PLAYA VISTA, CA– For the first time in a decade, the Los Angeles Clippers entered media day without any of their franchise cornerstones. With Chris Paul two years removed in Houston, Blake Griffin surprisingly being traded to Detroit early last season and DeAndre Jordan’s free agency departure to Dallas, a new era of Clippers basketball is in full effect.
The Paul, Griffin, Jordan trio reached the playoffs for six straight seasons but never advanced past the second round. “Lob City” brought excitement to an organization that had previously suffered through years of dysfunction. In a city where franchises are judged upon championships, however, the best era of Clipper basketball failed to deliver.
Rather than tank, the Clippers chose to retain a competitive roster complete with accomplished veterans and an infusion of young talent. “In a strange way, in my opinion, this is the healthiest this franchise has been, as far as now and the future,” Clipper head coach Doc Rivers said. “From my vantage point, I love where we’re at right now.”
Jerry West and the Clipper front office rebuilt on the fly, a difficult task in today’s NBA. The Griffin trade brought the Clippers Tobias Harris, Boban Marjanovic, Avery Bradley and a draft pick. Harris averaged a career-best 18.6 points per game last season, including a 24-point performance in his Clipper debut against Chicago. Marjanovic played 20 games for the Clippers and has already become a fan-favorite, thanks in large part to his comical friendship with Tobias Harris.
Together, Bradley and veteran point guard Patrick Beverley form one of the league’s best defensive backcourts- if they can stay healthy. Bradley is recognized as one of the best defenders in the league, but missed 25 games in 2017-18 due to abdominal surgery. Beverly started 11 games in 2017 before injuring his right knee, surgery that sidelined him for the rest of the season. Unfortunately for the Clippers, the injury bug didn’t stop with Bradley or Beverley.
Slashing forward Danilo Gallinari started 21 games and posted over 15 points per contest, before losing the last 61 games to multiple injuries. The Clippers finished 42-40, despite the adversity good for 10th in the Western Conference.
“Even with the injuries, we still competed at a high level every night,” Lou Williams said. Williams won the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year Award in his first season as a Clipper, featuring a career-high, 50-point game in January against the Warriors. He averaged 22.6 points per game and enters 2018 as one of the Clippers top offensive options.
The Clippers swapped picks with Charlotte on draft night, acquiring Kentucky point guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander for Michigan State’s Miles Bridges. Gilgeous-Alexander started 24 games in the college spotlight at Kentucky and averaged over 14 points, five assists and four rebounds.
At six-foot-six, Gilgeous-Alexander showcased his playmaking ability and versatility on the Clippers Summer League team. He led the squad in scoring (19 points per game), snatched over two steals each game and collected 4.8 rebounds. “I definitely feel myself getting stronger,” he said.
One pick later, with the 13th overall selection, Los Angeles picked up Boston College guard Jerome Robinson, forming a new potential backcourt of the future. Robinson dropped 46 points on the road against Notre Dame and posted over 20 points per game throughout his junior season at Boston College.
Young talent and dynamic veterans are enough to keep the Clippers in contention for a fringe playoff spot in the Western Conference, but the organization must lure a star via free agency or trade to compete with the top half of the league.
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) September 20, 2018
Newly acquired Toronto Raptors forward and 2019 free agent Kawhi Leonard is rumored to have the Clippers atop his wishlist of potential destinations, while disgruntled Minnesota Timberwolves star Jimmy Butler recently requested a trade and is linked to possibly landing Los Angeles.
“It doesn’t hurt that L.A. doesn’t have winters,” Williams said of the recent trade buzz. “Basketball-wise we have a very talented group here.” Rivers added, “You’re hearing people say they want to be a Clipper. Whether that’s true or not, it says that from the outside people are viewing this as a good place to be.”
Blake Atwell is a multimedia journalist and sophomore at Santa Monica College.