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Clippers downplay any idea of a must-win title run

Clippers downplay any idea of a must-win title run
Blake Griffin, left, Chris Paul and DeAndre Jordan share a laugh during an exhibition game against Utah on Oct. 17. (Rick Bowmer / Associated Press)

Over the last three seasons, when the Clippers had genuine aspirations of winning the NBA championship, their dreams were dashed every year because of their own failures and untimely injuries.

Now with the Clippers about to start the 2016-17 season, they have the same lofty title ambitions.

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This time, however, the Clippers' core of key players may face a time limit on their future together if they are unsuccessful in their pursuit of a championship.

Chris Paul and Blake Griffin can become free agents when the season is over and J.J. Redick is in the final year of his contract.

The popular argument is that if the nucleus of Paul, Griffin, Redick, DeAndre Jordan and Jamal Crawford — who have never gotten past the second round of the playoffs — disappoint again, then the Clippers roster will go through a shake-up.

During training camp, the Clippers brushed aside any idea of a last hurrah for the group if they don't win the franchise's first-ever championship.

For the "past two or three years," Paul said, he has heard the same critics say their squad may have to be broken up.

Redick also dismissed the premise that their roster must be disbanded if the Clippers don't reach the finish line.

"If you're one of the two best teams, three best teams, why would you take a step back? You're right there," Redick, 32, said. "The thing that's specific to our team is like, what's the alternative?

"In terms of our [salary] cap situation, I think for us to get cap space, Blake and CP would have to leave. So it's like are you really going to let two of the top 10 players in the league go? And replace them with what?"

Redick, an 11-year NBA veteran, added: "So I don't buy the whole, 'We have to do it this year or we're going to break up.' Listen, man, I've been in this game long enough to know that things can change in a week. Things can change in a year. Things can change in five. So you never know."

Griffin was unwilling to say much about which direction the Clippers could be forced to go.

"It's not up to me, really," he said.

Even when Griffin was pressed, he offered little when asked if the Clippers have a championship mandate.

"It takes execution," Griffin said. "We've got to be good whether we're playing a good team or a team that isn't a playoff team. We have to be good on both sides of the ball and it takes a little bit of luck."

When Doc Rivers arrived as coach of the Clippers in 2013, the assumption was that they were on a championship course.

And in reality, the opportunities always seemed to be in front of the Clippers to advance further than ever before.

In the 2014 Western Conference semifinals against Oklahoma City, the Clippers had a meltdown. They blew a 13-point lead in the final three and a half minutes of Game 5 and the team missed five of their last six shots. Paul inexplicably fouled Russell Westbrook on a three-point shot as the game was nearing its conclusion and he turned the ball over twice in the final seconds, including on the past possession.

In the 2015 conference semifinals against Houston, the Clippers collapsed. They mangled a 3-1 lead and lost the series, including blowing a 19-point, second-half lead in a closeout Game 6.

In the 2016 first-round series against Portland, Paul (broken right hand) and Griffin (re-injured left quadriceps tendon) never returned after their injuries in Game 4. The Clippers lost that series in six games and once again lamented about what might have been.

So, yes, the Clippers have had their share of pain — much of it self-inflicted and some of it out of their control.

"I think you get to a point where you have to let it go," Paul, 31, said. "At the same time, you think about who you are as a person and the different things that have molded you into who you are and what you are. I think all experiences do one thing: They mold or they break you.

"So it's not that you dwell on it or be like, 'We're going to get there because we've been through this.' That's no guarantee."

The Clippers know Golden State and Cleveland are picked to be in the 2017 NBA Finals again, for their title trilogy.

The Clippers also know they are in the conversation as a title contender, but are among a group of "other" teams.

To go along with Paul, Jordan, Griffin, Redick and Crawford, in the summer, the Clippers re-signed Austin Rivers and brought in veteran reinforcements in Alan Anderson, Brandon Bass, Raymond Felton and Marreese Speights.

So as the pressure continues to mount on them to win a ring this season, the Clippers will push forward.

"We're still really young in a lot of ways, so our championship window is wide open," Rivers said. "But that doesn't stop the noise."

When Jordan was asked about possibly breaking up the Clippers, the center started swearing, growling and swearing some more.

"We're not going to worry about what … people from the outside are saying," Jordan said. "When we start worrying about that, then we're going to crumble. So I'm not worried about that. Whoever those [people] are."

Twitter: @BA_Turner

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