With Blake Griffin's new contract, Clippers avoid collapse and chart a new course
The new-look Clippers might not be as great as they were, but they're certainly more interesting now
Destruction may be a form of creation, but the Los Angeles Clippers didn't have to blow everything up to make something new. Two days after salvaging the Chris Paul situation with a clever trade, the Clippers have reportedly re-signed Blake Griffin on a five-year maximum contract. Considering that there was a real possibility both stars could have walked and left the Clippers reeling, this should be seen as not only a turning point for the franchise, but a victory. Rather than sinking into a rebuild and considering the possibility of trading DeAndre Jordan, Los Angeles will start next season with renewed energy.
Assuming sharpshooter J.J. Redick signs elsewhere, there is little chance that the new-look Clippers will be as successful as they have been for the past few years. They almost certainly won't have any lineups as consistently fearsome as their starters have been since Redick arrived in 2013. That situation, however, had grown stale. When training camp opens, they will have a fresh outlook, perhaps a different playbook and, most importantly, way less pressure.
The questions about whether or not the team will be broken up? Answered. The championship expectations? Gone, at least for now. What is Los Angeles left with? Possibility. Plus a team that might even have some semblance of depth.
From a basketball perspective, Griffin will get to spread his wings the way he never has before. Far from the dunk machine that he was when he entered the league, he has developed into a completely different and significantly better player. The mature Griffin is now one of the most skilled power forwards you'll see, with legitimate point forward skills and a feel for the game that might now be his best attribute. Not only has he become a solid midrange shooter, he took 1.9 3-pointers a game last year and made 33.6 percent of them. Expect that number to go up, and expect him to use his playmaking ability much more now that Paul is out of the picture.
Griffin is not about to turn into LeBron James or Magic Johnson, and I'd be surprised if he dribbled the ball up the court as much as, say, Giannis Antetokounmpo. The way the team is constructed, though, he should be used as a facilitator on most possessions. This might look weird to fans who are used to Paul picking apart opposing defenses, but don't tell me you don't want to see Griffin routinely running pick-and-rolls with Jordan.
There will be some criticism, or at least pessimism, about the Clippers re-signing Griffin for the full five years. Skeptics will point to his injury history and the fact that last season he didn't show the otherworldly athleticism that made him famous. The other side of that, though, is that at 28 he is just entering his prime, and it is possible that we have yet to see the best version of him. Those injuries? Many of them — his staph infection and his broken hand, for example — were freak occurrences that likely won't happen again, and his renowned work ethic means that there is no doubt he will do everything in his power to get back to his former self. If he regains some of his burst, then he could once again be one of the league's best rebounders and most devastating finishers. Combine that with vision, passing and (potentially) 3-point shooting, and you have an MVP candidate, a franchise player and a man most definitely worth the $173 million investment.
As free agency begins, uncertainty abounds when it comes to the rest of the Clippers' roster. It probably does not make sense to have guards Lou Williams, Jamal Crawford and Austin Rivers on the same team. The Orange County Register's Bill Oram reported that Andre Iguodala and Danilo Gallinari are among their targets, even though they'd have to clear cap space to make a run at either of them. Like previous years, Los Angeles' front office does not have a wide variety of tools at its disposal in the summer. Unlike those years, it does have some options. The Paul trade gave the Clippers assets that have real value on the trade market, and the Griffin extension means that they will remain a playoff team that can attract other stars. There's an alternate reality where Los Angeles is the butt of all sorts of jokes right now, with Jordan's 2018-19 player option hanging over the franchise. If the Clippers are indeed cursed, then that curse is working in a rather mysterious way.
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