During the summer of 2017, the Los Angeles Clippers effectively ended the days of “Lob City,” signing-and-trading Chris Paul to the Houston Rockets for a package that included Lou Williams, Montrezl Harrell and Patrick Beverley—all three of whom have become vital contributors to today’s Clippers.
Then, midway through that ensuing season, Los Angeles sent Blake Griffin to the Detroit Pistons, leaving only DeAndre Jordan and distant memories of what once was.
Overall, Paul spent six seasons with L.A. During that time, he failed to lead the Clippers past the second round of the playoffs, something that has largely stained his legacy. He would proceed to make his first Western Conference Finals appearance with the Rockets in 2018, but his inability to succeed with a Los Angeles team that many felt was talented enough to make a deep postseason run has, and always will, follow him (barring a championship at some point).
Now, Paul is with the Oklahoma City Thunder, and before the 2019-20 campaign was suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic, he was in the process of leading the young Thunder to a playoff appearance.
But the question is, what if the Clippers never traded Paul? How different would they look right now?
Well, here’s the thing: Los Angeles essentially knew it was going to lose Paul all along. It didn’t want to give him a max contract in 2017, so instead of losing him for nothing in free agency, it opted to work out a sign-and-trade deal with Houston. Remember: Griffin was also a free agent that summer, and the Clippers chose to pay him (before ultimately trading him a few months later).
So no matter how you look at it, there was probably never a real chance that Paul was going to stay in L.A. long term.
But let’s just for a second pretend that the Clips re-signed him three years ago. What would have occurred?
Honestly, the Clippers would be in pretty bad shape right now. Yes, Chris Paul has been great throughout his career and still clearly has quite a bit left in the tank based on his play in Oklahoma City, but he is 35 years old, and he is on a massive contract. We also know that he is very injury-prone.
Let’s also remember that Paul did not exactly see eye to eye with Griffin and Jordan, and his relationship with Doc Rivers wasn’t flawless, either. I’m not sure how much longer that group could have co-existed, and it’s entirely possible that the Clippers would have ultimately moved Griffin at some point during the 2017-18 campaign regardless.
It was also becoming increasingly obvious that Lob City had simply run its course. Los Angeles had been knocked out of the first round of the playoffs in Paul’s last two seasons with the team, largely due to postseason injuries to both CP3 and Blake.
The Clippers best chance probably came in 2015, when they took advantage of an injury-riddled San Antonio Spurs team in the first round and then blew a 3-1 lead to the Rockets in the second round.
After that, L.A. was pretty much done, from both a physical and a mental standpoint.
Even if the Clippers held on to all three of Paul, Griffin and Jordan through 2018, they probably still would have been faced with a first- or second-round playoff exit. They certainly weren’t beating the Golden State Warriors. That’s for sure.
And now? They would be hamstrung by Paul’s contract and would be unable to rebuild. There would be no Kawhi Leonard. There would be no Paul George. The Clips wouldn’t have had the cap room, nor would they have likely had the assets to swing a trade for George in the first place.
Essentially, Los Angeles would have been an absolute mess and would still be in the shadow of the Lakers rather than pulling even with them like they have recently done. At least in the short term.
Realistically, there was really no other option for the Clippers. They had to trade Paul. They were maxed out, and they weren’t good enough to win a championship. Heck, at that point, they probably weren’t even good enough to make the Western Conference Finals, barring injuries to the competition (which was far less likely than injuries to themselves based on their most recent history) or an incredibly strange season in general.
The Chris Paul era in L.A. was definitely an interesting one, but interesting doesn’t win you championships. The Clippers obviously understood that during the 2017 offseason, which was why they decided to move on from Paul and start anew.
Three years later, it seems pretty clear that the Clippers made the right choice, and one can only shudder when thinking about where they would be right now if they decided to bring the band back.