The Grizzlies will play their second straight game in Los Angeles tonight, and to get you ready for the match-up, GBB got together with Robert Flom of Clips Nation to give us some insight into what’s going on with the Clippers. Check out his answers below!
1. The Clippers started out as one of the hottest teams in the league, but they've cooled off recently, sitting 4th in the West after the loss to Houston. What's happened since that start that's slowed them down? Has it been the bench, injuries, something else?
It's a mix of a lot of things really. Injuries are probably the most important factor in their recent slide into the bottom rung of the playoff ladder, but they had already started struggling weeks before that. With Blake Griffin and Chris Paul out, the Clippers are a lottery team, and not even a competitive one at that. While JJ Redick and DeAndre Jordan are both really good players, neither is a 1st or even 2nd option on offense, and both rely entirely on others to set them up.
While I think the Clippers do have the pieces to be great, their defense and bench was always going to fall off a bit from the start of the season, when they were unreasonably good. Unfortunately, that drop-off occurred at the same time as the injuries, and the result has been a mini-meltdown.
2. The loss of Griffin is a pretty big loss, but the Clippers have experience playing without him for extended periods of times prior to this, so it's not something new. How does his injury affect expectations going forward?
I’m not sure it has a huge impact on expectations for this season. He should be recovered in a few weeks, and the knee procedure he undertook wasn’t that serious in the first place. Hopefully he’s healthy for the playoffs. The larger implications are for his long-term health and future with the Clippers. As the injuries pile up, the likelihood of Blake being any more than he is now decreases, and he’s at the age where hyper-athletic big men start to fall off anyway.
Even outside of injury concerns, there are real questions on how long his body can keep up the level of play to which Clippers fans have become accustomed, and whether that decline and the health risks are worth a full veteran’s maximum contract.
3. The Clippers seem pretty locked in to their current group of talent. Doc Rivers did a good job of adding veteran talent on minimum deals, but is there any way for LA to make a serious upgrade in terms of talent without moving on from one of their big three? Is there anyone you'd reasonably like them to go after?
The answer to both those questions is: “kind of”. Some of their bench pieces have enough value to at least drum up some interest for other teams. If you aren’t including JJ Redick in the “untouchables” list, there are probably 25+ teams who would love to have him. There are few realistic options for JJ (he’s such a good fit that I would only trade him for All Star level players, and teams probably won’t give one up for him), so I’m assuming the deal would probably be for one of the Jamal Crawford/Wes Johnson/Austin Rivers crew. Rudy Gay for Jamal + extras is a somewhat realistic trade that I wouldn’t be hugely opposed to.
While I don’t mind Jamal as much as some Clips fans, Raymond Felton and Austin have made him less valuable on the Clips, and the Clippers need an upgrade at the SF/PF positions desperately. A smaller trade might be for someone like Ersan Ilyasova on the 76ers, who would provide some much needed spacing.
4. What do you think the Clippers need to do to make this season a success? Is getting to the Conference Finals the minimum, or is getting into the second round good enough?
It’s Conference Finals or bust at this point. If the Clippers are healthy, in a seven game playoff series I like them against any Western Conference team but the Warriors and maybe Rockets. The “Big 3” has been together for six years now, and Chris Paul (who is still the best player on the team) is almost 32. Who knows what strange things might happen to the Western Conference in years to come, but this seems like the last real shot with everyone still on the team and relatively in their primes.
If the Clips bomb out in the 1st or 2nd round again (they have a loooong way to fall to miss the playoffs entirely), the likelihood that one or more of Paul, Griffin, or Redick leaves in free agency increases. While I don’t think they can beat the Warriors unless a major injury befalls the Dubs, a competitive series against them in the Conference Finals would help end the stigma of the Clips as a cursed and ill-fated franchise.
5. The Grizzlies and Clippers have certainly had their fair share of "memorable moments," and I can tell you that the Clippers are on the short list of Memphis' most hated teams. As someone on the other side, what are your thoughts and views on Memphis?
I really, really didn’t like the Grizzlies a few years ago. Now, things are a bit different. The teams are definitely still rivals, but I think there is more respect and less outright dislike. Similarly, while I still look forward to Grizzlies games and think they are more intense than most, Memphis’ place as the Clippers’ main rival has been long supplanted by the Warriors. The Grizzlies themselves are a solid team, but one that I’m not the least bit frightened of in a 7 game series (sorry).
They are still at least one large-ish piece away from being a contender in my book, not like the Clippers can really talk right now. I’m also interested to see how they will go about building a new team around Conley and Gasol as the rest of the supporting cast ages into retirement. Hopefully the Clips and Grizzlies can maintain a nice rivalry even as the main players from those playoff series from a few years back drift away.
Thanks again to Robert and the crew over at Clips Nation!