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Thursday, December 15th, 2011 at 12:11 pm  |  16 responses

Now What?

Chris Paul and the Clippers have a difficult, but promising, road ahead.

by Ryan ZumMallen

By now, we’ve all had time to process the fact that, yes, the NBA has approved the Clippers’ trade for Chris Paul. Yes, the Hornets ended up getting the best deal after all. And yes, the “other” L.A. team has the Lakers shook for the first time since the days of Elton Brand and Sam Cassell.

The Clippers made a power move, plain and simple, in an effort to steal the attention of Los Angeles fans (and in the process, pull the rug out from underneath their Staples Center roommates). This may seem like a very un-Clipper thing to do, but the truth is that they’ve made plenty of attempts at legitimacy in recent years.

Names like Zach Randolph, Baron Davis, Al Thornton, Marcus Camby and Drew Gooden have all passed in and out of Clipperland since 2008. Those were mostly futile, rushed attempts to inject talent into a bad team. By contrast, the Paul trade is far and away the smartest move the Clippers have made in years, and instantly places them in the Western Conference playoff picture. But they also paid dearly for the privilege.

Plainly speaking, the Hornets made out. A franchise in full rebuilding mode with just six players on the roster acquired an expiring contract in Chris Kaman, a promising young forward in Al-Farouq Aminu, a budding superstar in Eric Gordon and an unprotected first round draft pick in a loaded 2012 class. Not a bad way to make a fresh start.

And it does leave the Clippers in a precarious position. Yes, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan will terrorize the rims with Paul at the helm. But then who comes off the bench? Just days ago, they renounced the rights to post players Ike Diogu, Jamario Moon and Craig Smith. Elton Brand ain’t walking through that tunnel. Shoot, neither is Loy Vaught.

And yes, even with losing Gordon to the trade, the Clippers boast a formidable backcourt. They were able to keep point guard Eric Bledsoe and added Caron Butler. But that also leaves Chauncey Billups (acquired after being amnestied by the Knicks, which means the Clippers can’t move him) and Mo Williams (still with two years and $17 million owed). Acquiring Paul will allow them to share minutes at off-guard, but it’s no stretch to declare a backcourt logjam.

Even worse, the trade is a short-term move that seems not to take the long-term into account. At all.

Paul agreed to sign on through 2013, but then the Clippers will be in the exact same situation that the Hornets found themselves in over the past two weeks. Add to that the fact that Griffin’s contract is up at the same time.

Clippers owner Donald Sterling is notoriously thrifty when it comes to contracts, but he’s opened his wallet in the past and could be prepared to do so again—especially when we’re talking about two superstars. But he’ll be limited by the three-year, $24 million deal he just gave Butler and the four-year, $43 million deal he just gave Jordan. Before we even begin to think about filling out a roster, it’s clear that a max deal for Paul and a mega-deal for Griffin may be completely unfeasible. Sterling may be willing to pay, but he definitely won’t be willing to pay a luxury tax that in 2013 will increase exponentially under the new CBA.

That means the Clippers will probably ditch Billups and/or Williams, and still potentially lose Paul or Griffin. Lose Paul, and you traded away five major assets for two seasons with Paul, and nothing in return. Lose Griffin and you’re, well, the Clippers.

But we could be witnessing magic in those two years. The idea of a Paul-to-Griffin alley-oop conveyor belt has already left most NBA fans (sans Laker Nation) drooling onto their laptops. But Jordan may benefit most of all. Last season he led the League in dunks per 100 possessions, and playing with Paul has done wonders for other players: In three seasons playing with Paul, for instance, Tyson Chandler scored 18.9 percent above his career ppg average.

Considering how Paul can bring out the best in young, talented players like Griffin and Jordan, any concerns about the trade can pretty much be tossed out the window (if we’re going to worry about Paul’s knee, we should also acknowledge that Gordon played an average of just 59 games in the last two seasons). Paul simply makes the game easier for his teammates, and it could be enough to keep the team together through a cash-strapped free agent season in two years.

How many times do they beat the Lakers during that span? How deep can they venture into the Playoffs in two attempts? If Paul almost single-handedly snapped every one of the Lakers’ kneecaps by himself in last year’s series, what happens when you team him with two leaping bigs, an all-around scorer and two (streaky, but lethal) shooters? And if they are able to accomplish something special, is it enough to keep the team together when contracts are up?

