It might be easy, given the events of this summer, to forget that there are two teams located in Los Angeles. Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, and DeAndre Jordan have all now left the Clippers, and their city rivals have just acquired the best player in basketball, LeBron James. To the naked eye it is the L.A. Lakers who are on the rise, while the Clippers are condemned to remain in their shadow for years to come. However, it appears no one has told them that.
Point guard Patrick Beverley said:
“We are the best team in L.A…. I’ll tell y’all right now, we are the best team in L.A. for sure.”
Thanks to the Clippers PR team, we got an exclusive look at what a number of senior figures within the organization thought about the team’s offseason, and we also got an glimpse of what it has planned for the future. And it all began with the team trading Miles Bridges to Charlotte for Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, prior to drafting Jerome Robinson with the 13th overall pick in the NBA Draft.
Draft picks can be the life-blood of an organization and the Clippers definitely feel like they got their’s right.
Jerry West, Basketball Consultant, said: “We got two good players in the draft and you’re going to love one in particular because he’s going to get a chance to play right away… If Shai got a chance to play on a poor team he’d be right up there for Rookie of the Year. You’re going to like him. Plus he’s a leader. He’s big and competitive as heck and we’re thrilled with him.”
“Shai is a leader and that is probably one of the things we missed most last year, somebody who’s a real leader. Particularly in our backcourt, we have some very talented players. Most of them are sort of two-way guards but he’s a ball-handling guard. He’s a passer. He’s a rebounder. He can score the ball. Regardless of what you’re doing you need someone that’s going to take you to the promised land and I think you’re going to love this kid.”
These thoughts were echoed by the President of Basketball Operations, Lawrence Frank: “Jerome (Robinson) is probably the most complete offensive player in the draft and Jerome is a great story of resiliency and character. What these guys share in common is that they are high character, they are ultra-competitive and they are over themselves. They are about the team.”
Gilgeous-Alexander definitely showed glimpses of what West was referring to in the Las Vegas Summer League, as he became the first player to average at least 19 points, four assists and two steals across a minimum of three appearances.
During the summer, the Clippers took advantage of an underwhelming free agent market to add some much-needed depth at a low price. Montrezl Harrell and Avery Bradley both re-signed with the team on two-year deals. They were also able to add wing depth in Mike Scott and Luc Mbah a Moute on one-year deals. Their only other piece of offseason business was trading Austin Rivers to Washington for Polish center Marcin Gortat. It is felt that these veterans are not just there to fill out the roster, but that they’re there to help the team win now.
Lawrence Frank commented:”When you look at our group, we have great depth. We think Vegas is definitely wrong. I think we are going to put ourselves in a great position to compete for the playoffs. There are very few givens in the Western Conference in terms of who is going to make the playoffs. Very few givens. There are going to be so many teams competing for those spots; we are definitely going to be one of them.”
“With the combination of our veterans and some of our young guys, I think we have a great plan. We have a championship coach in Doc Rivers who did as good of a job as anyone last year in leading a group.”
Patrick Beverley is also optimistic about how the roster lines up in a very competitive Western Conference: “We are going to give our best effort every night and we are making the playoffs. The makeup of our team, the depth of our team, we are fortunate to be playing for a great city like L.A.”
“Team-wise, I want to win a championship. I have been fortunate to be close, I have been fortunate to be around people who have shown me the blueprint.”
Having seen their neighbours make splashes in the free agent market this summer, it is quite clear that the Clippers plan to make a similar statement next time round. This comes after Bruce Bowen was relieved of his duties as TV analyst for the team following critical comments he made about future 2019 free agent Kawhi Leonard. This has lead to many speculating that this was an early move in order to help facilitate the way for a smoother run at Kawhi next summer.
Steve Bullmer, L.A. Clippers owner, only confirmed the team’s plan to land a star at some point in the near future:”We are going to spend whatever it takes (on free agency). We are going to do absolutely what it takes. We are going to find a way to be what we want to be, we are going to find a way to create a future. We are going to find a way to define our own legacy.”
“Right now, we are about winning this year. But, we are planning, we are thinking, we have geniuses working on this stuff, guys like Lawrence Frank, Jerry West, Doc Rivers. We have to do it our own way. We are in a special market with special opportunities.”
Lawrence Frank also said: “Like Steve said, we’re going to be a very, very competitive group, but at the same time we want to maintain our flexibility. Our flexibility for the first time in a long, long time going forward is going to attract not just being able to take care of current players, but to be able to go after some of the best players in the world because the goal is to win championships. So we have put ourselves in a really good position.”
Jerry West is excited about the opportunity to go out a pitch L.A. to NBA superstars: “For the first time in my memory of the Los Angeles Clippers, this team has now flexibility to go after two major free agents and it is up to this organization… They have cleared enough cap space that we can talk to anyone. Whether or not we can convince them to come here will be up to us.”
“Oh my goodness, it’s like taking a great big breath and, finally, we have this elephant off of our back and now we can go out and pitch our franchise, the ownership and what we are trying to do in the future here.”
The NBA cap rises from $94 million to $101 million and then $108 million in 2019 and 2020 respectively. Much like it did in 2016, the cap rise will likely lead to many franchises with unexpected cap room to make it very difficult for those seeking a competitive deal. If we return to a market where Chandler Parsons is a 4-year, $94 million player or Ryan Anderson is worthy of 4-years and $80 million then it is unlikely that the Clippers could afford the three All-Stars they will need to propel them to a championship.
The 2019 free agency class includes Leonard, Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Jimmy Butler and, Klay Thompson. However, the Clippers will not be the only team in L.A., never mind the league, who will be competing for their signatures. It is not us who the organization needs to convince about their vision, but the players if they are to transform this team in just a summer.
It appears that their new additions, by the way of the draft, free agency, and trades, have made this team optimistic they can quietly go about their business under the radar this year. However, what is obvious is that regardless of their record the Clippers hope they will not have to sit on the sidelines and watch LeBron’s Lakers dominate the city for too long. They, too, hope to be the team everyone is talking about next summer.
All quotes used in this article were provided by the Clippers PR team
Featured photo – via Double Clutch illustration