Are The Los Angeles Clippers Too Old?

The Los Angeles Clippers are primed to compete for a championship in the upcoming season, but what about after that?

As Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan enter what should be the primes of their careers, the young talent that the Clippers have is slim. The lack of young talent makes the future of the franchise a bit unknown after the near future.

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Let’s be clear about one thing: No team in the NBA has a set future. Unforeseen things happen, and that’s why we follow the game so vigorously. Remember when the Oklahoma City Thunder made the 2012 NBA Finals and that was supposed to be the beginning of a potential ten-year run of Finals appearances? One James Harden trade and a few unfortunate injuries later, they haven’t returned to the Finals since and even missed the playoffs last year. If things played out how we projected them to, the Portland Trail Blazers probably would’ve won a title by now behind the core of Greg Oden, LaMarcus Aldridge, and Brandon Roy (sorry for the reminder, Portland).

It’s impossible to know what will happen in the future because anything can happen. Maybe a career-jeopardizing injury happens, maybe a few stars don’t mix and somebody has to go, maybe players don’t progress as they’re projected to. Anything can happen.

May 17, 2015; Houston, TX, USA; Los Angeles Clippers guard Austin Rivers (25) drives to the basket during the fourth quarter against the Houston Rockets in game seven of the second round of the NBA Playoffs at Toyota Center. The Rockets defeated the Clippers 113-100 to win the series 4-3. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

That said, front offices can plan for success in the future and the most simple way to do so is to collect young talent and have salary cap flexibility. The Clippers currently have only four players on the roster that will be 25 years old or younger when the season begins on the team: Lance Stephenson (25), C.J. Wilcox (24), Austin Rivers (23), and Branden Dawson (22). None of these players will be starters next season and Wilcox and Dawson will likely only play sparingly this season.

With Monday’s signing of Chuck Hayes, the roster is at the maximum capacity of 15. If the Clippers want to acquire a player, somebody must be waived or traded. The average age of the current Clippers roster when the season begins on October 28th is 28.9 years old, which would’ve ranked as the fourth-oldest team in the NBA last season. When accounting for Cole Aldrich‘s birthday just three days after the season begins, the Clippers would’ve been tied for the second-oldest team in the NBA according to last season’s rosters.

Perhaps more importantly, the Clippers ranked dead last in the NBA among ESPN’s ranking of young cores. Not only do the Clippers lack young players on the roster, they lack young players who have shown they can be productive in the NBA. The lack of youth on the roster could be problematic in a few years.

Since being named Senior Vice President of Basketball Operations in addition to his head coaching duties in the summer of 2013, Rivers has shown he has a penchant for signing veterans on the back-end of their careers to fill out his roster as opposed to younger players who can grow into a role with the team and eventually be steady contributors. Rivers also has been doomed by his team’s own success and what it took for the Clippers have drafted no higher than 25th overall in the three drafts that Rivers has been with the organization. The team was without a first round pick this year because the Clippers had to trade away their first-round pick to the Boston Celtics in order for Rivers to become head coach of the Clippers.

Look at some of the more recent successful teams and the young players they had to complement the team and play a role. Trevor Ariza wasn’t very highly thought of when he was a 22-year old who was traded to the Los Angeles Lakers for only Brian Cook and Maurice Evans. Ariza eventually became a starter and key contributor to the Lakers NBA title in 2009. Danny Green‘s career seemed destined to be a brief one after being waived by the Cleveland Cavaliers after playing in only 20 games in his rookie season. Green was signed by the Spurs and sent back and forth to the D-League before growing and developing into a larger role with the team that so far is highlighted by setting the NBA Finals record for three-pointers in a series while the Spurs won it all against the Heat in 2014. Before this season, Draymond Green wasn’t on most experts’ radars for being an x-factor for a title team but after years in the system, he developed into an outstanding player who compliments the stars of the team perfectly.

Finding the next Ariza, Danny Green, or Draymond Green isn’t easy work. It takes the right player, the right skill-set, the right coaching staff, and the right vision of the front office to find and develop those players into high-level role players. You might even be able to say DeAndre Jordan fits those same qualifications as a non-first round player who developed in a way to make life easier for the stars around him. Jordan is a paint protector in a way that Blake Griffin is not and Jordan has learned how to be efficient on pick-and-rolls with Chris Paul. With how it’s paid off for the Clippers (and Jordan), the Clippers should be able to recognize the importance of developing young players.

The Clippers don’t really have that on the roster right now. Could Austin Rivers develop into Jamal Crawford‘s role as Crawford ages out? Maybe. Could Wesley Johnson be the Clippers own version of Ariza, a “3 and D” wing? Unlikely, but not impossible. Regardless, the Clippers should look into giving the end-of-the-bench roster spots to young players with upside as opposed to the veteran with not much left in the tank route that the team has taken the last few years.

This isn’t to say players like Pablo Prigioni or Chuck Hayes can’t give you some decent minutes when called upon, but what’s the upside? The team has collected washed up veterans like Danny Granger, Hedo Turkoglu, Antawn Jamison, Dahntay Jones, Jordan Farmar, and Lamar Odom over the past few years. Instead of being the place where careers go to die, why not attempt to be the place where careers begin? Even if you miss out on a player, it’s not like you’re giving up anything more than a roster spot for someone who will seldom see the court with the team. Take a lottery ticket on a guy and develop him.

The Clippers are perfectly fine for now and if they mortgage the future for a successful run at an NBA title, it will have been well worth it. The NBA has shown us time and time again that front offices that are wise in sculpting the future are the keys to sustained success in the NBA. The Spurs are the model NBA franchise because of their sustained success due to constantly changing with the league and a commitment to developing players from within. Sure, a little help by lucking into Tim Duncan certainly helped but Duncan wouldn’t have five championships without the franchise’s commitment on developing Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker, Danny Green, and a few others to complement their legendary power forward.

With the core of Paul, Griffin, and Jordan locked into for at least the next two seasons, the Los Angeles Clippers are in good shape for now. With that said, the team could use a couple young players on the bench to develop into impact players later on in order to sustain the team’s success beyond this current run.