Picture a house on top of a steep hill and while several teams are climbing towards the house and their windows, the Clippers are going backward while their window is slowly closing.
Could you picture a house sitting on top of a hill with 30 NBA teams at the bottom racing to get to the top. This house is different though there, there is no door, only 30 windows of varying size. The only way into this championship house is through the window. The size of team’s window and how long it remains open is dependent on several different factors. The Los Angeles Clippers’ window shot open six years ago but feels like it slamming shut after this season. The most important factor that opens up a window is a team’s talent. Healthy, contract length, and personnel decisions decide how long teams get to keep their window open. For years the Clippers window was nailed shut from the moment they moved to Los Angeles in 1984. Before the 2011-12 season, the team made the playoffs just four times in 26 years, that’s a playoff run every six, seven years. It felt like they didn’t even have a window in the championship house.
Lots of things started to change when the Clippers won the draft lottery and drafted Blake Griffin with the number one pick in the 2009 NBA draft. A small window appeared in the championship house that night, although it was there it was still nailed down shut because it was the Clippers after all. Griffin would miss the 2009-10 season with a knee injury; the Clipper curse was still intact.Then just before the shortened 2011-12 season was about to begin, the Clipper window break off the nails and shot wide open. The Clipper breeze was felt in the house immediately after they traded for Chris Paul. Teaming him up with Griffin who just finished a successful Rookie of the Year campaign and with the highflying DeAndre Jordan anchoring the defense. With future Hall of Famer Chauncey Billups in the starting backcourt and off the bench Jamal Crawford, and Eric Bledsoe, the Clippers were developing a deep squad around a new championship level core. With Paul (26), Jordan (23), and Griffin (22) it was clear the Clippers window was going to be open for a long time. The Clippers made the playoffs in the shortened season, and shocked the Memphis Grizzlies in a hard fought seven game series before getting bounced in the second round by the San Antonio Spurs. The 2011-12 season was the start for this young team to learn how to win the playoffs.
Inevitably, the Clippers had a breakthrough season the next season, with the young players a year older, the team would go on a 16 game winning streak and not lose a game in the entire month of December. Finish with a team record in wins with 56 but then the wheels started to come off when Griffin would twist his ankle on a teammate’s foot during practice in the playoffs. After building a 2-0 lead against Memphis, they would lose four straight and exit the playoffs in the first round as well as the end of Vinny Del Negro’s coaching tenure. Even then, doubts about whether these pieces actually fit together where being whispered around the NBA. The window wasn’t as wide open as it was just a few weeks earlier, but it was about to get another shot. The Clippers hired Glenn “Doc” Rivers to be the new coach and head of basketball operations. Coach Doc, just saw the window shut on the big three but not before getting one championship and making it to another finals. Doc was brought in to bring that championship pedigree and culture to these young Clippers. Just when it looked like the window was beginning to shut on them Doc’s arrival kept it open wide.
Presence felt immediately when the Doc took over after free agency began. Paul announced he was resigning with the Clippers as soon as the Free Agency period began in the NBA. Not long after that he made his next move, trading Bledsoe and Caron Butler in a three team trade that brought back sharp shooter JJ Redick and small forward Jared Dudley. The Clippers started the 2013-14 season as contenders and some experts had them as the favorites to get to the NBA finals. The Clippers would set the franchise record for wins for the second straight season with 57 wins. In the playoffs the Clippers would struggle in the first round against the Golden State Warriors with a scandal that would end the long tenure of Clipper owner Donald Sterling. Despite the off the court drama, they would beat the Warriors in seven games and move onto the second round against the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Thunder and Clippers would square off in a tight series, with the Clippers winning game one on the road and return back to OKC for game five with the series tied at 2-2. In a very tight game, the Clippers closer Chris Paul would uncharacteristically become un-clutch. He would turn the ball over twice and commit a foul on Russell Westbrook shooting a three that turned into three game winning free throws in the final 15 seconds of the game. The team would lose the series in six games, and the open window closed a bit. That year the San Antonio Spurs climbed through their wide-open window for their fifth championship.
