The Los Angeles Clippers did not sign Kevin Durant, forcing them to re-sign last season’s veterans and bring in new minimum-level players. What was the best move they made, and what move did they leave on the table?
The NBA offseason kicks off every year around the first of July, and fans of every team fill their hearts and message boards with dreams of what player their team could sign. The possibilities of this superstar pairing with that superstar make every team a possible contender.
Offseasons never go the way teams expect, either. For every move a team makes, there are 10 that they didn’t make. The Golden State Warriors signed Kevin Durant, but they didn’t find a way to keep Festus Ezeli, or to accumulate enough depth to replace their bench. What’s done is never enough, and what lies undone is almost always more tantalizing.
Starting with the defending champions, and moving down the list of early title favorites to end up in Brooklyn, we will walk through each team to praise them for the best move they made this offseason — and call them out on the best move they didn’t make.
The Los Angeles Clippers suffered postseason heartbreak yet again, losing Chris Paul and Blake Griffin to injuries in the same five-minute span. While they struck out on Kevin Durant, did they make the right moves on the margins to revamp their rotation and put together a serious contender in the West?
Best Move They Made: Letting Jeff Green Sign Elsewhere
The Clippers traded Lance Stephenson and a future first-round pick for Jeff Green at the trade deadline, an overpay for three months of the inconsistent forward. That investment could have led Doc Rivers to pay through the nose to keep him and “protect” the investment.
Whether the Clippers or Green made the call to part ways, it was the right move. While possessing an intriguing collection of athleticism and skills, Green has never been able to put them together with any consistency. The one night when he erupts for 30 points and 10 rebounds is lost in a sea of 14-point, 4-rebound performances.
The opportunity cost of losing Green meant the Clippers re-signed Wesley Johnson and Luc Richard Mbah A Moute to fill their void on the wing. Both players contribute more on defense than on offense, and Green theoretically would provide more scoring punch.
But realistically he wasn’t bringing that to the table. He was a net negative on offense, posting only the 11th best offensive box plus-minus as he averaged 10.9 points per game in the 27 games he spent in Los Angeles.
Green would surely have demanded a multi-year contract starting around the $15 million figure he signed for in Orlando. While the Clippers could have paid that using his Bird Rights, that would have pushed their team salary to an untenable place.
Recognizing the first round pick was a lost cause and letting Green walk was the right call.
Best Move They Didn’t Make: Drafting A Player With Real Upside
The Clippers have been playing the self-inflicting strategy of drafting forwards every year with minimal upside.
They are attracted to players from big name schools or with the right sort of bodies, but don’t seem to do their homework on things such as potential or room to grow. Last year they purchased the rights to Brandan Dawson out of Michigan State. Dawson provided nothing last season, and was waived a few weeks ago.
Since Blake Griffin, the Clippers have used their picks as trade fodder or for players who have never panned out. Paying above-market deals for players such as Austin Rivers and Jamal Crawford was their only option after getting no young talent from the draft in almost a decade.
Brice Johnson is long and athletic, with touch around the basket and a nose for rebounds. He also struggles to shoot from further than 15 feet out, was a defensive liability on a North Carolina team that surrounded him with strong defenders, and at 22 years old has little room to develop into something much greater.
By comparison, the picks directly after Johnson were littered with upside. Guards such as Dejounte Murray or Demetrius Jackson were available to fill the roster behind pending free agent Chris Paul. Patrick McCaw showed in NBA Summer League why he would have been a perfect option on the wing for the Clippers. Big men such as Deyonta Davis and Skal Labissiere may not have contributed much this year, but both have elite potential.
Brice Johnson does not.
In the end, the Clippers’ offseason will be judged on whether they put together the right mix of players to challenge the Golden State Warriors. But next year Chris Paul and Blake Griffin can become free agents. Los Angeles could have done the smart thing and begun restocking their roster with talent, and instead took a low-upside senior who may bring a modicum of “play-now” ability.
If the Clippers slip back into mediocrity in the seasons to come, the inability of Doc Rivers to keep the future in mind along with the present will be brought to light.