While Blake Griffin's injury is a tough blow, it shouldn’t make Clippers dismantle core

Luck is said to be what occurs when preparation meets opportunity. 

But what do you do when it works the other way, and the worst conceivable luck keeps negating all your preparation, and squashing every opportunity? 

That's where the Los Angeles Clippers are, certainly stymied again not only in their unlikely chase for a championship, but also in a less ambitious pursuit -- the search for greater knowledge about themselves, for the purpose of offseason planning. 

Now any opportunity for that complete evaluation has been eliminated, after Blake Griffin suffered a season-ending injury to the plantar plate of his right big toe. 

A stubbed toe seems an appropriate metaphor for this Clippers era, one that has been wildly successful by franchise standards, but has stopped short of a satisfying finish. Griffin's latest injury comes one postseason after he (due to a quad) and Chris Paul (hand) were sidelined during a first-round series loss to Portland, right before a potential showdown with Golden State. And it comes two postseasons after the Clippers overcame the two-game absence of Paul to take a 3-1 lead on Houston in the second round -- then stunningly dropped that series anyway.  

The Clippers, up 2-1 against the Jazz, may survive this series, depending on Rudy Gobert's status for Utah, but won't stick around long against the Warriors in the next round. 

So is this the end of the Clippers as we've known them?

Since they haven't broken through, should they be broken up? 

Not necessarily. 

The questions are reasonable, with Paul and Griffin pending free agents and the Clippers seemingly stuck. Stuck in the Warriors' era, like so many teams were stifled by Magic's Lakers and Bird's Celtics in the 1980s, Jordan's Bulls in the 1990s and LeBron's teams in the past decade. Stuck in a cycle of misfortune. Stuck being good, but not good enough. 

But this is where the Clippers need to be careful. They can't act just to appease those calling for change. 

You don't scoff at sustained success. When you find a combination that consistently wins 50 games, you ride it out. 

When teams act too rashly, they find it hard to get back to good again. The Clippers lived in the lottery for most of three decades. Now they've been a formidable opponent for the past six seasons, largely due to Paul. He has been the primary driver for the franchise's 313-163 record since his arrival from New Orleans, a record that is tied with Oklahoma City -- and ranks behind only San Antonio and Golden State -- during that time. 

Paul is still elite and he should remain the priority, even with the super-max contract making his price seem prohibitive for someone turning 32 next month. Yes, he missed 21 games this season. Yes, his overall averages are down slightly, but that's only because his minutes are, as he's been preserved better; his per-minute averages are right in line with his career marks. He makes teammates better, and reloading around that type of point guard always makes sense, especially when it's necessary to maximize value. 

A case can be made to change the mix around him, to build out the depth of the roster rather than commit something around $70 million to two players. 

That may mean letting Griffin go. 

But again, this isn't because the forward can't stay healthy. A toe injury isn't a sign of sloth in terms of his conditioning. He's stalled statistically, sure, especially as a rebounder, but he is still just 28 and still the top power forward on the market this summer. There's still a chance for growth in his game, something that can't necessarily be said for Carmelo Anthony, who will surely be rumored as a replacement, via trade, due to his relationship with Paul. 

Jordan's subtraction wouldn't make much sense; he's still the sort of defensive anchor that every team seeks, particularly in this era of single big lineups. 

So it wouldn't be a total surprise to see the Clippers bring the group back, and it wouldn't be a shame either. What's a shame is how this played out. Again. 

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