Progress. The following season even more experts began to buy in on the Clippers being true contenders for the 2014-15 season. As the team is getting older the open window is beginning to close and this season a juggernaut emerged out of nowhere. The Golden State Warriors would beat out the Clippers to win the division. Despite that they finished with 56 wins and a first round match up with the defending champion Spurs. The Clippers and Spurs slugged out in a seven game series but Paul trying to redeem himself for the last playoffs exit, hit a game winning runner to push the Clippers to the second round. Everything was lining up for the Los Angeles Clippers to make it to their first conference finals ever when they took a 3-1 lead against the Houston Rockets. Despite Paul having to sit out the first two games of the series because of a hamstring injury he suffered with his great heroics in game 7 against the Spurs. It appeared as if they were taking a leap as they were up as much as 19 points in the game six of the series. Instead of a leap forward it was a giant step back for the team. The Rockets outscore the Clippers 51-20 that started at the end of the third quarter and forced a game seven. The Clippers still punch drunk from game six would barely put up a fight and their season would end. The Warriors would find their way through the window while the Clippers window was now halfway closed. The end of the 2014-15 season marked the end of a short lived run where they ran the Pacific Division with the rise of the Golden State Warriors. The championship house felt further away for the Clippers and their window was closing as the younger Warriors looked to dominate the league.
Every year, Rivers tried to improve the team constantly looking to make moves that would bring in veteran players like signing Josh Smith who played a big role in the Rockets comeback against them in the playoffs as well as trading for Lance Stephenson with hopes to get the window open wider. It was reported prior to the 2015-16 season that the Clippers would contemplate moving one of their big three if they weren’t successful in winning a championship or at least come close. The NBA season had a different plan for the Clippers. After a slow start Griffin would go down with a quad injury and the team would begin to take off. All of this led to not so quiet whispers that the Clippers were indeed better without Griffin. Trade rumors began to surface, true or not, the rumor mill was turning that Griffin was getable. Than, as Griffin was close to return, he would break his hand in an off the court fight with a team assistant equipment manager and setting him back even further. The media on a daily basis were contemplating whether it was time to move Griffin on a daily basis. It seemed at this point the window in the championship house was certainly closed for the Clippers. They weren’t even making progress up the hill towards the house but were sliding backwards.
Response needed in the 2016 NBA Playoffs, while they were battling the Portland Trail Blazers in the first round, the Warriors superstar guard Stephen Curry would sprain his MCL and force him to miss several games in the playoffs. The Clippers’ window shot up, if they were able to pass the Blazers they would face the Curry-less Warriors in the next round. It was the break the LA franchise, which has been dying for success, has been finally waiting for. This was their chance that feeling would only last a few hours. In their very next game, both Paul and Griffin would both get hurt and close the window on the Clippers season as the Blazers would go on to win in six games. The Cleveland Cavaliers would climb the hill and walk through their window for their first ever championship.
Switching path might be the Clips next move. At this point, the Clippers had their big three together for five seasons and never got past the second round. Heading into the 2016-17 season, the Clippers returned the same team with hopes of a different result. Entering contract years for Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, and JJ Redick the Clippers are in now or never mode. The continuity of having the same core for several years led to a hot start for the team. Everyone reversed course on the opinion that the team should blow it up because it seemed as their window was opened up again, maybe for the last time in a long time. Injuries began to come and now the team is struggling, to even get home court in the first round of the playoffs. All year long everyone was wondering if the Clippers would move one or more of their stars to begin a rebuild at the trade deadline. The deadline came and went and despite rumors of the Clippers trading for Carmelo Anthony no moves were made. They haven’t been able to beat the Warriors in their last nine attempts, a team they certainly would have to go through to get a shot at walking through their window.
Windows can open and close for many reasons, injuries, trades, free agent signings, and coaching changes are just some of the factors. In the time the Clippers window has opened and began to close, the Warriors, Spurs, and Rockets have all managed to open their windows wider and making it more challenging for them. With three of the core four free agents this summer and the lack of success in their time together, it certainly seems barring an injuries in the playoffs, it seems the Clipper window is slamming shut in their face.