was able to go to Golden State and get one and be part of that run. Chris Paul, when you look at Houston, the injuries to himself, all the what ifs, but where he was in total control was with the Clippers. They could’ve been dominant for years and it’s probably gonna eat away at him like, ‘Damn, what actually could’ve happened if we would’ve just kind of gotten out of our own way a little bit and kind of made that work.'”
The consensus among Clippers players who were a part of the Lob City era, whether it be Caron Butler, Chris Paul, Jamal Crawford, JJ Redick, Doc Rivers, or whoever else, is that even though the franchise made incredible strides away from inadequacy, there was a lot left on the table.
You can listen to the full podcast with Caron Butler on:
Apple: Battle for LA Podcast
Spotify: Battle for LA Podcast