Los Angeles Clippers: The Runner-Up Problem

Mar 8, 2015; Oakland, CA, USA; Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green (23) boxes out Los Angeles Clippers center DeAndre Jordan (6) in the second quarter at Oracle Arena. Mandatory Credit: Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 8, 2015; Oakland, CA, USA; Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green (23) boxes out Los Angeles Clippers center DeAndre Jordan (6) in the second quarter at Oracle Arena. Mandatory Credit: Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports /

The Warriors, Spurs, and Cavaliers are the three serious contenders in the league. This presents a problem for teams in the next tier, like the Los Angeles Clippers.

The Los Angeles Clippers have reeled off a 15 wins in 18 games without Blake Griffin. They’re on pace to win 55 games. They also have one of the league’s elite stars, Chris Paul, who is playing at arguably the best level that he’s ever played at.

Normally, this formula would equate to championship talk.

Not this year.

The Golden State Warriors, along with the San Antonio Spurs and Cleveland Cavaliers, have not just lowered the margin for error among teams hoping to win a title this season, they’ve erased any margin for error. Even the Cavaliers have recognized the fact that there is simply no room for mistakes, firing head coach David Blatt despite being in first place in the Eastern Conference. The firing of Blatt shows that nobody is safe in the arms race for the 2015-16 NBA title.

In the past month, there have been variations of the NBA community wondering whether the Clippers should part ways with any members of their big three, Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, or DeAndre Jordan.

How does a team right below that top tier handle their situation?

Related Story: NBA Trade Rumors: 10 Landing Spots For Blake Griffin

This question becomes increasingly more important as we head into February, when the trade deadline on the 18th presents one of the last opportunities for a team to make a major alteration for their roster before the push for the playoffs.

The Clippers, along with other teams in the same predicament, must decide if they are buyers or sellers. Traditionally, teams like the Clippers are always buyers at the deadline. The dominance of the Warriors and Spurs in the Western Conference will make teams have a tough decision of pushing for a title this year or conceding that they can’t beat the Warriors or Spurs and reshuffling some pieces for next season.

The team at the center of this discussion of buyers and sellers is the Los Angeles Clippers due to their roster construction. The smart way for the Clippers to go about their situation is to compile different scenarios in which the Clippers are both buyers and sellers. They must be open to both sides of the equation and decide which route works out best for what the team wants to do.

The Clippers have an average age of 29.1 years, tied for the third-oldest average in the league behind the Spurs and Grizzlies.

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  • Key players such as Chris Paul, J.J. Redick, Jamal Crawford and Paul Pierce are all on the wrong side of 30 and their past is looking better than their future. Griffin and DeAndre Jordan are entering their primes and are unlikely to get significantly better. The Clippers lack any young players that will develop into a valuable members to help sustain their winning ways as their core gets older.

    The discussion of whether the Clippers should go all-in on this season or reshuffle the roster and make a move to help with the future of the team is one the Clippers must have internally. Head coach and general manager Doc Rivers is a competitor and his time with Boston ended in part because he didn’t want to be a part of a rebuilding process, so it’s most likely that Rivers will push hard for a title this year.

    Looking at how the Clippers fare against the top competition is necessary to look into if they have a chance to knock one or both of them off in the postseason. The Clippers are 1-5 against the Warriors dating back to last season. Although the Clippers beat the Spurs in their first round playoff matchup last season, the Spurs have since added LaMarcus Aldridge, depth, and seen Kawhi Leonard take his game to another level.

    Unless the Clippers can make a trade or two that significantly upgrades the talent level of their team, it’s hard to imagine the Clippers knocking off either the Warriors or Spurs without injuries to either of those teams.

    If the Clippers can’t land enough talent to potentially climb up a notch, they must look at trading some of their veterans for pieces that will help them in a year or two.

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    The Clippers are in an unfamiliar territory as a successful team with three legitimate stars that might be forced into being sellers at the deadline, perhaps even looking at dealing one of their stars.

    As the trade deadline gets closer and closer, the Clippers will be one of the teams to watch.