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An 11-Step Guide to Saving the Clippers

Chris Paul is gone. Blake Griffin is hobbled and halfway out the door. Doc is on the golf course. The other Los Angeles NBA team is in peril. But Bill Simmons has the answers.

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

My feelings weren’t hurt when Steve Ballmer hired Jerry West as a consultant to the Clippers. Instead of hiring the author of The Book of Basketball, Ballmer hired the NBA’s actual logo. Can you blame him? Had Ballmer brought me in as a second consultant after the Chris Paul trade/fiasco, here’s the first memo I would have sent.

Dear Steve,

I’m sending this first memo only to you. I would have included Jerry, but it hurt my feelings when he called me a "dumb fuckface" yesterday. I don’t think he likes me. Maybe I shouldn’t have gushed so much about Bill Russell. I’m not including Lawrence Frank because he looks more darty-eyed and freaked out these days than Ray Liotta during the last 20 minutes of Goodfellas. (We wouldn’t want this entire memo to end up being Woj’s first Woj bomb for ESPN.) And I didn’t include Doc Rivers because Doc would never click on any email that doesn’t include a subject heading like "Golf tomorrow?" or "YOUR TEE TIME HAS BEEN CONFIRMED."

It’s just you and me. As I told you, congrats on nudging Chris Paul to Houston. He’s a Hall of Famer. He’s one of the best 10 point guards ever. But little guys don’t age well in the NBA. There’s no track record in league history — literally, none — of anyone under 6-foot-3 dominating as the alpha dog on a true contender after their 12th NBA season. (Remember this piece I sent you?)

You know who realized this? Chris Paul! To keep contending at the highest level, Chris knew he had to attach himself to a franchise player — no different from Oscar Robertson joining Lew Alcindor in 1970, Jay-Z hooking up with Kanye in 2011, or me hooking up with Kevin Durant in 2017. James Harden made the most sense. Smart. And you were savvy for turning Paul’s inevitable departure into two sneaky assets (Patrick Beverley and Lou Williams), a young wing (Sam Dekker), and a top-three-protected first-round pick — a pick that Doc will probably flip to Ice Cube next week for DeShawn Stevenson and Rashard Lewis, but still, a valuable pick.

So now what? Here’s what I think you should do …

1. Let Blake Griffin leave.

Again, I’m just trusting NBA history here. I think it was the great Red Auerbach who first came up with this rule: If you throw the name of any 28-and-over All-Star forward or center into Google searches with the following words …

"Broken"
"Torn"
"Walking Boot"
"Arthroscopic"
"Second surgery"
"Under the knife"
"Limping"
"Tendinitis"

… and you get results for half of the searches, you should be concerned. If you’re getting results for EVERY search? RUN FOR THE HILLS.

I believe Blake Griffin remains one of the league’s most fascinating talents, but I can’t imagine him staying healthy for two years, much less four. Too many injuries, too much damage. You could see the effects of those hospital trips last year, when Blake started going under and around bigger players instead of over and through them. We went from Lob City to Duck City.

In 2010, Phoenix faced a similar dilemma with a star forward in his late 20s who brought similar physical risks. They blinked and let Amar’e Stoudemire sign with New York for $100 million. He played fantastically for 50 games, then his knees broke down and that was that. I hope that doesn’t happen to Blake, but it’s more likely than unlikely. You can’t risk $130 million for four years, or $175 million for five years, on someone who probably can’t stay healthy. Let him leave. We’ll always have the 2015 Spurs series, Lob City, the Kia leap, and 230 of the 237 best dunks in Clippers history. I enjoyed the Blake Griffin era.

2. Trade DeAndre Jordan to Milwaukee for Greg Monroe’s expiring contract and a top-four-protected first-round pick.

Doesn’t the Freak need an elite rebounder/shot blocker/rim protector/head of handshakes/someone who can get any pretty celebrity on a text in three minutes? The Bucks would be crazy not to do this. DeAndre, Freak, Jabari, Middleton, and Brogdon? With Thon Maker as the grizzled old veteran off the bench? That might be enough to get Marc Lasry and Wes Edens to start speaking again!

3. Trade Lou Williams for a future first.

You know who wants elite bench scoring for $7 million for one season? Everybody. Every single good team. Uh-oh, I think he just blocked me on Twitter. Dammit.

4. Trade Beverley for a pick or a young player, but insist that Jamal Crawford becomes the "Beverley Tax" in any trade.

In other words, we’ll give you Beverley, but you HAVE to take Crawford — a phenomenal teammate and a once-every-three-weeks Heat Check Guy who can’t guard anyone, thinks he’s way better than he is, and incredibly makes nearly $29 million over the next two seasons because Doc Rivers is the Monopoly player who gives you the Oranges and all the railroads for Boardwalk and thinks he outsmarted you.

