- The Clippers are without Chris Paul for the first time since 2010 and they couldn't miss him more. His move to Houston could officially end Lob City and Doc Rivers's tenure in L.A.
In the latest episode of the Open Floor podcast, Andrew Sharp and Ben Golliver discuss the Clippers' early struggles, life in L.A. without Chris Paul and Doc Rivers's future.
While Paul orchestrated his own exit, the moves to trade for Patrick Beverley and Danilo Gallinari—two injury-prone players—and pair them with Blake Griffin was all Doc Rivers's doing. Paul's move to Houston and the Clippers' lackluster offseason could officially spell the end of Lob City.
(This transcript has been lightly edited and condensed).
Andrew Sharp: We should talk Clippers because we’ve ignored this team for the better part of the last month, and things are getting pretty dicey. It seems like the wheels are coming off in L.A., so what have you been seeing?
Ben Golliver: Well, I think that is very telling because not only has the loss of Chris Paul totally changed their franchise in terms of their ability to win games, I think it’s really changed their watchability, too, hasn’t it? I think, to a certain degree, they were always hated on when they get into these national TV games because they whine at the officials, they do this and that. But they usually made up for it to me. The offense was always one of the league’s most efficient. To me, they were still a fun team to watch and Chris is a fantastic player, Blake’s a fantastic player. Maybe it’s not a perfect combination, but you still tune in.
I got to be honest, these guys are tough to even watch at this point, Andrew. I turned on the Knicks game the other night. It’s so flat, they look like a team that has given up on each other at some points. I think part of it is there’s a lot of injuries to key guys in point guards, Danilo Gallinari, and that’s put these players who are well below average NBA players into much bigger roles than they can handle. There’s not a lot of collective belief there, and it’s strange because they started what, 4-0? And people were writing stories about the Clippers trying to move on to the next chapter, and now it just looks like dynamite time.
Sharp: I feel vindicated A) because I sort of predicted this, but more so because even during the preseason you had these basketball hipsters coming out of the woodwork to claim that the Clippers were going to be so much more fun without Chris Paul, and that Blake was going to be free and they were just going to be the most exciting team in the NBA or in that mix. They were talked about as if this was going to be a top five League Pass team. And for me, I’ve always loved Chris Paul, I always thought he got sort of a raw deal with those Clippers teams and the Lob City Clippers. We’ve talked about it a lot this year; some of these teams that are all-in in the West are sort of collapsing under the weight of expectations, and because they can’t live up to some of the impossible standards the Warriors set, and before the Warriors it was the Spurs. The Clippers were one of the original teams we saw that happen to, and it wasn’t that they weren't exciting, it was that we knew that they didn’t have enough, so it was painful to watch them sort of grind out seasons that we knew were going to end badly.
Golliver: Don’t you think it’s even more painful, what they’re doing right now?
Sharp: Oh, definitely. You take Chris Paul off the roster and you appreciate how good he was, and then it’s not easy to sort of reflexively win 55 games every year. But I do think the Clippers are now interesting for another reason, because there are dominos left to fall here, whether it’s a DeAndre [Jordon] trade, whether it’s Doc Rivers firing. If they continue to go this route, they’re not going to have many options but to start to kind of think about tanking.
Golliver: I don’t think it’s too early to have that talk. You mentioned the Chris factor. I don’t know if you saw I tweeted this: when he was on the court during his Clippers tenure, so that’s like six years, they never lost more than four consecutive games. He would always find a way to pull them out from any slump. So I think the big takeaway from the Clippers start to me is really the value of Chris Paul as a stabilizing figure. No, he’s not good enough to beat the Warriors, but this is one heck of a player, all-timer.
In terms of their depth, though, we came into the season saying if everybody has perfect health Doc could be in a position where he’s playing 9 or 10 guys and this could really work out, but I remember we put an asterisk on that. We said look, Blake, Patrick Beverley and Gallinari all miss time, so that depth is going to be stretched very quickly, and that’s exactly what’s happened. Gallinari is out, Beverley underwent knee surgery, now Austin Rivers is shooting 36% from the field and he’s their second or third leading scorer. That is a tough look, and then there’s all these no-namers like Jawun Evans, they’re getting rotation minutes now.
To me, I’m not sure this is the team Doc thought he would have, and when you listen to his comments, he’s just blaming injuries, blaming injuries. I’m not sure how long that will last with this group, given that he’s assembled it and given that the next man up, those second-string guys he’s trying to turn to, just don’t have anything. I was bagging on Wes Johnson during the last podcast. That’s a Doc move. Austin Rivers, that’s a Doc move. If you’re the ownership, I think you’re looking at him like this is your mess, we’ve got to move on from you. I think that’s the first button to push.
Sharp: I will say I loved Jawun Evans at Oklahoma State and I’m pumped that he’s getting minutes, but it’s a bad sign for the Clippers that he’s seeing minutes.
Golliver: I’ll be pumped when he gets above 31.7% shooting from the field.
Sharp: Everyone on the team is shooting 30% right now. Blake has not cracked 40% in like two weeks, so it’s rough for him too. It’s not just the guards. Obviously, Austin Rivers, if he’s going to 15 to 20 shots per game, you’re in trouble. The Doc side of it, though, even last year or this summer when I was out in L.A. back in May for a little while, you talk to people and the things you hear about Doc’s relationship to the Clippers were not good. Nobody really liked him even last year, and it’s kind of shocking to me that they brought him back.
And one of the things that we’ve seen over the last five or six years is that one of the biggest mistakes teams can make is not firing a coach at the right time. If you go back to the Wizards with Randy Wittman or the flipside of this story is the Warriors firing Mark Jackson when it was clear he wasn’t the guy. And I feel like with the Clippers, it was pretty clear that Rives was not the guy to sort of lead this next era and yet they brought him back. That’s another hurdle that they’re going to have to deal with over the next month or so.
Golliver: And I understood it. Remember, he’s making a lot of money because he had those dual titles.
Sharp: The Clippers are worth $2 billion. You can fire the coach and Steve Ballmer can eat that salary.
Golliver: I think they’re going to fire the coach, but I can understand why in that situation they would say it’s a transition, bring him back, give him a shot, we can always fire him midseason. Don’t you think that was their mentality? And also, if you tried to take a clean slate approach and say, ‘Ok, we lose Chris so we’re just going to get rid of Doc and try something completely new.’ I think then you risk having that new coach tainted if they started slow like they have. Let’s say you put Sam Cassell into that spot and say we’re going to give you that job, and then they go on a nine-game losing streak because two guys get injured. Now all of a sudden, you’ve kind of set him up for failure.
For me, I think you let it get bleak and then you pray for the midseason turnaround. By the way, you mentioned tanking, this playoff race is getting away from them already. If you’re ownership, once you make that decision in your mind that you can’t get back into it, I don’t think it’s that far away given the quality but also that packed nature of the mid-tier of the Western Conference. I don’t think that decision’s that far away, and I think ultimately that’s when you pull the plug on Rivers.