LOS ANGELES -- Doc Rivers says he believes the Los Angeles Clippers’ Big Three will stay together. He believes DeAndre Jordan will ultimately sign a max deal with the Clippers this offseason and, along with Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, pursue not only the franchise’s first conference finals berth but its first championship.
“I think all three understand how important the other guy is to them,” Rivers said recently. “Meaning, all three need each other to win, and I think all three get that and all three know that and all three want to do it together.”
This past season, Paul, Griffin and Jordan became the first trio in a decade to all be named to All-NBA teams. They are individually near the top of their respective positions, but the fact remains that after four seasons together the Clippers have yet to make it past the second round of the playoffs.
After the Clippers became just the ninth team in NBA history to blow a 3-1 series lead -- doing so in dramatic fashion by blowing a 19-point lead at home in Game 6 with 14 minutes left in the game -- many wondered if it was time for the Clippers to “blow up” the team. In other words, was it time for the Clippers to break up their Big Three?
Publicly, that’s not the plan for the Clippers this offseason. But here are three blockbuster trades the Clippers could look into if they want to break up their Big Three:
Trade 1: Blake Griffin for Kevin Durant
This is perhaps the NBA's most talked-about hypothetical trade. If Oklahoma City feels that Durant is likely to leave in free agency after next season, there’s no better replacement than bringing home Griffin, who was born and raised in Oklahoma and played college ball at the state university. Almost as important as Griffin’s hometown ties is that he is 26, just entering his prime and is signed through the 2017-18 season.
From a basketball perspective, however, the one-for-one trade does not quite stack up. Offensively, both players are high-usage scorers who can pass, but Durant is a far more efficient and versatile scorer than Griffin. Durant can score from anywhere on the court, while Griffin has a career 3-point percentage of just 26 percent and his overall efficiency dipped this season as he increased his shot attempts from outside the paint. The Thunder shot only 34 percent from 3 as a team this season (23rd in the league) and they can’t afford to replace a shooter of Durant’s caliber with Griffin’s 26 percent.
But there is hope for this blockbuster trade if both sides are agreeable to expanding the deal and making it more palatable for Oklahoma City. If the Clippers added J.J. Redick and the Thunder added Dion Waiters, Oklahoma City could be more likely to part with the 2013-14 MVP.
Reddick would immediately become the best shooter on Oklahoma City’s roster, and probably the best shooter that the Thunder have ever had on their roster. So while Oklahoma City would still have to struggle with playing Serge Ibaka and Griffin together, it could significantly upgrade at shooting guard and add an explosive scorer in the frontcourt who is under contract for three more seasons, while the Clippers add the most dangerous scorer in the league -- and still have other shooters (Paul shot 40 percent from 3 last season) to surround him.
Trade 2: Chris Paul for Russell Westbrook
If there is truth to the rumors that Paul doesn’t get along with Griffin and Jordan, the Clippers could look at siding with their big men and trying to trade Paul, who changed the course of the franchise when he was dealt to Los Angeles a little over four years ago.
And if Oklahoma City believes Westbrook will leave when his contract is up after the 2016-17 season and/or if it feels a trade for a more prototypical point guard like Paul would help keep Durant in Oklahoma City next year it would certainly explore the options.
Trading point guards could actually make sense for both teams. Both players pass and defend at similar levels. The Clippers would get a very high-usage point guard who scores at high volume and still passes at an extremely high level. And every rim in the league would be in a constant state of fear on a Westbrook/Griffin fast break. To make the trade work, they can also end up with a steady backup point guard in D.J. Augustin, too.
It would also be a homecoming for both players. Westbrook was born in Long Beach, went to Leuzinger High in Lawndale, California, and UCLA, and has been rumored to be eyeing a return home to Los Angeles (possibly with the Lakers) when he becomes a free agent. Paul would be returning to Oklahoma City, where he was very popular locally while playing with the Hornets during his rookie season, when the team had to temporarily relocate after Hurricane Katrina. The Thunder would also be getting a more efficient scorer who shares the ball more frequently, thus potentially making him a better fit alongside Durant who can score from anywhere on the court.
Trade 3: DeAndre Jordan for Tyson Chandler
Probably the most likely of these scenarios would be this swapping of big men if Jordan tells the Clippers he is leaving for Dallas with or without their assistance. The Clippers can’t afford to lose Jordan without lining up an adequate replacement, so the best avenue to do that would be a sign-and-trade.
Jordan can sign a five-year deal worth roughly $109 million with the Clippers. If he were to join another team, with or without the aid of a sign-and-trade, he'd be eligible for a four-year deal worth about $81 million.
It would be another homecoming of sorts for both players. Jordan, 26, was born in Houston, went to Texas A&M and has been rumored to be eying a return to Texas. Chandler, 32, went to Dominguez High in Compton, California, and the Clippers selected him second overall in the 2001 NBA draft out of high school before trading him to the Chicago Bulls for Elton Brand. Chandler had his best scoring and rebounding seasons while he was teammates with Paul in New Orleans.
Adding Chandler via a sign-and-trade would hard-cap the Clippers for the season, and, depending on the Mavs' books, require them to either overpay Chandler (say, starting at $14 million on a decreasing contract?) or take on other contracts (such as Raymond Felton's, should he opt in this offseason). It would also eat into their cap space for the 2016 offseason, when the likes of Durant are set to hit the market.
But in this scenario, the Clippers come close to replacing Jordan’s rebounding and defense, while getting a more efficient offensive player who can actually hit a free throw. For the Mavericks, they get to lock up one of the best young centers in the game who can dominate the paint for Mark Cuban to rebuild around.