Don’t do it, Doc Rivers. Don’t even think about it.
Well, you can ponder it if Oklahoma City General Manager Sam Presti calls and wants to talk about Kevin Durant for Blake Griffin as part of a sign-and-trade agreement that would make some sense for both the Clippers and the Thunder.
Otherwise, listen to your own words. You said you always want to end up with the best player in any trade.
Griffin is the most dynamic power forward in the NBA, even if his partially torn left quadriceps tendon robbed him of some elevation in the nine games he played before re-injuring it. That shouldn’t be an issue next season after his recent procedure and a summer spent poolside instead of at the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
Paul is the scowling soul of the team, not to mention still within his prime. The edge he plays with could push the Clippers over the lip of their recent playoff failures.
Jordan is a liability at the free-throw line and an asset everywhere else, always among the league leaders in rebounding, field-goal percentage and blocked shots. He also unleashed some unexpected post moves late in the season that could eventually make him the most imposing two-way big man in the league.
There’s no need to remind us of the trio’s past playoff failures. We were there. We saw it.
But maybe you should consider San Antonio counterpart Gregg Popovich’s pound-the-rock mantra. It calls for 101 blows to split the rock and you’re willing to give up after only three cracks at it?
You appeared inclined in recent days to keep your core intact, repeatedly saying you liked your team. Let’s hope that’s true and not a smokescreen intended to increase your asking price from other general managers.
This is not to say there isn’t a need to improve the Clippers this summer. The roster is going to experience heavy turnover even if Griffin, Paul and Jordan stay. Here are some suggestions for nudging them along toward that long-awaited happy ending:
Make them stick
The Clippers’ bench was one of the best in the NBA this season. The problem is that none of the reserves are guaranteed to return next season.
Austin Rivers, Cole Aldrich and Wesley Johnson each have player options they could easily decline in search of more money with so much free-agent cash to go around as part of the expected $92-million salary cap for each team.
Aldrich didn’t carry much besides Josh Smith’s son piggyback-style over the season’s first two months. Then he entered the rotation right before Christmas and elevated the second unit. Getting him to come back would be big.
Johnson largely did what he did with the Lakers, making some three-pointers and unveiling some active defense while also disappearing for a few games at a time. He’s still worth keeping around at a bargain price.
Jamal Crawford, Jeff Green and Luc Mbah a Moute are unrestricted free agents who should be blocked from cleaning out their lockers. Crawford won a record third sixth-man-of-the-year award and enjoyed what felt like a first season without any trade rumors. Good luck finding a more prolific scorer or galvanizing locker-room presence.
Green showed during his last few playoff games that when he aggressively attacks the basket he brings a missing dimension to the Clippers’ offense. Mbah a Moute added some defensive grit, though his limitations on offense might make him better suited to coming off the bench.
Target these guys
The Clippers will tote the financial equivalent of a cardboard “Help wanted” sign in free agency. They’re expected to have the taxpayer midlevel exception of $3.5 million per year for up to four years, a biannual exception of $2.2 million for up to two years and as many veteran’s minimum contracts as needed to fill out the roster.
That’s not going to get them much, but it could land them a few of these guys under the right scenario:
Jeremy Lin: The Clippers had some interest in reviving Linsanity last summer before he was snatched up by the Charlotte Hornets. Lin would have to decline his player option for $2.2 million for next season to become available, but he would be a perfect up-tempo backup to Paul and could play alongside Austin Rivers as the facilitator of the second unit.
Jerryd Bayless: The versatile guard is coming off a season in which he made a career-high 43.7% of his three-pointers as a part-time starter in Milwaukee. There’s probably a spot for him only if Crawford doesn’t come back.
Gerald Green: There could be a need for instant offense off the bench if Crawford departs, and Green could provide it. He’s finishing up a bit of a down year with Miami but spent his first two NBA seasons playing for Doc Rivers, a connection that could help the Clippers should they pursue him.
David Lee: A former Golden State Warrior joining the Clippers? Why not. The two-time All-Star showed he’s still got some game during his stint in Dallas. Besides, he’ll want to beat the Warriors as much as anyone after they traded him last summer.
Stifle the trade winds
There’s no need to make any moves involving the six players under contract for next season. Griffin, Paul and Jordan are too good, J.J. Redick is too perfect of a fit in the Clippers’ offense, Pierce is too old to trade even if he does delay retirement and second-year guard C.J. Wilcox is too valuable as cheap insurance for the possible departure of others.
So keep it together, Doc. You can send thanks next June.