January 30, 2018, 2:05 pm
OPPONENT: Los Angeles Clippers
RECORD: 25-24 (14-11 at home, 7-3 last 10 games)
MEASURABLES: 107.0 offensive rating (10th), 106.4 defensive rating (17th), +0.6 net rating (14th)
WHEN, WHERE, HOW TO WATCH: 10:30 EST, Staples Center (Los Angeles), TNT
Lob City is officially dead. Seven months after trading Chris Paul to the Houston Rockets and re-signing Blake Griffin to a five-year, $171 million contract, the Los Angeles Clippers ultimately decided to move on from both of the superstars that ushered in the most successful era of franchise history.
Take what you’ve come to know about the Clippers over the past half decade and forget about it. DeAndre Jordan is the only key player remaining from frustratingly consistent teams that always seemed a legitimate championship contender but never lived up to that reputation in the postseason. Los Angeles, with Monday’s blockbuster trade of Griffin, Willie Reed and Brice Johnson to the Detroit Pistons for Tobias Harris, Avery Bradley, Boban Marjanovic and first- and second-round draft picks, has turned over an incredible 13 of its 15 roster spots since the end of last season. Just Jordan and Wes Johnson remain, and ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reports that the Clippers will continue mulling trades for both their All-NBA center and Lou Williams, new offensive alpha dog, before the February 8 deadline.
Clippers will continue to discuss contracts extensions at the right price, while engaging teams in trade talks on DeAndre Jordan and Lou Williams. They'll try to do a hard thing in the NBA: Rebuild on the fly with younger players/picks, without gutting roster. https://t.co/YyuXMFR9Mg
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) January 30, 2018
Note that Los Angeles is supposedly considering contract extensions with Jordan and Williams, too, but maintains the big-picture goal of acquiring valuable assets – on the court and in the front office – while remaining competitive. The notion has always been that Steve Ballmer and Doc Rivers were too prideful to initiate a full-scale rebuild, and that’s apparently still the case after jettisoning both of their franchise players in just more than half a calendar year.
Not every team can be the Boston Celtics, though. An effort to threat the needle between bottoming out and going for broke is far more likely to result in sustained mediocrity than a steady ascent back to title contention. Trading Griffin was in part about replenishing a near-empty trove of future draft picks, but the lone first-rounder the Clippers received from the Pistons – protected 1-to-4 through 2020 before losing all its restrictions in 2021 – doesn’t come close to approximating the league-changing haul Boston received from the Brooklyn Nets in exchange for Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce in 2013. There’s no Jaylen Brown on the imminent horizon for Los Angeles, let alone Jayson Tatum or the likely top-five pick heading to Boston in either of the next two drafts.
Danny Ainge nabbed Kyrie Irving with an All-Star point guard, an efficient, two-player on a bargain contract and a highly-desired lottery pick. Los Angeles’ best theoretical trade package, with Jordan (player option), Williams and Bradley on expiring contracts, isn’t anywhere near that level. Ballmer can dream all he wants about bringing LeBron James to the other home locker room in Staples Center, but it’s hard to imagine the four-time MVP signing with a team that can’t win now and isn’t set up to win later.
The Clippers’ organizational crossroads comes after the Portland Trail Blazers might have avoided one of their own. Portland enters Tuesday’s action against new-look Los Angeles with an 11-6 record since falling to .500 on December 22nd, success mostly predicated on offensive efficiency the team sorely lacked over the season’s first three months.
Those strides should pay off against the Clippers, who will be without the injured Bradley and likely Harris and Marjanovic on Tuesday night. Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum should have a field day against Milos Teodosic and Williams, who form arguably the worst defensive backcourt in basketball among starters. Tyrone Wallace and Sindarius Thornwell are far better suited to keep the Blazers’ star guards in check, but it’s tough to imagine a two-way player and rookie second-rounder providing enough of an offensive punch for Rivers to play them a lion’s share of minutes.
Danilo Gallinari has been upgraded to questionable against Portland after missing his team’s past 25 games with a hip injury. When fully healthy, he stands to be one of the biggest beneficiaries of Griffin’s absence, though the same positional redundancy that plagued the Clippers before still does given the addition of Harris, another tweener better suited for power forward. Jordan is back in the lineup again, and should be more motivated than ever playing his first game as Los Angeles’ only All-Star. This is another great opportunity for Jusuf Nurkic to prove he’s overcome an early-season funk.
Jordan’s extra emotional jolt is one Portland should expect from Los Angeles en masse. It’s almost routine for teams that have just traded away a franchise player to perform over their collective head in the ensuing game, and it’s certainly a possibility the Clippers do just that. They’ve fought adversity all season long to stay in the playoff race, only to have their best player traded away to initiate what the front office swears isn’t a rebuild. Expect Los Angeles, short-handed and all, to come out with aggressive energy on Tuesday night.
Regardless, this is a game the Blazers should win, and one that’s important considering they have back-to-back road games against the Celtics and Toronto Raptors early next week. The Clippers’ new reality is a boon for Portland in both the short- and long-terms. It gives Terry Stotts’ team a better chance for victory on the road, and weakens – and could potentially completely eliminate – one of the four competitors for the three final playoff spots in the Western Conference.
It’s imperative the Blazers take full advantage, beginning on Tuesday at Staples Center.