Why Clippers are serious free agency destination for players

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These are not your father’s Los Angeles Clippers — they are not a punchline. This is no longer the penny-pinching era of Elgin Baylor as general manager trying to field a team under the racist whims of owner Donald Sterling, a franchise where free agents didn’t want to go, a franchise where players like Lamar Odom begged the franchise not to re-sign them.

The Clippers now have a good, player-friendly reputation among players.

“I truly would say so,” Tobias Harris told NBC Sports of the change. “It’s a great organization top to bottom, great coach, an owner that is really invested in the team. I’ve been in different situations, different organizations, and this organization is top of the line. So it’s definitely a situation that players, in my opinion, would want to be at.”

“We just feel great right here,” Harris’s best friend Boban Marjanovic added. “Just everything, just organizational, our coach, people, teammates, people who work there, everybody you meet, when you walk in the building you feel a great energy, to feel good.”

Next summer the Clippers are a legitimate threat to land Kawhi Leonard — moreso than the Lakers, according to sources — and they have the space to land a couple of elite stars, if Kevin Durant is interested. Players talk, and the things they say now about the Clippers are very positive.

It all starts at the top, as Howard Beck of Bleacher Report got into in a sit down with high-energy owner Steve Ballmer. Beck asked Ballmer to make his free agency pitch.

“You wanna have a legacy?” Ballmer asks pointedly. “You wanna really say you were involved in doing something super special? You come here,” he says, his volume and intensity quickly rising. “You be in L.A., the greatest market in the world, and you show people: ‘I’m the guy! went to a franchise who’d never been there! I’m the guy! made it happen! get a legacy!'”

But it’s more than just Ballmer.

Last year, the Clippers hired Jerry West, the most respected team executive in modern history, as a consultant. They snared two rising young team execs—Trent Redden (a top assistant to David Griffin in Cleveland) and Michael Winger (who worked with Sam Presti in Oklahoma City)—to bolster the front office, along with the highly regarded Mark Hughes (New York).

This is, without hyperbole, an unprecedented moment in franchise history—with an engaged, fiercely competitive owner at the helm, a whip-smart front office, a championship-winning coach (Doc Rivers), an image buoyed by their recent success and, oh yes, all of that cap room.

Doc Rivers plays into this, too — players love him and love playing for him. Especially veterans. Rivers treats them like adults and is not going to run Quin Snyder-style three-hour practices.

There are also some good young players on this roster, such as Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Montrezl Harrell.

The Clippers have a reputation now as a place where the players are allowed to be themselves, not have to fit into a mold. If Chris Paul wants to bring his kids in the locker room to play postgame, nobody is going to stop him and other players will follow along (the Clipper locker room could look like an elementary school recess at times after games, and it worked in a charming way).

It all adds up for players and agents. There are NBA fans around the league — Lakers fans in particular — who scoff at the idea of the Clippers as a free agency destination. They are thinking in terms of long-term legacy, but players are looking at where the franchise is right now — and the market. Being in the warm weather and off-the-court opportunities of Los Angeles matters.

The Clippers will be players in free agency. Whether that is enough to land them a star, let alone two, remains to be seen. The marketplace is packed with options for the handful of elite guys.

But don’t think of the Clippers as a punchline anymore. That’s your father’s Clippers.