Here’s a fun idea: Beverley and Crawford to Philly for Jahlil Okafor and a heavily protected future first. Beverley is the perfect point guard for Philly — he’s an elite defender who doesn’t need to handle the ball, so you could play him with Markelle Fultz and my son Ben Simmons. Crawford becomes the proverbial "Vet" for a precocious Sixers team that desperately needs someone over 27 to dispense advice like, "You don’t need three cars on a rookie contract," "You can see her nipple, don’t Instagram that," "You can’t let your cousin launch a record label with your money," and "No no no, you don’t enter your credit information over an unsecure network!" The duo would make roughly $19.5 million this year and $19.5 million next season — perfect. Great price. The Lannisters would definitely say yes. Whoops, I meant the Colangelos.

(Speaking of Philly, don’t worry about bottoming out for a top-three draft pick. Sixers fans didn’t just embrace the Process; these days, they’re behaving like Dr. Dre and Tyrese the night before Apple bought Beats. NBA fans have gotten much, much, MUCH smarter. They only want their teams to create a logical long-term plan, then stick to that plan. That’s why Knicks fans hated Phil Jackson. Well, that’s one of 28 reasons why they hated him.)

5. Have a staring contest with Doc until he quits or asks to be bought out.

There are four things Doc hates more than anything else: rebuilding, coaching clueless young players, playing behind a slow foursome, and doing all three of those things at the same time. Call his bluff. You just flipped a 51-win team into a 17-win team. You owe Doc $22 million for this season and next season. Doc will want to get paid off so that he has even more time to play golf. But if you bought him out for 75 cents on the dollar, he’d jump right into Chauncey’s NBA Countdown seat and everyone would win.

Kudos to Doc for saving the Clippers franchise during the Sterling debacle; without him, a rudderless and distraught organization would have imploded. That salvation becomes his Clippers legacy, along with (a) two legitimately unfair playoff collapses that couldn’t be re-created by your best Microsoft computer, (b) how he combined with Chris and Blake to create the whiniest NBA team I’ve ever watched in my life, and (c) the indisputable fact that he’s a great father. Seriously, he’s a GREAT father. If I can get someone to pay my son $35.5 million when nobody else is offering $12 million, I would be sending emails to my friends saying, "GUESS WHAT I JUST PULLED OFF!" I don’t blame Doc for getting Austin paid.

And yeah, GM Doc failed miserably, but guess what. Anyone who coaches an NBA team AND runs an NBA team fails miserably. I don’t blame him as much as Sterling and, yes, you, for letting him do it. You may as well have let him try out for the PGA Tour, too. I don’t believe Doc wants to work hard anymore. I don’t begrudge him. I can’t wait to get there someday. Shake hands, sign the buyout, move on.

6. Don’t trade Austin Rivers.

Let’s see Austin go Westbrook. It’s your show now, Austin. LET’S SEE IT, KID! SPREAD THE FLOOR FOR AUSTIN!!!!!! Besides, Doc will land another gig next spring, and guess who he’ll be overpaying for in a June/July trade? (Seriously, guess! I will give you one guess!)

7. Don’t break ground on that Inglewood arena yet.

Hold this thought.

8. Don’t hire a long-term coach or GM.

Hold this thought, too.

9. Next summer … LEBRON.

And his friends! Look what we just did! You’re on the hook in the summer of 2018 for Rivers (one year, $12.7 million), Wesley Johnson (one year, $6.1 million), and that’s it. You can stretch Johnson’s deal over seven years if you want to create $5 million more in 2018 cap space. And again, Doc will trade for Austin when he takes over Sacramento or Atlanta. Suddenly, you’re a blank canvas with a high lottery pick coming and that’s it. It’s beautiful! It’s like NBA2K with all the restrictions turned off. You want the Banana Boat reunion? You want LeBron, Paul George, and Russell Westbrook? Pick your superteam! Pick your coach! Pick your GM!

The Clippers couldn’t win a title last season, and they definitely couldn’t win one this season. But you could win one in 2019. LeBron owns a $21 million house in Brentwood, and his self-proclaimed media "empire" operates out of Burbank. A heavily rumored move to L.A. would be the logical next step for the guy who strives to become the NBA’s first multimedia billionaire icon — like Jay-Z crossed with Magic crossed with Ryan Seacrest. Give him his own team. Sneak him some Microsoft stock. Promise him a piece of the Clips when he retires. Get it done.

10. Next summer … NO LEBRON.

And if he still says no, then we aren’t necessarily screwed. It’s actually a blessing. Because here’s what started to happen these last two seasons …

People in L.A. didn’t really enjoy going to Clippers games. Maybe they never recovered from the Choker Bowl in 2015 (Game 6, Houston). Maybe they got tired of the late-game collapses, the complaining to officials, Chris stomping around, opponents picking on Blake, a never-ending parade of washed-up role players. Who knows? But the worm turned. The Clippers stopped being cool.

