With less than eight teams remaining in the NBA Playoffs, it means a few “contenders” have already been eliminated from title contention. The offseason is the time for these teams to retool to prepare for deeper runs next season. The Los Angeles Clippers were one of the better teams in the Western Conference all year. They had the talent, the depth and the chemistry; just about everything you need to become a constant contender in the NBA. Yet they found themselves going home after losing in six games to the Memphis Grizzlies.
The Clippers had a record-breaking regular season by their franchise’s standards. They captured the Pacific Division title, won a team-best 56 games and had homecourt advantage in the first round. Since Chris Paul was traded to the Clippers, things have turned around. Along with Blake Griffin, CP3 has transformed the Clippers into L.A.’s best team. However, their performance in the playoffs was disappointing to say the least and now it is back to the drawing board for the Clippers.
For the remainder of the post, I will assume the role of the Clippers’ VP of Basketball Operations Gary Sacks. I will give my suggestions and analysis on who the Clippers should keep, who they should lose, players to target in free agency and the draft.
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KEEP: Chris Paul, Matt Barnes, Ronny Turiaf and Lamar Odom
If the Clippers want to remain near the top of the West, there is one man they definitely need to keep on their roster: Chris Paul. Paul has been a savior of the franchise in only two seasons. CP3 led them to back-to-back playoff appearances and back-to-back winning seasons. Without Paul, the Clippers are just a collection of talented players. With Paul, they are a well-oiled machine, both offensively and defensively. Paul spearheads the team’s effort. While its hard to envision Paul bolting from L.A., it’s on the Clippers to prove that they can put the right players around him in order to keep the Clippers in the title conversation.
One way the Clippers could do this is by re-signing most of their own free agents. The Clippers retooled their roster and built a team to win now. Los Angeles’ second team had one of the best benches in the league last year, players like Jamal Crawford, Eric Bledsoe, Lamar Odom and Matt Barnes were intricate parts of their success. But the Clippers don’t have the money to bring their entire bench back for another season; instead they have to pick and choose who gets to stay. If I was making the decisions, I would choose to keep Odom, Ronny Turiaf and Barnes. Odom provides a constant mismatch on offense, Turiaf brings heart, hustle and energy off the bench, and Barnes brings intensity and defensive effort (he also was the only other player beside CP3 to show up in Game 6 during the playoffs).
LOSE: Eric Bledsoe, Ryan Hollins and Chauncey Billups
The first name on this list is going to cause much debate during the offseason. Eric Bledsoe will not be a free agent this offseason, and when/if he does become one the following summer, he will be a restricted free agent. In actuality the Clippers could not do a thing and hold on to Bledsoe for another season and try to match any offers he gets as a restricted free agent. However, this isn’t the smart business move and with the new CBA and the potential demand for Bledsoe’s services, the Clippers probably wouldn’t have the money to keep him. (Paul pointed this out during their series against the Grizzlies) The best option going forward is to imitate the way the Thunder handled the James Harden situation. Bledsoe had a great season and at times looked like a 6-1 version of LeBron James, and who wouldn’t want any type of LeBron on their team? The Clippers need to shop Bledsoe and try and find a trade partner that has the type of post presence they sorely missed against Memphis.
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Chauncey Billups was a great acquisition for the Clippers after being amnestied by the New York Knicks in 2011. He was relatively cheap and still had a few good years of basketball left in him. However, after suffering an Achilles injury in the middle if the 2012 season, Billups hasn’t been the same. This was most noticeable in the playoffs, where he shot just 30 percent from the field and only averaged 6.2 points a night.
Ryan Hollins was productive in limited minutes for the Clippers last season, but he is also an expendable player — especially with Turiaf and DeAndre Jordan on the roster. His days as a Clipper may be coming to an end soon as other teams in search of a mobile, athletic big man will probably offer him more money to leave.