In 35 seasons, the Los Angeles Clippers have never won an NBA title. That’s about to change. Well, at least it seems so. The Clippers might be closer than ever before now that they’ve went out and picked up the biggest prize in this year’s free agency class.
Yes, Clippers fans thought their team might make a championship run during the “Lob City” days with Blake Griffin dunking all over the place, and Chris Paul and DeAndre Jordan rounding out the club’s version of the “Big Three.”
As exciting as that stretch was with Griffin, Jordan and Paul, the Clippers never made it past the second round of the playoffs, a steep disappointment for a franchise long mired in mediocrity long before these players showed up to play in Staples Center.
For six seasons, Griffin, Paul and Jordan led the Clippers into postseason runs, flirting regular success with playoff apathy. The Clippers went into rebuild mode, shipping off the three players chiefly responsible for turning the franchise around from being kicked around as the city’s “junior varsity team” into being considered as bonafide championship material.
When that pipe dream fizzled, the front office of the Clippers didn’t panic, but went to work to upgrade their roster into a serious title-contending squad. That strategy looks effectively brilliant now that the Clippers managed to have 2019 NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard buy into what they are trying to do. The Clippers weren’t finished with their day after the Fourth of July fireworks.
Landing regular season MVP candidate Paul George in a trade with the Oklahoma City Thunder made their day. That deal may have also altered the NBA power structure landscape for years to come. But what this unforeseen move does is put the Clippers at the top of the food chain of championship contenders.
When the Los Angeles Lakers picked up forward Anthony Davis in a trade from the New Orleans Pelicans, it was widely speculated that the Purple and Gold was looking to solidify their roster with a third superstar. That guy happens to be Leonard, a two-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year honoree.
The Clippers pumped the brakes on that notion and reportedly came to an agreement with Leonard, a sound defeat for their crosstown rivals. So instead of brandishing off a potential dynasty, the Lakers now must contend to go up against the very player they desperately wanted and could not get.
With the agreement in place, the Clippers just served notice to the rest of the NBA that they are not taking a backseat to anyone, especially to the Lakers. The Lakers whiffed on getting the mercurial forward/shooting guard Kawhi Leonard.
The Clippers did not. Now rest of the league must contend with dealing with perhaps the best defensive wing trio in the NBA with Leonard partnering up with George and point guard Patrick Beverley, whom the Clippers re-signed this summer.
Making sure they did not mess up their chance to nab Leonard by agreeing to a reported three-year, $103.1 million deal, the Clippers took a bold step in trading away young Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and getting rid of a whole bunch of draft picks to add George to the roster. A lot of people didn’t see this coming.
But then again, when you have The Logo (Jerry West), team general manager Lawrence Frank, and coach Doc Rivers making moves behind the scenes, the Clippers were determined not to let this chance to continue to move up on the NBA power team ladder get by them. People used to laugh at the Clippers. They aren’t laughing anymore. And they won’t be for a while.
In getting Leonard, who just completed his eighth season in the league, the Clippers are getting a two-time NBA champion and a two-time NBA Finals MVP. And he’s just 27. If you throw in the acquisition of George, the Clippers now boast of having the best wing players in the league.
George, who is scheduled to make just a little over $33 million during the upcoming 2019-2020 NBA season, gives Leonard and the Clippers some serious backup. Since coming into the NBA as a rookie with the Indiana Pacers in 2010, all George has done is develop into one of the more exceptional two-way players in the league, earning a membership on the NBA’s All-Defensive team four times in his nine seasons.
As he made a run for MVP honors last season, George averaged 28 points and just over eight rebounds a game for the Thunder. Leonard went for 26 points a game during the regular season, but stepped it up in the postseason, averaging 30 points and 9 rebounds a game in leading the Toronto Raptors to their first NBA title.
Just like that the power grab in the Western Conference as well as in the NBA shifted dramatically. It looks like the Clippers just proved they are not anyone’s junior varsity squad, as alluded to by ESPN analyst Jalen Rose. This looks a first-class NBA franchise rising to the moment.
What the pickups of Leonard and George mean to the Clippers is that the Lakers won’t be sure-fire walk-ins to the NBA Finals for the next couple of seasons. The second thing it does is give the Clippers their own brand of star power that will generate headlines, and possibly a strong run every year for a title for years to come. In one fell swoop, the Clippers effectively re-branded themselves as perennial championship contenders and not as habitual pretenders.
I write about sports, racial and social justice, culture, and everything else in between. Beat writer for the Rams, Chargers, Lakers, and Clippers. Part of the inaugural Associated Press Sports Editors Diversity Fellowship class. Howard University alum.