The Clippers are down 1-0 to the Jazz in their first round playoff series, and there has been speculation that if L.A. can’t get by Utah, a significant roster overhaul could be around the corner. However, head coach and president of basketball operations Doc Rivers tells Sam Amick of USA Today that he’d like to keep the Clippers’ core intact, even with Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, and J.J. Redick facing potential unrestricted free agency.
“Here’s my argument to (the question of the roster will be worth going deeper into the tax to keep intact),” Rivers said. “Let’s say we don’t win this year — which I think we will, (but) let’s say we don’t. Do you give up on a 50-win team that has proven that they’re really close, or do you hang in there and keep trying to maybe make changes around (the core)?
“I always use Utah as a great (example). Thank God Karl Malone and (John) Stockton didn’t listen to people, you know what I mean? They fell (in the playoffs), and kept trying and kept trying. And finally, late in their careers, they finally broke through to the Finals. They didn’t win it (all). But you know, that’s the pursuit. I just think it’s so easy to (say), ‘Hey, they should break up,’ from the outside. And I think that’s such an easy opinion.”
As we noted this week, the Clippers were one of two teams to finish the 2016/17 in luxury tax territory, and that was with Paul, Griffin, and Redick on their old deals. The trio combined to earn about $50MM this season, but that number could increase beyond $65MM in 2017/18 for CP3 and Griffin alone, without even taking into consideration a raise for Redick as well. In total, Amick estimates that the Clippers’ team salary could increase to the $140MM range if they bring everyone back, which would mean a tax bill of more than $55MM.
Even though Rivers is the GM in Los Angeles, team owner Steve Ballmer will have the final say on roster moves if they significantly increase the money he’ll owe his players in the coming years, as Amick observes. And if the Clippers don’t make a deep playoff run this spring, there’s no guarantee that Rivers and Ballmer will see eye to eye on the team’s strategy going forward, despite the trust that the franchise’s owner has in his head coach.
A new long-term deal for Paul appears likely, but the Clippers will face some interesting decisions in the next few months, and will be a team worth watching this summer.