This column reflects the opinion of the writer and does not in any way reflect the views of The Stanford Daily.
The Los Angeles Clippers’ acquisition of Chris Paul in December 2011 marked a turning point for the franchise, launching them into relevancy in the loaded Western Conference. For over five seasons since, the Clippers have been a perennial playoff contender, never the conference’s best team but consistently one capable of putting up at least 50 wins; Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan combined to form the “Lob City” that has terrorized opposing defenses. The last half decade of success that this trio brought to Los Angeles has represented the best stretch for an organization that has been labeled by some as one of the worst franchises in the history of not just basketball, but all of professional sports. But yet another early playoff exit could finally mean the end of it all.
Despite all their regular season successes, the Clippers have underperformed in the postseason, managing to somehow never make the conference finals even with one of the best point guards in the league. Their best chance came in 2015, when they held a 3-1 lead over the Houston Rockets in the semifinals, eventually blowing that series in seven games. This season was especially difficult, as they fell to the Utah Jazz in the first round this past weekend, another early exit. The players have gotten frustrated with the lack of playoff success, and with both Chris Paul and Blake Griffin up for new contracts this offseason, it’s certainly plausible that one or both could leave the franchise to chase a title elsewhere.
Chris Paul will probably stay. The Clippers can offer him the most money, and at almost 32 years old, Paul will probably never have another chance to command that kind of contract. Although he will almost certainly never win a title in Los Angeles — especially when having to compete with the Warriors, Spurs and Rockets, all of which are better equipped to win — he can finish his career with an organization that respects him and in a city that he loves.
Griffin, on the other hand, could certainly leave. He’s suffered through several injuries over the last couple of years, including this one: He exited the first-round series against the Jazz with a toe injury. In addition, he’s struggled with temperament and maturity issues, putting him at odds with some in the front office. Though the Clippers can offer him a maximum contract, which they probably would, Griffin might seek a change of scenery anyways. He’s 28, in his prime, and may decide that he’d rather spend the second half of his career someplace new. Heading to the less competitive Eastern Conference is one possibility, as is heading to his hometown Oklahoma City Thunder. The latter option may prove more difficult, as the Thunder would likely need to move Enes Kanter or Steven Adams to clear cap space.
Doc Rivers, the Clippers’ coach, may also decide that he’s had enough. After winning a championship in Boston, he had high expectations for the Clippers. Though he coached the team to a franchise-best 57 wins in his first season, he’s also become frustrated with the lack of playoff success, leading many to speculate that he might leave the organization. Though Rivers has denied that he intends to leave, it certainly remains a possibility.
The Clippers have enjoyed great regular-season success over the last half-decade. But with two All-Stars in Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, a monster defender in DeAndre Jordan, and one of the league’s best coaches in Doc Rivers, they should have experienced far more playoff success — at the very least, they should have advanced to the point where they could compete to represent the Western Conference in the NBA Finals. Of course, Los Angeles is nowhere from entering rebuilding mode. Nevertheless, Lob City may be coming to an end. All it takes is one of Paul, Griffin and Rivers to choose to continue his career elsewhere.
I’ve enjoyed watching highlight-reel ally-oops from Chris Paul to Blake Griffin or DeAndre Jordan for quite some time. But I’m prepared to see at least one of those players in a new uniform in the near future.
Contact Andrew Ziperski at ajzip ‘at’ stanford.edu.