The Los Angeles Clippers are a completely different team than they were last season. Chris Paul left for the Houston Rockets in a sign and trade that sent Patrick Beverley among others to Los Angeles. Former Denver Nugget Danilo Gallinari was acquired in a sign and trade with Denver and Serbian point guard Milos Teodosic finally made the transition to the league. With Paul’s departure, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan were left to rebuild what once made Lob City so famous. Early on it seemed as though they would have little trouble with that task. The Clippers started the season with four wins in a row and the completely revamped starting lineup showed great promise.
But, it was not to be. It seems like so many teams have dealt with serious injuries right out of the gate this season, and the Clippers are no exception. Teodosic, the Clippers’ 30 year old NBA rookie point guard, went down with a plantar fascia injury that has left him out indefinitely. Austin Rivers stepped up to fill the gap but he’s just not the guard the Clippers can rely on in an extremely competitive Western Conference.
Next, Patrick Beverley sustained an injury to his right knee that has ruled him out indefinitely. Beverley’s presence on the Clippers provided focus on establishing an aggressive defense which has been one of the organization’s biggest problems in recent years. Beverley’s style of play sparks heated debate among NBA fans as his tactics are definitely questionable at times. However, one thing is for certain–his approach works, and with him ruled out the Clippers have failed to find their rhythm. Winning games really starts with good defense and without Beverley they’ve struggled to find that level of fight in any other player.
After Beverley, Gallinari was ruled out at the small forward position with a hip/glute injury. Gallinari has wrestled with injuries for the majority of his time in the NBA. In Denver alone, he was sidelined with a torn ACL for approximately 18 months straight. The ACL tear was the longest recovery period of his career, but he’s missed a multitude of games with various injuries over the years. His prolonged health challenges have left gaping holes for his teams to fill as his scoring presence is virtually irreplaceable.
Finally, just when it seemed things couldn’t get any worse, Griffin sustained a gruesome injury to his knee resulting in a sprained MCL. What’s worse is that this injury occurred when one of Griffin’s own teammates tripped and fell into him. Griffin’s injury has been described as the nail in the coffin for the Clippers’ season as he’s expected to miss at least the next two months. They sit at 10th place in the Western Conference standings around three games behind the Utah Jazz for the 8th spot. If they’re able to get Teodosic and Gallinari back they may have a chance at capturing the 8th seed, but that’s an ill-fated plan. The Houston Rockets and Golden State Warriors are neck and neck for first place in the conference, and if the Clippers can limp their way to the playoffs they’ll undoubtedly be knocked out in the first round with or without Griffin.
The Clips’ best bet now is to tank and hope for a good draft position. There’s no sense in pushing their existing healthy players only to make a round 1 exit in the post season. If they can snag a good pick in the draft and make a trade for a better back up point guard in the off season, they may have a chance at a higher position in the ranks next year. With everyone healthy, LAC can be a Western Conference contender. They’ve got stellar outside shooting with Teodosic and Galinari, and enviable presence under the rim with Griffin and Jordan. Combine that with Beverley’s ankle biting defense (that’s almost as annoying to watch as it probably is to experience), and you have yourself a playoff team.
I must admit that I’m sad to see what’s happened to the Clippers this season. I’m a big fan of Griffin and Gallinari. I was hoping to see them have a great season together. However, what’s done is done so I look forward to seeing the Clippers make smart moves to regroup and heal to come back stronger and ready to win next season.