- Arash Markazi, ESPN Staff Writer
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The Los Angeles Clippers enjoyed their best season in franchise history, winning their first division title, a record 56 games, going on a 17-game winning streak and sweeping the Lakers for the first time. Their postseason, however, wasn’t as memorable, ending in four straight losses after taking a 2-0 series lead on the Memphis Grizzlies. How do the Clippers balance their memorable regular season with their forgettable postseason? Well, we’ll take a step back and try to grade what each player brought to the table, this time with the starters.
It was another stellar season for Paul, who finished fourth in the league in MVP voting and won the NBA All-Star Game MVP. He led the league in steals-per-game and assist-to-turnover ratio and finished second in assists-per-game. But Paul’s contributions to the Clippers go beyond mere stat lines and personal awards. Paul has made the Clippers legitimate contenders and a destination franchise since he came to the team before last season.
It’s no secret that Paul had a major say in what the Clippers did in the off-season as they went out and acquired Jamal Crawford, Lamar Odom, Grant Hill, Matt Barnes and Willie Green. Paul was usually the one doing the recruiting and pushing the front office to make those moves. Now it’s the front office and his teammates that might have to do the recruiting as Paul becomes an unrestricted free agent.
16.9 PPG, 3.7 RPG, 9.7 APG, 2.4 SPG, .481 FG, .328 3FG: Paul’s numbers offensively took a big dip largely because he averaged fewer minutes this season than at any point in his career. That had a lot to do with the Clippers’ second team, which played the majority of the second half during blowout wins.
Outlook for 2013-14
When Paul left the Clippers’ training facility last week after his exit interview, he did not indicate he would definitely be back with the team. Paul passed on a chance to sign a three-year, $60 million extension with the Clippers last year, but can sign a five-year, $108 million deal this summer.
"I'm going to take my time," Paul said. "I haven't even thought about it. I'm trying to figure out what I'm going to do the rest of the day. I might go home and swim with my son or something. This is nuts. I don't know what to do. I purposely didn't put anything on my calendar because we're supposed to still be playing."
While Paul was non-committal, Clippers vice president of basketball operations Gary Sacks said he was "very confident" the All-Star point guard would eventually re-sign with the team, which is the stance sources close to the team and Paul have echoed for some time. If Paul does re-sign on July 1, the focus will shift quickly to building a championship team around him for the next five years.
A: Paul is the face of the franchise and the Clippers know they can’t afford to lose him. Thankfully for them, it doesn’t look like Paul is willing to lose $30 million by leaving the team.
It was Billups’ goal in the offseason to be back in time for the season opener, after rupturing his Achilles last February. Despite being back on the practice court in time for the opener, Billups was not back in the lineup until Nov. 28. He played three games and was out again until Feb. 8. Billups played in 22 games this season and struggled to gain any kind of continuity with the starting lineup or get into any kind of a groove. He scored just 7 combined points in the Clippers’ last three playoff games and went 0 for 6 for zero points in Game 4.
8.4 PPG, 1.5 RPG, 2.2 APG, 0.5 SPG, .402 FG, .367 3FG: Billups had the worst statistical season of his career, averaging less than 12 points and 4 assists for the first time since 2001.
Outlook for 2013-14
While it would seem to be a good time for Billups to call it a career and maybe move into a coaching position, he says he’s like to play one or two more seasons, preferably with the Clippers and Paul, before retiring and assuming a role in the front office.
"I'm focused on playing a couple more years," he said. "Two more years is my goal and after that my desire is more to be in the front office, not coaching. You never say never but my desire has never been to coach. It looks like I'm doing that now but I can't help myself. I would feel better about being in management and putting a team together."
If Paul re-signs with the Clippers, the odds are good that the Clippers will also lock up Billups for another year or two, which is either good news or bad news, depending on his health.
C: Billups should get an A for coming back from a ruptured Achilles tendon at 36 but his performance this season and inability to stay on the court hurt the Clippers more than it helped them.
