The Los Angeles Clippers, formerly the San Diego Clippers and Buffalo Braves, are currently amidst their best stretch in franchise history. They’ve made the playoffs four seasons in a row and have won 56 games or more during each of the last three years. They’re also known for excitement due to highlight-reel plays and off-the-court soap operas.
It hasn’t always been like this. This is a franchise that went through a lengthy rough spell featuring one winning season (1991-92) in 26 years. You read that correctly. They have a career winning percentage of .389, which is the worst in NBA history. They’ve been to the playoffs just 11 times in their 45-year existence, and even with their recent success, they’ve never advanced past the second round.
By comparison, the Los Angeles Lakers, with whom they share an arena, boast a career winning percentage of .609 (best in NBA history) and have 16 championships.
Because of the Clippers’ struggles, we won’t be too picky regarding the rules of who can crack this list. If a player played more than one season with the Clippers, he’s eligible to be included here. We will also feature three big men, because, well, it’s necessary. Let’s get rolling.
POINT GUARD: Chris Paul
Paul’s presence with the Clippers has done more than provide winning. It has given them a marketable figure. For the first time in their history, the Clippers are a team with appeal, and so much of this is because of CP3. If he remains with them, he’ll likely go down as their greatest player of all-time.
Paul’s accomplishments with the Clippers speak for themselves. He has made the All-Star Game in each of his four seasons with Los Angeles, and in three of those years he earned first-team All-NBA honors.
The fact that he still hasn’t made it past the second round continues to haunt him, but this doesn’t loom large in this conversation when considering that this team has never made it past the second round. Paul is already under the category of “franchise savior” because he’s given this organization a buzz it’s never previously had.
He’s in the thick of his prime and the Clippers are positioned nicely for the future. A playoff run that goes beyond the second round would do a great deal for not only this franchise, but also CP3’s growing legacy.
SHOOTING GUARD: Lloyd Free (World B. Free)
It’s hard to include a guy who only played two seasons with the Clippers, then in San Diego, 35 years ago. But numerous factors led to Free’s inclusion.
First of all, this is the Clippers, not the Lakers. You remember the great ones even if they had one amazing practice.
Secondly, how can you leave a guy off who poured in 30 points per game? He averaged 30.2 during 1979-80 and notched 28.8 in 1978-79. World B. Free had more than just a sweet name (he officially changed his name to World in 1981). He got buckets.
Plus, the man nicknamed “All World” guided the Clippers to their last winning season (1978-79) before the aforementioned drought that only contained one winning season in 26 years. He also made the All-Star game during 1980 and was voted All-NBA Second Team in 1978-79.
The bottom line is that it’s more fitting to include Free than, let’s say, Randy Smith (1971-79). Smith had more quality seasons at the guard position, but they didn’t compare with Free’s two seasons that had exclamation points on them.
SMALL FORWARD: Blake Griffin
You could make an argument for Corey Maggette at this position if you’re looking for a true “small forward.” But I just can’t include Maggette, who never appeared in an All-Star game, and subsequently leave out Griffin or Elton Brand.
Plus, Blake is such an athletic freak that I’m perfectly content sliding him here and having three power forwards in the starting five.
While Griffin is just 26 years old, he has attained more than enough to be highlighted here. In his five seasons with the Clips, he has participated in five All-Star games, the most appearances in team history. He has also made the All-NBA Second Team three times.
He even pieced together this stat line during the recent playoffs: 25.5 PPG, 12.7 rebounds per game, and 6.1 assists per game. This exclaims his value. He’s not just a guy who pours in 20-plus PPG on a horrible team (like some Clipper “greats” of years past). He’s a true stud who, along with CP3, have put this team on the map and produced winning and intrigue.
Griffin should remain one of the game’s premier players for the foreseeable future and solidify his status as a Clipper legend.
POWER FORWARD: Elton Brand
It was a tough call between Brand or Danny Manning, but Brand had perhaps the longest quality stretch with the Clippers in their history. He spent seven years with the club from 2001-2008. He made two All-Star appearances and was voted to the All-NBA Second Team in 2005-06.
Manning did lead the Clippers to a couple playoff appearances in the mid-90’s, and he also notched two All-Star appearances. However, he never won a playoff series, and his individual statistics across the board weren’t as notable.
Brand’s stat line from his best year (2005-06) read 24.7 PPG, 10.0 RPG, and 2.5 blocks per game. During that season, Brand sparked the Clippers to their first playoff series victory in 30 years.
Brand also led the Clippers in Win Shares (per Basketball-Reference) for six seasons. Manning only achieved this once. Brand even ranks second all-time in Clippers history for Player Efficiency rating, only trailing CP3.
Amidst Brand’s tenure with Los Angeles, he helped “brand” (had to go there) the Clippers when they had no branding whatsoever. The success didn’t prove to be sustainable, but he at least led the charge in ending the playoff drought while also supplying the franchise with an elite frontcourt player.
CENTER: Bob McAdoo
McAdoo began his Hall-of-Fame career with the Buffalo Braves (they moved to San Diego in 1978), where he spent the first four and a half seasons of his career. He posted beyond impressive numbers during this time, leading the league in scoring for three consecutive seasons with these averages: 30.6, 34.1, and 31.1. During those years, he complemented his scoring averages with these rebounding figures: 15.1, 14.1, and 12.4.
If anybody was playing fantasy basketball in the 1970’s, McAdoo was a can’t-miss monster.
McAdoo suited up for a variety of teams, including the Lakers late in his career where he won two championships. However, his best individual seasons came with the Braves in the mid-70’s. His unbelievable performance during 1974-75 culminated in him earning the NBA MVP honor.
McAdoo also directed the Braves to the playoffs in three consecutive seasons, where they lost in the conference semifinals each year. His Braves also won 49 regular season games during 1974-75, which held as the franchise record until the recent L.A. squad broke it.
Many forget that the Clippers got their start in Buffalo, and many also forget that McAdoo is etched as arguably the greatest player in this franchise’s history.