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Do or Die in LA

It’s the, City of Angels and constant danger
South Central LA, can’t get no stranger
Full of drama like a soap opera”

– Tupac Shakur, To Live and Die in LA

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The LA Clippers, who once were the laughingstock of the NBA, have turned their franchise around.  Since Steve Ballmer purchased them for $2B, they’ve gone from a struggling franchise with some talented players, to a perennial contender: but what is contending without improvement?

Granted, it’s only been two seasons; Doc Rivers (President/Coach) has chosen to keep their Big Three – CP3, Blake Griffin, and DeAndre Jordan – intact, and as a result, they’ve had 50-plus win seasons and made the playoffs.  Still, it’s troubling that the Clippers haven’t been able to make key additions to their roster that might put them over the top.

Doc is widely considered one of the best coaches in the league, particularly due to his ability to connect with players; but as a GM, that same trait is keeping the Clippers in limbo.  His additions are too often players from his previous championship team, the Boston Celtics: Glen Davis, Nate Robinson, Paul Pierce, Brandon Bass, and Jeff Green, who was a 3-month rental, purchased with a first round draft pick.  These are talented players who can contribute to a contending team, but they simply aren’t players that can play minutes at a high level.

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Nov 11, 2015; Dallas, TX, USA; Los Angeles Clippers forward Blake Griffin (32) and head coach Doc Rivers and center DeAndre Jordan (6) and guard Chris Paul (3) during the game against the Dallas Mavericks at American Airlines Center. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Kevin Jairaj – USA TODAY Sports

Doc’s attachments to his former players have turned the Clippers bench into a constant revolving door, with 36 year-old Jamal Crawford being the only constant.  Doc has failed to address the need for a productive bench during his tenure as President, while the starters have consistently been among the top line-ups in the league.  Last year, the line-up of Chris Paul, JJ Reddick, Luc Mbah Imoute was the third best line-up in the league, posting a 5.4 net rating while they shared the floor.  His attachment to his prior/current players makes the team decision-making skewed in regard to his season by season signings: this off-season, he signed Brandon Bass, let go of Jeff Green, and signed Austin Rivers for a 3 yr, $35M contract.

A few years back, the Clippers finally had a viable backup point guard in Darren Collison, who even played well next to Jordan Crawford.  Since then, role players have been difficult to come by.  Doc’s decisions based on his prior team successes hold the team back from getting to the next level, a level where they can compete with other elite NBA teams like the Cavaliers or the Warriors.  They have a solid core, but haven’t been able to obtain reliable role players during the playoffs.  With Chris Paul’s prime rapidly slipping away, and Blake’s compounding injury problems, is it time to break up this core?

espnapi_la_g_clippers_576x324_wmainYet, this is a contending team that is so close to getting over the hump with a piece or two.  Nothing can be done with Doc Rivers’ emotional attachments to his players.  The point is, Rivers is a fine coach, but the role of team president should be dictated by the ability to make sound and unbiased decisions.

Players like Luc Mbah a Moute and Wesley Johnson aren’t the solution at 3 to fill out a top-caliber starting lineup in the West.  It is year three of the Doc Rivers era, but there’s no young talent developing alongside their veteran core.  The team primarily relies veteran signings to bolster their roster each offseason – the same process that the championship Celtics used to support their big 3.  Clearly the Clippers need an infusion of young talent that can help their current core to overtake the Cavaliers and Warriors.

With the Thunder out of the picture, and with the retirement of Tim Duncan, there aren’t very many competitive teams in the championship conversation. The Clippers can be in that conversation if Doc Rivers makes one or two game-changing moves for this team, or if their draft pick Brice Johnson produces, or Austin Rivers and Raymond Felton have career seasons.  Cheers to yet another LA Clippers do-or-die season!

By Jim Mathew