The Los Angeles Clippers’ season ended in disappointment yet again, leading some to wonder whether Doc Rivers would make drastic moves this summer. But Rivers stayed the course by bringing the band back together (mostly) while also adding depth to a roster that should be one of the most talented in the NBA in 2016-17. How did Doc do?
1. Best move of offseason
Jared Mintz: While I want to say adding a facilitating backup point guard by signing Raymond Felton was the Clippers’ best move of the offseason, I’m going to go outside of the box and say not trading Blake Griffin was Doc Rivers’ best decision this summer.
Sure, the Clippers showed that they could still play at an incredibly high level without their All-Star power forward last season, but there’s no way Rivers would’ve been able to get close to equal value back for Griffin, and the team’s ceiling is unquestionably higher with Griffin than without him. In what might turn out to be both Paul and Griffin’s last season in Los Angeles, it’s better to have them together than to have traded away the most talented player Paul’s ever been paired with.
Kelly Scaletta: I’m going to go with the combination of adding Marreese Speights and Brandon Bass to come off the bench. Unlike last summer when there was a lot of overblown hype about the Clips becoming a deeper team, they legitimately pulled it off this year. It’s not going to be great defensively, but it’s a big upgrade offensively from last year’s group. The new frontcourt pairing fits well together, with Marreese being able to “Speights” the court and Bass being a threat at the rim (66.7 percent last year).
Jason Patt: I’ll echo Jared’s thoughts on not trading Blake Griffin, and also expand that to say it was best for Doc Rivers to not trade any of his stars. I understand the Clippers haven’t gone past the second round with this core, but it’s been because of some pretty wild circumstances and they should have a great chance to finally do it in 2016-17. And while they aren’t the favorite in the West, an injury to a key Warrior could change that, so keeping this group together gives them an opportunity to take advantage of something like that.
2. Worst move of offseason
Jared: It was understandably important to keep Jamal Crawford around for his scoring relief, but giving him a three-year deal worth $42M doesn’t smell very good. At 36 years old, Crawford’s incredibly one-dimensional, and despite winning Sixth Man of the Year last season, his game isn’t overly unique as an inefficient volume scorer who isn’t particularly accurate from deep.
Again, Crawford’s scoring off the bench is useful for the Clippers, but seeing him get paid more than other possibly more impactful free agents like Courtney Lee, Joe Johnson and Eric Gordon (and probably J.R. Smith when he finally signs) doesn’t feel like much of a bargain.
Kelly: Extending Austin Rivers. There are two players in the history of the NBA with 5,000 minutes and a lower PER and Defensive Box Plus-Minus than Rivers: Kareem Rush and Daequan Cook. At best, Rivers is a fringe NBA player who offers little on offense or defense. There’s an illusion he got better last year, but if that’s true, it’s only in the degree of how bad he was. Only four players in the league had a worse ORPM and DRPM and none of them had more than 750 minutes. And not that this should be said, but none of them inked a three-year, $35 million contract either. Score one for nepotism.
Jason: I know the Clippers didn’t have much flexibility, but giving Jamal Crawford and Austin Rivers a combined $57 million over three years isn’t great, even in the new cap climate. Crawford can still get buckets, but he’s not as good as his rep and is only getting older, although on a positive note the third year of his deal is only $3 million guaranteed. Rivers did show some improvement last season, but nearly $12 million a year for a mediocre-at-best bench guard is a bit much. While these deals aren’t killers, they still don’t look that good.
3. Offseason grade
Jared: C+. At the end of the day, the needle wasn’t moved too far in either direction for the Clippers this offseason. I suppose this is a good thing seeing how this core has given Los Angeles one of the five best teams in the league over the last few seasons, but at the same time, it feels like they needed an extra weapon if they wanted to get past the Golden State Warriors. It’s unfair to compare every other team and their offseason to Golden State, but if the Clippers want to go further than they’ve been, they needed to make a bigger splash this summer.
Kelly: B-. I think they did improve. I don’t think they improved enough to get past the Warriors. But they have a real shot of at least making it to the Western Conference Finals now. Having a little depth helps a lot when it comes to resting players and having regular-season success spill over into the playoffs. CP3 and company won’t have to watch as many leads evaporate.
Jason: B. The Clippers kept their core intact and added some bench pieces that should help in Raymond Felton, Brandon Bass, Marreese Speights and Alan Anderson. That’s a plus. The lucrative contracts for Jamal Crawford and Austin Rivers lessen this grade a bit, but overall the offseason has shaped up to be an adequate one.
4. Early prediction for 2016-17
Jared: Sometimes a team’s improvement has less to do with what they’re doing and more to do with what’s happening around them. Fortunately for the Clippers, both the Oklahoma City Thunder and San Antonio Spurs should take big steps back this season, opening up room at the top of the Western Conference for “Lob City” to challenge the Warriors. The Clippers have the highest floor of every team in their conference besides the Warriors, and could even be in the conversation for top three teams in the league this season.
Again, with both Paul and Griffin able to hit free agency next offseason, plus the bad taste in both of their mouths from the way last season ended, I think the Clippers finish second in the West at 58-24 before ultimately losing to the Warriors in the Western Conference Finals.
Kelly: 57-25 and a proper trouncing in the Western Conference Finals. That’s more about Golden State than the Clippers, though.
Jason: Counting out the San Antonio Spurs is probably silly, but this really should be the year the Clippers stake their claim as the second-best team in the Western Conference and advance to the Western Conference Finals. Los Angeles can’t hang with a healthy Golden State squad, but at least making it to the WCF would be a nice step and it could lead to the core staying together even longer.