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The Clippers' Courtship of OKC Exec Michael Winger Shows They're Finally Ready to Take Some Risks

L.A.'s latest front-office target helped guide the Thunder to the conference final and beyond. If hired, would he be able to achieve the same for the Clips?

Los Angeles Clippers Fan Festival Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images

If all the reshuffling in the Los Angeles Clippers’ directory—hiring Jerry West away from the defending champs and relieving one of the last-standing executive–head coach hybrids of his executive duties—thus far this summer was not indicative enough, then Sunday confirmed it: This is not your mother’s Clips front office.

Which is to say that the decision-making that helped lead to year after year of anticlimactic Western Conference playoff exits is being thoughtfully replaced. On Sunday, not three weeks after taking ultimate decision-making power away from Doc Rivers, the Clippers reportedly offered their open general manager position to Oklahoma City executive Michael Winger. Though Dave Wohl is listed as the Clips’ current GM, his job has been primarily advisory, and the GM role went vacant when Rivers was stripped of his title as president of basketball operations.

If Winger, just 37 years old, accepts the job in L.A., he’ll report to Lawrence Frank, the former veep under Rivers who was promoted to Doc’s old position. Just like with West and Golden State, there’s much front-office strategy to be learned from Winger, who served as an assistant under Sam Presti for seven seasons, and the Thunder, an organization that has become something of an executive factory in recent years, spawning Charlotte’s Rich Cho and former Magic GM Rob Hennigan.

We’ll call the following the tenets of the OKC front office that could be applied in L.A.—Clippers fans can call it more evidence for hope.

Find Late First-Round Value

One of the most regrettable chapters in Clippers history is still being written: drafting. Selections in ’08 and ’09—DeAndre Jordan, Eric Gordon, and Blake Griffin—represent the lone, upbeat notes on the R.E.M. ballad that plays over the Clippers’ slideshow of future busts smiling in red-and-blue hats next to the commissioner.

Even a pick that hung around, like Al-Farouq Aminu, taken immediately before Gordon Hayward and Paul George, is a blunder in retrospect. DeAndre, who outlasted many first-rounders, is proof that second-round diamonds in the rough do exist, though he’s alone amongst Clipper late-draft successes of the past 15 years. (Set 2017’s Jawun Evans and Sindarius Thornwell aside for evaluation at a later date.)

Here’s a group of people: C.J. Wilcox, John Schnatter, Reggie Bullock, Al Thornton, Stas Davydov, Ben Hawkey, Yaroslav Korolev, and Brice Johnson. Five are the other Clippers first-rounders since 2005, one is Papa John’s Christian name, one is Russia’s top YouTube star, and one is the guy who plays Hot Pie on Game of Thrones. Can you pick out the Clippers?

That isn’t to say that the Thunder don’t miss, but they seem to better understand the value of a pick. (Is it too soon to bring up Doc trading Jared Dudley and a 2017 first-rounder for Carlos Delfino, Miroslav Raduljica, and a 2016 second-rounder?) Meanwhile, OKC nabbed Reggie Jackson, Eric Bledsoe, and Serge Ibaka outside the lottery, while two MVPs (Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant) and an MVP candidate (James Harden) are proof of fine marksmanship on top selections.

Turn Off the Leaks

Dysfunction is inevitable when a new report surfaces each season about which Clipper despises which teammate the most this year, from DeAndre hating Chris Paul to Paul hating Austin Rivers, to everyone hating Doc.

OKC operates at the other end of the spectrum, keeping entities separate and the media out of the roped-off area. Admittedly, this isn’t as fun as finding out who Blake Griffin doesn’t get along with, but the culture of silence did help the team pull off the offseason’s most hush-hush heist in acquiring Paul George. Which, speaking of …

Make Big Moves Out of Nowhere

Before this summer, the Clips personified “run it back.” Their stagnant and injury-prone core was seemingly staying put—until Chris Paul forced a trade to Houston. The Clippers got an admirable return from the Rockets, but ironically, part of the reason CP3 reportedly wanted to go was because of L.A.’s refusal to move assets around.

Not being able to let go ultimately kept the Clips in the same spot for years. In the entire Doc-operated era, Los Angeles failed to reach its unofficial goal of a first conference final, a feat Winger achieved six years into his tenure with OKC. Of course, the Thunder likely have regrets—something a bearded man in Houston can speak to—but at the very least, OKC’s front office has proved that sometimes taking a risk is the most viable option. The Clippers, rearranging their front office and inviting in talent from elsewhere, now appear to agree.