Here’s what will definitely happen this season, whether you intently follow my instructions or keep everyone and re-sign Griffin (and lock down a 6-seed): You’ll become irrelevant in Los Angeles.

See, the Clippers didn’t just miss their title window in 2014 and 2015. They missed it for the city itself. The Lakers fucked up for four solid years. Four! They traded picks for Nash right as he was breaking down. They comically overpaid Kobe and his Musecage for two ridiculous seasons. They tanked four straight times and somehow didn’t land a guaranteed franchise guy until they landed two (Lonzo and LaVar). They botched their 2018 salary cap with the indefensible Mozgov and Deng deals, then used 2015’s no. 2 overall pick just to dump one of them. And as all of this was happening, the Buss family feuded, splintered, sued each other, and became Sterling-level dysfunctional.

The Lakers did everything short of asking Metta World Peace to shit on the Hollywood sign and set it on fire. And the Clippers STILL couldn’t steal Los Angeles from them.

If anything, the city’s love for the Lakers became more pronounced — you could feel it every time a Clipper got booed at a Dodgers game, or every time a more famous NBA team passed through Clipperland and drew 6,000–7,000 fans. Nobody quit on the Lakers. They’ve been here since 1960. Jerry, Elgin, Wilt, Kareem, Magic, Worthy, Shaq, Kobe. Eleven titles. Dr. Jerry, Jack. Showtime. Lakers blood runs deep. Did they right the ship with Magic and Rob Pelinka and Lonzo? Maybe. But every Lakers fan believes in them again.

You missed your window, Steve.

And here’s how this differs from 1984, 1994, 2004, or even 2008. In the old days, people bought Clippers season tickets because it was a cost-effective way to see (a) NBA basketball, and (b) stars on other teams. That’s why I bought Clippers tickets in 2004. I wanted to see Kobe and Pierce and T-Mac and Garnett and Duncan and LeBron.

In 2017, who needs season tickets? Pick eight games you want to see, then buy tickets on SeatGeek. If you overpay a little, so be it. It’s still better than paying for 41 games and being unable to dump half of them. Secondary markets have ruined the need for season tickets unless it’s the very best seats. I owned L.A. Kings season tickets for six years and dumped them last spring. What was the point? Forty-one games? Regular-season hockey? Paying upfront six months in advance? Get the fuck out of here. Three weeks ago, my son wanted to attend a Dodgers game. It was 3 p.m. I went on SeatGeek and grabbed seats behind the Dodgers dugout for less than face value. Season tickets are about to die and turn into something else. You know I’m right.

That didn’t hurt you for this coming season — everyone paid for their tickets already. But next year? Look out. There isn’t a more crowded entertainment market right now than Los Angeles. Two NBA teams, two baseball teams, two NFL teams, two MLS teams (soon), two NHL teams, two major college football/basketball programs, and every conceivable musical act you’d ever want to see. The Clippers are about to get lost unless you get LeBron.

And if you don’t …

11. Move the Clippers to Seattle.

That hurt to write. Clippers fans might be badly outnumbered by Lakers fans, but their loyalty has been inspiring. I mean, who would want to keep rooting for THIS team? They suffered through three to 33 years of misery (depending on their age) and keep coming back. But there aren’t a lot of them. As opposed to say, Seattle, a thriving metropolis that could be the Pacific Northwest’s version of how Silicon Valley embraced the Warriors. Seattle not having an NBA team is dumber than James Dolan having an NBA team.

You’re never toppling USC, UCLA, the Lakers, and the Dodgers. You could own Seattle. Bring the Sonics back to life like Chuck Noland. For the life of me, I can’t imagine why you would build a new basketball arena in Inglewood. For what purpose? How are you filling it 12 months a year? What’s playing there for the other 300–320 days? Not the Kings, Lakers, or any college team. Not the best musical acts — they’re all going to the Forum (America’s most artist-friendly venue), the Rose Bowl, Staples, Microsoft Theater, or the new football stadium (when it’s ready). What’s left? Esports?

Building that Inglewood stadium is the equivalent of being in a failing relationship and saying, "I know what will save us — let’s have a kid!"

That Inglewood arena is the kid. Build it if you’re getting LeBron — maybe. Don’t build it for Blake Griffin in his mid-30s, or future lottery picks, or the hope of a contender in a 30-team league with Giannis, Davis, Durant, Lonzo, and every other future franchise guy probably playing somewhere else. The truth is, Los Angeles shouldn’t have two basketball teams. And Seattle SHOULD have a basketball team. If you were from Seattle, maybe you’d realize this.

Oh wait … YOU’VE LIVED IN SEATTLE FOR OVER 30 YEARS. YOU KNOW THIS.

Blow the Clippers up. Put your eggs in LeBron’s basket. And if he whips that basket to the ground like he did to Iggy’s layup in Game 7, then it’s Seattle time. That’s my advice. I am glad you never asked.

Sincerely,

Bill Simmons