The Los Angeles Clippers’ first season following the end of the Chris Paul Era didn’t exactly go as planned, but it wasn’t necessarily for the worst. The team still won 42 games after beginning the season 11-18, thanks in large part to Doc Rivers’ brilliant coaching, but also because of unheralded G Leaguers making vital impacts.
Patrick Beverley and Danilo Gallinari were both plagued by injuries, playing in a combined only 32 games. There is the endless drama that seemingly surrounded the presence of DeAndre Jordan in Los Angeles. They shipped franchise cornerstone Blake Griffin to Detroit and even after that trade, the Clippers still won more games than they lost without him. The Griffin deal is actually why the Clippers are in this unique position they see before them.
After some well-timed ping pong balls, the Clippers are rightful owners of both the 12th and 13th pick in the upcoming 2018 NBA Draft, receiving Detroit’s first-round pick as part of the return package for Griffin. Now, with question marks lingering around the organization, the Clippers have an important offseason ahead of them and the NBA Draft will dictate just how much they can improve (or tank?) before next season begins.
There are several options the Clippers have in this scenario. The obvious choice is to make the picks, take a point guard and a forward in a deeper than usual draft and build from there. Another option is to package the picks (and possibly a player such as Tobias Harris, Lou Williams or even a healthy Gallinari) and trade for a proven star.
They could package both picks to nab a top-five pick and select a high-risk, high-reward prospect such as Michael Porter Jr. They could even trade one pick and keep the other. They have a plethora of different situations in which they can add to their roster. The draft thins out a bit after the eighth or ninth pick, but there is still tremendous value in the middle of this draft.
If Jordan decides to opt out of his player option and become a free agent, the Clippers roster doesn’t look all that enticing. Honestly, it’s not too enticing with Jordan on it. An elite coaching exhibition, the uprising of developmental players and an unprecedented 14th season from Williams are the reasons they willed their way to 42 wins.
Following the Griffin trade, however, the Clippers now have an arsenal of assets. They have Harris, Austin Rivers, two first-round picks and an entire village worth of players under 25. The issue is this: unless Jordan comes off the books and declines his $24 million player option, they don’t have much cap space to work with until next offseason.
If the Clippers truly want to throw their hats into the Paul George or LeBron James sweepstakes, a lot of money is going to need to be shed. Players such as Jordan and Gallinari (who is scheduled to make $21 million next season and $22 million the season after) will almost assuredly need to be gone. After those two, their contract situation is somewhat favorable.
Williams took a cheap deal that nets him $8 million per season and Rivers ($12.6 million), Harris ($14.8 million), Milos Teodosic ($6.3 million), Boban Marjanovic ($7 million), Beverley ($5 million) and Wesley Johnson ($6 million) will all individually make less than $15 million per season. Johnson is realistically the only player that the Clippers might have trouble finding a trade partner for without adding a pick or taking back an unwanted or unnecessary asset.
According to most mock drafts, some of the players mentioned most often in the 10-15 pick range are Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Kevin Knox from Kentucky, Robert Williams from Texas A&M, Mikal and Miles Bridges from Villanova and Michigan State, respectively, and Wendell Carter Jr. from Duke. If the Clippers decide to keep both picks, they have needs at point guard and down low, especially if Jordan opts out.
Gilgeous-Alexander is an excellent floor general with a long frame and incredible basketball instincts who will excel wherever he ends up going. If Carter Jr. slips to 12 or 13, he could be a solid Jordan replacement and foundational piece to work around as scouts continue to gush over him with draft day closing in. There may not be franchise cornerstone pieces in this range, but there are certainly NBA starters who can make immediate impacts.
With all the talk surrounding Porter Jr. — Is his back going to be a problem? How high is his ceiling? etc. — he’d be a risky pick. However, before the back injury, he was a consensus top-five pick in this draft and that was all the way back in the fall. Would Porter be worth trading two first-round picks for? The payoff is clear. When healthy, Porter has shown he has top-five pick potential and would be a perfect wing player in a league that necessitates them in order to win.
The Clippers can sacrifice two potential starters for one potential star and at that point, it just boils down to their concerns about his health. Porter’s stock continues to rise and it may take a lot more than the 12th and 13th pick for a team in the top five to sacrifice passing on him. If the Clippers can trade up into the top five with their two first-round picks, they should absolutely pull the trigger.
There have even been reports that the Clippers might be willing to move up in the draft to secure Real Madrid forward Luka Doncic. Doncic is projected to go in the top three in nearly every mock draft so moving up that high would be costly, but potentially worth it to land Doncic. The EuroLeague sensation has done things at his age that no European prospect has ever done and he looks to be the most NBA-ready player in this draft.
Packaging just one of these two picks with a player such as Harris probably wouldn’t net them the value they are looking for. They shouldn’t trade those picks away unless it is going to make an immediate upgrade to their roster and it’s going to take more than just Tobias Harris and the 13th pick to do that. Both picks and Harris? Potentially, but the Clippers are seemingly still in “win-now” mode and they have the chips to keep that mantra going.
The draft is June 21, which means the clock is ticking on what the Clippers can do, but they have more than enough options. The safe bet would be to use their picks and build through them, but the opportunity to move up and grab what could be a franchise-altering player is alluring.