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The Burning Questions the Clippers Face Need No Introduction

Is this finally it? Is their series loss to the Jazz the franchise’s moment of reckoning?

(Getty Images/Ringer illustration)
(Getty Images/Ringer illustration)

For approximately half a decade, the Clippers have served as basketball’s ultimate proof of the dualism of mind and body. Lob City’s starting lineups have historically been a monument to logic: a perfectly balanced solution of intelligence, athleticism, and perimeter ability, equally adept in long-held standards of skill distribution and modern notions of flexibility. The disconnect, however, between reality and what logic suggests the team is capable of (L.A. has been in the top five in expected win-loss in four of the past five seasons) has always been jarring. And after L.A.’s latest disappointing finish, a 104–91 Game 7 loss to the Jazz on Sunday, it’s fair to wonder just how logical it would be to keep this team together over the summer.

Part of the fun in both rooting for and hating the Clippers is how easy they are to process as a basketball team. Their core conveniently breaks off into specific, familiar archetypes: Chris Paul is the tyrannical leader; Blake Griffin is the star-crossed cornerstone; DeAndre Jordan is the hidden lifeline. While J.J. Redick was always a distant fourth in the Clippers’ hierarchy, he served as the team’s horn of plenty—a symbol of prosperity in good times and an embodiment of what the team lacks for in bad times. When the team clicks, there should be no shortage of open looks for a player like Redick, who feeds off of systemic order on the floor. Against a Jazz team with a surplus of rangy athletes on the wings, the pockets of space J.J. has been so adept at tracking were nowhere to be found — and it was all exacerbated by the trust breakdowns all game long that resulted in forced, stagnant possessions.

Redick receded into the cavernous folds of obscurity over the final 96 minutes of the series, taking only nine shots total in that stretch, with nearly 92 minutes of game time separating his lone made field goal in Game 6 from his lone made field goal in Game 7. For years, Redick was a sniper skating below perception behind the Clippers’ fortified walls. But his complete disappearance in the series has signaled the point of surrender — for this season and possibly beyond. Lob City has fallen.

The Clippers’ big questions need no introduction; The Ringer has advocated for a Clippers shake-up all season long. Is Doc Rivers long for this team? Would a Mephistophelean promise from the Cavs or Spurs be enough for Paul to turn away the swell of money he’ll almost assuredly rake in if he stays put? Are the charred remains of Griffin’s trade value salvageable? Is Jordan their most tradable asset? How soon before Redick makes his return to Milwaukee? The questions are annoyingly obvious and almost entirely dependent on Chris Paul — just like their postseason was. The team will have to grapple with everything, all at once. Because if we’ve learned anything from the Clippers, it’s that half-measures have no effect on them — they’ve ended up only making the team older and less equipped to deal with the future.

Losing to the Jazz, in particular, can feel like two tectonic plates moving in opposite directions. The Clippers lost to a team that in many ways radiates an opposite identity: a small-market franchise that spent almost all of its resources developing young talent and creating one of the deepest talent pools in the league. Sunday’s game was broadcast on ABC, just the second time the Jazz managed to receive major network exposure this season, and it was a hallmark game for introducing the world to Jazz basketball: methodical and slow-paced, with a heavy emphasis on ball movement and securing possessions. The last time the Jazz played on an over-the-air television network prior to this season was February 2, 2001. NBC still had broadcast rights then; Karl Malone still had two seasons remaining in Utah; Gordon Hayward was a scrawny fifth-grader playing option quarterback who practically begged off the team because he was getting annihilated by older players on every down.

Life comes at you fast. And in a flash, the NBA has throttled into a transitional era. The Clippers have found themselves in their dying days as part of the old guard. It seems impossible for the franchise to run it all back after what they’ve just dealt with in the Jazz series. The Clippers have tried to build time machines to bring them back to more promising times, but in reality, they’ve locked themselves into a time capsule being buried deeper and deeper every year. There has always been a ghost in the Clippers’ basketball machine, but now it seems haunted by its own reflection. There’s no coming back from that, and there is nowhere to hide anymore.