Not too long ago, the Clippers were the definition of a basement team, and along with bad management and ownership, only the most hardcore of fans would dare stay to root them on. The Staples Center stayed empty for their home games, and the playoffs were the last thing on the mind of every NBA fan when it came to the “Other LA team.”
In fact, they were constantly on the brink of relocation, closed to not even being an LA team. But fast forward to today, and the Clippers are heavy championship contenders, and they’ve sold out more home games than fathomable. How did they start the trend upwards?
A Dish Best Served Cold
Most people would say that it was the drafting of Blake Griffin in 2009 that changed the course of the Clippers, and started what is now known as Clamp City. Lob City was what was in full effect by 2011 however, and the Clippers were dominating with Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, and Chris Paul as the headliners. Over the next two and a half years, the Clippers took control of the Pacific with the Lob City teams, but come April of 2014, the universe’s best form of justice found a way to bite the man who needed it most. Donald Sterling, who had plagued the team since he bought them in San Diego in 1981 and moved them to LA in 1984, was found to be making racist comments to his mistress over a phone call. Right as the team was changing for the better, Sterling was served some sweet revenge for his racist and lazy ways. A lifetime ban was issued to Sterling by Adam Silver, the Commissioner of the NBA.
After Sterling was banned, the Clippers still played on until they lost in the playoffs in the second round to Oklahoma City. Steve Ballmer, the former owner of Microsoft, bought the Clippers for $2 Billion dollars. Known for his incredible charisma and his freakish charm, Ballmer was nothing but excited to own a team at long last.
Ballmer Gets the Ball Rolling Via Trading
In Ballmer’s first few years, the Lob City Clips had a few more runs altogether, losing in the first round all but once in three seasons. Finally, the start of Clamp City came around in 2017.
In January 2017, the Clippers let the first domino fall on Lob City. Blake Griffin was sent to Detroit along with Brice Johnson, Willie Reed, and a second-round pick for Tobias Harris, Avery Bradley, and Boban Marjanovic with a first and second-round pick. Then, in June of 2017, Chris Paul was sent to the Houston Rockets for Patrick Beverley, Sam Dekker, Montrez Harrell, Darrun Hillard, DeAndre Hillard, Lou Williams, Kyle Wiltjer, and a first-round pick. Finally, DeAndre Jordan left for Dallas, and the three main stars of Lob City were all gone. J.J. Crawford also left the Clippers, which lead to Danilo Gallinari joining the team via a three-team trade.
Lob City Leaves And Clamp City Arrives
The 2017-2018 season was a mess for the Clippers, and through the revolving door of players, they still finished two games over .500, finishing 10th in the West. Although Lob City was over, the trades that lead up to the end were actually just the beginning, and Clamp City was official. Executive Lawrence Frank, and later on, Consultant Jerry West carefully crafted together a young and fast team to shock the world.
The 2018-2019 Clippers were projected to win 33 games by ESPN, mostly because of the roster. However, to start out, there was some real talent. Tobias Harris, Lou Williams, Montrezl Harrell, Danilo Gallinari, Patrick Beverley, it was an impressive squad knowing what we know now. But, things were really completed by a trade with Philadelphia. Fan-favorite Tobias Harris, Boban Marjanovic, and Mike Scott for Wilson Chandler, Mike Muscala, and Landry Shamet. To most, the trade was flooring, and it looked like a white flag on the Clippers season. However, Landry Shamet shined, and he helped out the Clippers in dropping 273 points in his 25 games played during the season.
The Clippers went on to take the eventual Western Conference champion Golden State Warriors to six games, and they even made history with a 31-point comeback in Game Two, which was the largest playoff game deficit ever demolished. They were still two games short from moving on, and the Cinderella run didn’t last nearly long enough.
Head Office Magic
The offseason started vert quiet for the Clippers front office, and they weren’t in the talks for superstar Kawhi Leonard for very long when the Lakers and Raptors were in the mix. The Lakers had Lebron James to offer, while the Raptors were keeping their championship squad together for Kawhi to make another run. The two big favorites in the eyes of the public didn’t change, and although there were the occasional whisperings of Kawhi to the Clippers, it was far fetched. But, what people forgot about were the very small aforementioned trades that Lawrence pulled off. Under Sterling, they wouldn’t have had a chance, but this is the absolute proof of the Clippers trending up over the years.
They had built a really young bench, as well as a budding fanbase and a gritty set of play. Under Ballmer, even the front office grew. As Kawhi said in his press conference, the transparency that was shown by the head brass was incredible. When they threw in the chance to play with Paul George, the Lakers and Raptors were out before anyone even knew it. In the end, it was Danilo Gallinari and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, along with other stock-piled picks from the trades of the Lob City stars that brought Kawhi to the Clips after they were traded away for another star in Paul George, things that everyone forgot that the front office had. It was a genius play, to say the least.
In the end, it was because of Ballmer’s head office making smart trades that the Clippers went from worst to possibly first. It wasn’t any type of championship or celebrity status that got them to the top, it was IQ and grit that did it. It’s the kind of magic that every front office wants to imitate, but luckily, it was all in the minds of the Clippers head brass. That’s a story truly worthy of Hollywood.
Statistics and Trade Info: basketball-reference and nba.com Pictures Coutresy: Bleacher Report and Geekwire