Tears from Steve Ballmer, and a presentation of a Big Four reportedly had Kevin Durant blown away when he met with the Clippers during his free agency tour before taking the easy road and signing with the Golden State Warriors earlier this summer. Deflating the Clippers, and the rest of the NBA as the quest for the 2017 NBA Championship has gotten underway.
As major as Durant's decision, and crazy free agency has been, the rest of the summer has been forgotten, though, it has been just as vital to setting teams up with the success needed or want. Let's look at what the Clippers accomplished during this summer.
DRAFT: Entering draft night, the Clippers held two picks, the 25th and 33rd overall selections. With Rivers' recent first round selections, Reggie Bullock and CJ Wilcox, not gaining much playing time, it was intriguing to see what direction Rivers would go.
At #25, the hopes were that either Denzel Valentine or Taurean Prince would somehow plummet, neither of which was the case. Rivers went with Brice Johnson, a seasoned senior out of North Carolina. Johnson brings a different dimension to the Clippers front line and is a solid option to spell Blake Griffin.
At #33, the Clippers selected Cheick Diallo, bringing some excitement and confusion to the Clipper fans. Subsequently, the rights to Diallo were traded to the New Orleans Pelicans, in exchange for the 39th and 40th selections. At the 39th slot, Rivers went with an unknown from France, David Michineau, a 6'4 point guard. Michineau does seem to have a lot of promise to be a solid floor general, though he needs to work on his offensive game before he can consider a NBA career.
At #40, and the third pick for Rivers is where he may have snagged his best player in Diamond Stone from Maryland. The frosh big man had a solid season with the Terps, leading them into the Big Dance alongside Melo Trimble. Stone has the work ethic to reach his potential. Only disappointment was Rivers giving Stone a two year deal instead of locking him in much longer (like the Pelicans did with Diallo, ironically).
FREE AGENCY: Like the rest of the NBA, the Clippers had one name circled, underlined, bolded and highlighted when free agency fully kicked off. That name is Kevin Durant, and they were one of a handful of teams that were granted a meet with the star small forward. Despite being "blown away", Durant chose to sign with the Golden State Warriors, taking he coward's way out according to most fans and analysts alike.
With Durant out of the picture, Rivers had very little cap room remaining to play with, turning the focus on maintaining his own free agents. Jeff Green bolted to Orlando relatively quickly, a move that caused irate to fans as Rivers gave up a first round selection to acquire him mid-season. Green didn't do anything to solidify the three spot like he was projected to do so.
Austin Rivers was the first announced signing for the Clipper front office, given a three year deal valued at about $35 million. A signing that wasn't received well by the fans is one that I can live with. While Rivers was overpaid by about $8 million, he has shown a gradual increase of play, and has the heart and confidence to want to continue that rate.
Following baby Rivers was the Jamal Crawford announcement, at about $42 million over three years, coming after Crawford's camp was disgruntled about the "disrespectful initial offer", which prompted some members of the roster to contact the front office and give Crawford "what he deserves." It's unknown what Rivers had offered initially, but the contract given to Crawford is a gross overpay, despite Jamal being the reigning 6th Man of the Year, and the only one to win it three times. At the wrong side of 30, Crawford still has the capabilities to put up points in a flurry, but his defense is worse than it ever has and the Crawford-Rivers combination has been flat out horrible.
The three spot continued to be the Achilles heal for the Clippers, and the Clippers kept two from the prior season in Luc Richard MBah A Moute coming back on a two year minimum deal, an absolute steal considering how money was being thrown around, while Wesley Johnson remained on a three year deal at the Mid-Level Exception. Not the ground breaking combination fans were hoping for, however, the duo has solid chemistry with the squad and will hopefully continue on with solid play.
Wanting some veteran experience, Rivers poached the Warriors, signing away Marresse Speights from the defending champions. Clipper fans are likely to remember Speights being an in your face guy from his days with the Memphis Grizzlies, who had a nice little rivalry with consecutive playoff face-offs during Paul's early Clipper days. Speights is a solid third big man for Los Angeles, and the best one the team has had since Reggie Evans and Kenyon Martin were on the other side of Speights.
The addition of Speights, and lack of cap space made it inevitable that the Clippers would not be able to retain Cole Aldrich, a surprise contributor as DeAndre Jordan's backup a year prior. Aldrich went home to Minnesota on a three year deal, valued at $21 million.
Rivers wasn't done in the bargain bin, as he went and brought in Brandon Bass, who played for Rivers in Boston. Bass spent the last season across the hall with the Lakers, and was voted as the teammate of the year, by the players. A solid low-post banger that can hit the mid-range jumper, Bass brings in a different skill set, furthering the versatility off the bench. Bass and Speights form a big duo unseen since the aforementioned Evans-Martin days, and provide solid veteran leadership for Stone and Johnson.
With roster spots at a premium, Rivers traded away Wilcox to the Orlando Magic, along with cash considerations in exchange for Devyn Marble and a 2020 second round selection. Marble was immediately waived, to the dismay of some fans. An unguaranteed contract, Marble wasn't the target int he trade, rather, the roster slot and the money saved.
Branden Dawsen was the next victim of roster and salary savings as Rivers' requested waivers on the young swing man. A trade brought the tweener to the Clippers during the 2015 NBA draft, and opportunities were provided for the 56th overall selection, though, the results weren't there.
Down to a dozen on the roster, Rivers went out and snagged two more solid veterans, with just the veterans minimum at his disposal. Raymond Felton from the Dallas Mavericks and Alan Anderson from the Brooklyn Nets joined the team in Los Angeles, bringing in some expectations to finally bring in solid play to an otherwise weak second unit.
Felton has made it clear he's going to be a verbal guy, try to help out a fellow Tar Heel alum in Johnson stick around for a long time, though he needs to focus on his own play and remain determined to stick around.
While Anderson is going to be a part of the Clippers "small forward by committee", alongside Mbah A Moute and Wes Johnson. Anderson is a solid defender at staying in front of his man and has the ability to spread the floor with a solid jumper.
End-in-end, Rivers did a solid job considering the little tools he had, which in all fairness, is his own fault. The Clippers should be a lock for a top three seed in the conference, alongside the Warriors and Greg Popovich's Spurs, despite having Tim Duncan retire. I'd give him an overall B+ unless Michineau comes in next year and beasts it up.