The sky is now the limit for the Clippers, which is a position that they’re not familiar with. So is fan expectation. Los Angeles is not a city known for its patience (multi-game ticket packages sold out within minutes after the trade was finalized) and fans will want to see results. Like, now.

Still, for all the excitement, there’s still that lurking feeling that hey, these are the Clippers. It wasn’t that long ago that Baron Davis came to town with a parade.

Ryan ZumMallen is a sportswriter for the Long Beach Gazettes. You can find him at @ryanzummallen.

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  • http://slamonline.com Saviour

    Great piece – clearly outlining everything good and bad about this situation – props Ryan.

  • bull22

    the clippers quickly will be a headache in the playoffs for any team..
    after kunpchak’s silly trade, i predict the clippers will have a better season then the lakers.

  • Boss Bailey

    I just want to know how Coach Vinny Del Negro is going to work the rotation? Who starts at the two? And how do you juggle all these backcourt minutes? Will Billups be willing to play the reserve (Sam Cassell with the Celtics) role? What happens when Jordan gets in early foul trouble? No one is mentioning that their two best players both have knee injury history. Don’t get me wrong I love the trade and the possibilities it creates for the league, I just feel there are a lot of answers that need to be addressed considering its a shorter season starting in two weeks.

  • http://www.gazettes.com/sports Ryan ZumMallen

    I totally agree, Boss Bailey. There are a ton of unanswered questions and I’m not sure that the answer is Ryan Gomes off the bench. We don’t know if Del Negro will make the guys buy into a system or whether he’ll just hand the offense over to Paul. Also, their two shooting guards are highly-paid and undersized. Remember, though, the Heat started out 9-9 last season and everyone declared them DOA (that ended up working out ok). It’s going to be fun to watch the Clippers try to figure it out!

  • http://www.optimabbc.be Max

    WHo is their backup center right now?

  • http://shinefluid@aol.com yada

    NOW WHAT? NOW WHAT? SHOWTIME!!! THATS WHAT

  • http://slamonline.com quest

    im pretty sure with all the sellouts the owner may be willing to dip into his pockets a little more. there is no way they lose money imo. if they put the product on the floor they know they can charge high ticket prices in a market like hollywood where people are really taking to the Blake show.

  • Flight

    Well written.

  • G-wiz

    Lov the trade. Stick it to the lakers for the next couple of years and we’ll remember the clippers more than ever.

  • LA Huey

    Clippers won’t be a real contender until they get a real coach. Will Sterling be willing to spend to replace VDN?

  • ripslam

    If I’m Chauncey Billups, I’m mighty pissed right now.

  • Boss Bailey

    Can this roster win 35 games this year? I believe that is the equal to 44 games for a regular 82 game season, I say yes! Does it give them the opportunity to host a first round playoff series? No it does not. I still feel the Lakers, Thunder, Mavericks, and Blazers will be better than the Clippers this year. With the Spurs and Grizzlies right there in contention as well. Anything less than a 5th seed should be considered a disappoint if I’m a Clippers fan.

  • Darrell

    This is like marrying a Kardashian. I’m sure it’ll be a wild ride for a little while, but soon enough (2 years for the Clippers) you’ll be left with nothing. The thing that hurts the Clippers are that they are the Clippers. I’m not worried about my Lakers. Who’s gonna guard Kobe? A 35 year old 6’3″ Billups?

  • jdn41

    Darrell-Whos gonna guard cp3 a 38 year old derek fisher? and whos gonna come off the bench for you guys this year? the rookie getting drafted in the late round at next years draft? Lakernation should be very worried

  • http://www.triplejunearthed.com/dacre Dacre

    So… how many guys will want to play Clippers versus Heat on Xbox Live??? I’m over it all ready.

  • neaorin

    Great piece, but this should make it even more obvious that the Clippers wouldn’t have been able to resign Eric Gordon if they kept him out of the deal. It’s already difficult enough to resign everybody as it is. Meanwhile Bledsoe has a lot of upside and they are paying him peanuts for the next three years.

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