For a team that admittedly lacked toughness late in the season and in the postseason, “Tough Juice” was an integral piece of the starting lineup. Butler started all but four games this season and was third on the Clippers in three-point shooting percentage. He wasn’t always consistent offensively but he was a solid starter on the team and a leader in the locker room.
10.4 PPG, 2.9 RPG, 1.0 APG, 0.7 SPG, .424 FG, .388 3FG: Butler had his worst statistical season since his second season in the league and easily his worst season in terms of rebounding.
Outlook for 2013-14
Butler has one year left on his deal and has been mentioned in several trade proposals for the Clippers. As much as the Clippers like what Butler brings to the table on and off the court, if they can package him in a deal with Eric Bledsoe and/or DeAndre Jordan to get an All-Star caliber player there won’t be much hesitation.
B: Butler didn’t have a great season but he played his role effectively and will likely be back in the starting lineup again unless the Clippers get a trade offer they can’t refuse.
When it comes to critics, Griffin is often in a no-win situation. He spent all off-season improving his mid-range game and his free-throw shooting and did just that. He shot a career-best 66 percent from the field and showed an ability to knock down shots outside the paint. But his critics will always label him as a dunker and point to a career-low in points and rebounds this season.
Griffin’s numbers being down had more to do with him playing career-low in minutes. In fact, he played six fewer minutes per game this season than he did during his rookie season. Still, Griffin was named to his third straight NBA All-Star Game, led the team in scoring rebounding and become just the fourth player since 2006 to average at least 18 points, 8.3 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.0 steals in a season. And Griffin was the only player to average those numbers this season.
18.0 PPG,8.3 RPG, 1.2 APG, 1.2 SPG, .538 FG, .179 3FG: Griffin’s numbers were down from last season but the biggest improvement he made was at the free-throw line where he went from 52.1 percent last season to 66 percent this season.
Outlook for 2013-14
Griffin signed a five-year, $95 million extension with the Clippers last season and has been the face of the franchise since being the first overall selection in the 2009 NBA draft. His game continues to evolve each season, although those refinements and tweaks will always be overshadowed by his dunks.
Ignore any talks about a trade when it comes to Griffin. He’s untouchable, according to multiple sources within the organization, unless the name on the other end of the deal is LeBron James or Kevin Durant. That’s not only how important Griffin is to the franchise in terms of marketing and ticket sales but also how high they think Griffin’s ceiling is.
A: Another solid season for Griffin, who continues to establish himself as a franchise player just three seasons into his NBA career.
Jordan is athletically one of the more gifted centers in the league but Vinny Del Negro and his staff feel he has a long way to go when it comes to work ethic and maturity. Despite working with a shooting coach this summer, Jordan’s free throw percentage actually fell from 52.5 percent to 38.6 percent. He was a non-factor offensively in the last two months of the season.
While Jordan is a force on defense, the Clippers were often playing four-on-five on the offensive end with Jordan’s limited offensive repertoire and his inability to hit free throws. There were several times when Jordan would actually stand out of bounds during an offensive passion to avoid being intentionally fouled. While Jordan did develop some offensive moves it is still well short of where he should be after signing a four-year, $43 million contract before last season.
8.8 PPG, 7.2 RPG, 0.3 APG, 0.6 SPG, .643 FG, .000 FG: Jordan had a career year in points but his rebounding and block totals took a hit. Still, the most troubling stat about Jordan is his regression at the free-throw line.
Outlook for 2013-14
It’s hard to get a good read on Jordan. On one hand, he looks like he has all the physical tools to be one of the best centers in the league. But on the other hand you look at what he’s done over the past five seasons and he looks like a one-dimensional player who may never realize his full potential.
The Clippers need to decide what camp they are in this season and move forward. However, judging by his performance in the postseason and certainly late in games the past two seasons, the Clippers would be wise to look at ways they could package him in a deal for a big man that will actually contribute offensively late in games and possibly take more of a leadership role on the team. (Yes, I’m talking about Kevin Garnett.)
C: Jordan developed some new moves offensively and was a force on defense but his inability to make free throws and stay on the floor late in games is a big reason why he may not be in the Clippers’ long-term plans.
50mMarc Stein and Tim MacMahon