Chris Paul and Blake Griffin hold the keys to the Los Angeles Clippers success, but bolting this summer is certainly an option for them.
It’s simple: no Griffin and no Paul means no wins for the Clippers. There’s not much more to it. Here are two All-Stars who are, essentially, wasting the best years of their careers on a team who isn’t good enough to get out of the West and both of them skedaddling for better situations looks more and more possible.
The icing on the worst cake imaginable came Sunday night when the Clips blew an 18-point lead to the Sacramento Kings — the same team who traded DeMarcus Cousins for two cents on the dollar. Paul and Griffin were on the bench until the lead got cut to nine, and then they came in and were unable to stave off a furious comeback attempt by the NBA’s most dysfunctional team. However, you have to give credit to the young Kings squad who attacked Los Angeles all throughout the fourth quarter, and Buddy Hield led the charge.
“We saw they started chirping with each other and we were able to see them collapse,” said Hield to The Sacramento Bee’s Jason Jones. “When a team collapses, they’re in distress and it’s easy when you can catch them slipping. We were able to catch them slipping, we made a few shots and Langston (Galloway’s) shot was even big, too.”
Sacramento’s 33-point fourth propelled them past the Clips, 98-97, and it was Willie Cauley-Stein who nailed the game-winner with 1.8 seconds left. Paul was iffy at best, mustering just 17 points on 4-of-9 shooting but handing out nine assists to counteract it; Griffin was more efficient and got his 17 on 6-of-11 from the field.
Los Angeles is 9-10 after the All-Star break after going 35-21 before it and having the NBA’s sixth-best winning percentage (.625). This is the same team that began the year 14-2 and convinced us that they could actually make it to the Finals this year if everything clicked and everyone was healthy. Paul and Griffin were the leaders of a terrifying offense that had a bench deeper than any other team during their era. On top of that, they had the league’s most lockdown defense and scoring on them was like trying to fit a baseball in a beer bottle.
Paul and DeAndre Jordan headed the nightly efforts, and everyone was buying into the philosophy. Unfortunately, and expectedly, the defense has worsened as the year has gone on and that bottle is looking more like the pool in Hassan Whiteside‘s backyard. The biggest reason for the collapse? Paul and Griffin getting hurt.
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Griffin is still a star in this league but, yet again, has missed a huge chunk of the year with various ailments. Of the Clippers’ 75 games played thus far, BG has suited up for just 54. In those contests, Griffin is one of seven guys to average at least 20 points, eight rebounds, and 4.5 assists, per Basketball-Reference. My thesis here is that BG can be the secondary piece on a championship team, and that’s what he is under Doc Rivers.
The leader is Chris Paul, who’s having one of his best statistical seasons ever. His 31.2 minutes a game is a career-low, but his efficiency is sensational: 17.4 points, 9.1 assists, 5.0 rebounds and 1.9 steals in that time. The only other player to average 17-9-5 in less than 35 minutes? Russell Westbrook. Paul’s usage rate is also drastically lower than Westbrook’s (24.3 to 41.5), and he’s far more a far more reliable shooter.
Unfortunately, he hasn’t been as durable as Westbrook, and he too has only suited up for 54 games.
When Paul isn’t on the court, there’s an 18.2-point swing from when he is. Blake’s swing is only 9.7 points, but it’s clear as day that the Paul and Griffin are premier players at their position. You don’t need the numbers or me to tell you this because you can see with your own two eyes how they make the Clippers go, and if there’s another early playoff exit, the duo can bolt just from being fed up with mediocrity.
Each season it’s the same old tale: Doc and the Clips come into the season as contenders, suffer some injuries, get waxed by the Warriors four times and get bounced in the first or second round. If I were Paul or Griffin, I’d be fed up.
Neither are getting younger, and the championship windows are closing for both of them. At this rate, CP3 is going to retire as one of the top-three point guards in league history, and he won’t even have a Conference Final to show for it. And that’s a shame. Griffin isn’t a future first-ballot Hall of Famer, but he’s still a great player. Here’s a guy who could’ve taken over as the NBA’s best power forward but just never made the jump. Griffin rebounds and has worked adamantly to become a more versatile scorer (which he has), and few big men are capable of running an offense like he does. Even though he’s likely to stay a star and never be a superstar, Griffin is more than capable of being a second-fiddle on a contender. (I’m looking at you, Danny Ainge.)
If they realize how great they are and decide to leave, it’ll be for the best. Paul has an early termination option for next season, but he’d be turning down $24.2 million. Griffin has the same deal, but it’s for $21.3 million. Both are going to get that kind of money from whoever has the cap space, but Paul and Griffin need to make a decision — do you take a pay cut to play on a contender while in your prime if that money doesn’t come your way?
As preposterous as it sounds, both have missed extended time over the course of their careers, and that’s going to impact how GMs structure their deals. It’s not going to make or break anything, but the cash being thrown their way isn’t going to be as high as some others. Both are still relatively young, so that helps balance out the scale but it’s still a risk to shell out a large lump sum to a player who you don’t know is going to be on the court for 75-80 games.
Superteams are the newest trend, and any team would be more than willing to sign one of these two All-NBA caliber players. For select franchises, Chris Paul or Blake Griffin will put them over the contention edge, and it will no longer be a virtual lock to see Cleveland and Golden State come June.
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