We continue PBT’s 2016-17 NBA preview series, 51 Questions. For the past few weeks, and through the start of the NBA season, we tackle 51 questions we cannot wait to see answered during the upcoming NBA season. We will delve into one almost every day between now and the start of the season.
The Clippers are aiming for nothing short of an NBA title, which is an admirable mindset.
But it doesn’t have to be all-or-nothing this year if they meet another – far vaguer – standard.
To keep their championship window open beyond this season, the Clippers must accomplish enough to satisfy Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and J.J. Redick.
Paul and Griffin have player options next summer, and they’ll certainly opt out to claim their share of the new national TV contracts. Redick’s contract also expires next summer.
Two stars and a third member of a four-man core could leave via unrestricted free agency, sending the Clippers back to their stone ages. Or all three could return and keep the Clippers in title contention until Paul, who turns 32 next spring, declines too far.
The stakes are high.
Clippers owner Steve Ballmer will reportedly pay whatever it takes to keep Paul and Griffin, and that’s probably necessary. Re-signing those two would send the Clippers deeper into the luxury tax,* but they’re no-doubt-about-it max players. If the Clippers don’t pay them, other teams will line up to do it.
That’s why also keeping Redick is probably essential. The Clippers can use his Bird Rights to exceed the cap when re-signing him. Capped-out, they would have no way to get a suitable replacement.*
*Based on current projections and the Collective Bargaining Agreement, which could change.
So – if the money is right – what else will it take to sell Paul, Griffin and Redick?
In Paul’s five seasons with the Clippers, they’ve reached the playoffs every year. But they’ve exited in the first round twice and second round thrice. Blowing a 3-1 lead to the Rockets in the 2015 second round – after vanquishing the 55-win Spurs in the first round, no less – was particularly painful.
As much as Doc Rivers calls reaching the conference finals a garbage goal, it would probably be satisfying for a franchise that has never been there. And – the Clippers might not want to hear this – losing to the Kevin Durant–Stephen Curry–Draymond Green–Klay Thompson Warriors wouldn’t be so shameful.
That’d clearly signal that the Clippers are on the right track, which could convince Paul, Griffin and Redick to stick together with DeAndre Jordan.
Another second-round loss, depending on the circumstances, and selling a positive direction gets trickier. A first-round loss or somehow missing the playoffs entirely would be a disaster for the Clippers. They don’t want to enter free agency on that sour note.
They’re not the Lakers, but it does help to play in Los Angeles. The size of the market and proximity to Hollywood can sway players.
It won’t be everything, though. The Clippers need to be coming off a good season.
How do you define good?
They probably don’t know precisely right now, but ask Paul, Griffin and Redick on July 1. Their answers then are the only ones that matter.