The transition began on a fateful day in late June when Chris Paul told the Clippers he wanted to leave in the worst possible way.
The Clippers were forced to immediately change course, having been pushed in an unsure direction after six consecutive years of regular-season success and playoff failure.
It is now squarely in the hands of coach Doc Rivers and players Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan to lead this team down a new path. It starts with media day Monday at the team’s practice facility in Playa Vista followed by nine days of training camp in Hawaii.
“I think it was a transition that needed to happen, because the big three didn’t work,” said Rivers, referring to Paul, Griffin and Jordan. “We didn’t win, they didn’t win. We needed to go in another direction.”
Paul had been their best player during his six years with the Clippers. But he coerced his way to the Houston Rockets via trade, creating a vacuum the Clippers probably can’t fill with the loss of the nine-time NBA All-Star and eight-time All-NBA performer.
The big three had made sure the Clippers were in the NBA championship conversation, a talented enough team to have their names mentioned over the past four years with Golden State, San Antonio, Houston and Oklahoma City as one of the top teams in the Western Conference.
But this group never got past the second round of the playoffs, even losing in the first round the last two years.
It soured Paul.
“Now when Chris left, it made it clear that he obviously didn’t think it was going to work,” Rivers said. “So it was time to make a change.”
Undoubtedly, the Clippers’ new world order revolves around Griffin and Jordan to a lesser degree.
Griffin is their best player, and the Clippers cemented that by giving the often-injured power forward a five-year, $171.1-million extension three days after Paul bolted.
His health will determine the Clippers’ fortunes this season and beyond.
Griffin had surgery in May for a plantar plate injury to his right big toe. It ended his season early for the second straight playoff run with the Clippers after Griffin went down in Game 3 against the Utah Jazz.
The big question is will Griffin be ready for the start of training camp Tuesday at the University of Hawaii, and, more important, for the start of the regular season on Oct. 19 against the Lakers at Staples Center.
But he is not the Clippers’ only health concern.
Danilo Gallinari, the Clippers’ top acquisition over the summer, injured his right thumb after throwing a punch in a “friendly” competition against the Netherlands while playing for Italy in late July. Gallinari, whom the Clippers gave a three-year deal for $63 million, has been working out at the facility and is said to be ready for camp.
Milos Teodosic, 30, signed to a two-year deal for $12.3 million to be the Clippers’ backup point guard, was unable to play for the Serbian national team in the EuroBasket Tournament because of calf issues in both legs. But the 6-foot-5 point guard has improved and is expected to see limited action during camp.
Austin Rivers, pegged to be one of the new starting guards, was unable to train the past five weeks while he recovered from mononucleosis. Though Rivers is expected to be ready for training camp, perhaps in a limited role.
So while in the midst of major change for the Clippers, Doc Rivers will have to be cautious with Griffin, Austin Rivers, Gallinari and Teodosic at camp until he can better gauge their health.
“It’s not the way you want to start camp,” Doc Rivers said. “Blake, Galo and Milos will be fine, but we just got to be careful with them all.”
It was not just the departure of Paul that left a void for the Clippers.
They lost two more starters in guard J.J. Redick, who signed as a free agent with the Philadelphia 76ers, and forward Luc Mbah a Moute, who joined Paul in Houston. The Clippers used sixth-man extraordinaire Jamal Crawford as one of the pieces in the Gallinari deal. Crawford was shipped to Atlanta, where he secured a buyout and eventually joined the Minnesota Timberwolves.
All those moves gutted the Clippers, giving them nine new players to incorporate into their system.
Point guard Patrick Beverley, sixth man Lou Williams and forwards Montrezl Harrell and Sam Dekker came from the Rockets in the Paul trade.
Willie Reed was signed to be a backup center and Sindarious Thornwell and Jawun Evans are rookies.
These are your new Clippers, the group that hopes to have a sixth straight 50-plus win season and seventh straight playoff appearance.
“It is a transition, but we’re not necessarily rebuilding,” Doc Rivers said. “We’re just transitioning, seeing if we can figure this out in another way. But it is a transition from what we had.”