Blake Griffin Injury Should Force Los Angeles Clippers Teardown

Eric PincusLA Lakers Lead WriterNovember 28, 2017

Los Angeles Clippers' Blake Griffin grimaces in pain after a collision during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Los Angeles Lakers Monday, Nov. 27, 2017, in Los Angeles. The Clippers 120-115. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

LOS ANGELES — Of the ligaments in the knee, the medial collateral is probably the best one to injure...given the choice.

That's the good news for the Los Angeles Clippers, who could lose All-Star forward Blake Griffin for two months to an MCL sprain, suffered in Monday night's 120-115 win over the Los Angeles Lakers.

The bad news? There goes the season.

Griffin should be back, no worse for the wear. It could have been far worse. A torn anterior cruciate ligament would have knocked him out for a year.

But the Clippers have barely survived injuries through their first 19 games (8-11). They're not going to stay afloat in the Western Conference without Griffin.

"He's not in high spirits. He's down," coach Doc Rivers said after the game. "[We] just have to pull within and see if [we] can steal each game. That's where we are right now."

That's where the Clippers have been recently, losing nine straight before notching three victories in a row against the Atlanta Hawks (4-16), Sacramento Kings (6-14) and Lakers (8-12).

After a strong start to the year, they lost Patrick Beverley (knee) for the season. Danilo Gallinari (glute) and Milos Teodosic (foot) aren't expected back until mid-December.

At this point, L.A. should think about taking its time with Gallinari and Teodosic. In fact, Griffin may be better off taking three months instead of two.

The Clips might only be a half game behind the eighth-place Utah Jazz (9-11), but they also have just five more wins than the "first-place" Chicago Bulls (3-15).

That's right: It's time for the Clippers to flip the standings and focus on lottery odds instead of trying to scrape out a playoff spot. They need to steer into the skid and start focusing on some of the top draft prospects, like Duke's Marvin Bagley III, Arizona's Deandre Ayton, Texas' Mohamed Bamba, Alabama's Collin Sexton, Missouri's Michael Porter Jr. (even after back surgery) and Slovenian swingman Luka Doncic.

The projected 2018 class is loaded with potential impact players. Injuries may help Los Angeles land a franchise player.

The Clippers would be wise to find their way into a bottom-five record, which would give them over a 91 percent chance of getting a top-six selection in June.

Obviously, their goal after they traded Chris Paul to the Houston Rockets was to stay competitive, but now they're down four of their five opening night starters, with DeAndre Jordan the lone holdout.

Jordan presents an interesting dilemma for the Clippers. After he earns his $22.6 million this season, he can opt out of the $24.1 million he is owed for 2018-19.

Tony Dejak/Associated Press

While the Clippers discussed an extension with Jordan, according to ESPN.com's Zach Lowe, those talks apparently stalled.

As a free agent, Jordan would be eligible for a new deal starting at $35.4 million (based on a $101 million salary-cap projection for 2018-19). He remains eligible for an extension starting at up to $27.2 million, but that would lock the Clippers into three players at $80.6 million (Griffin, Gallinari and Jordan).

Should the Clippers let Jordan walk without compensation in return, they might near $31 million in cap space, enough to chase a player like Paul George or DeMarcus Cousins. But that's assuming Teodosic, Austin Rivers and Wesley Johnson opt out. If the team also cut Beverley's non-guaranteed deal, it'd have enough to sign LeBron James.

But will all those players opt out? Will top free agents look to join Griffin and Gallinari?

Significant cap room may not help the Clippers this summer, but reinvesting in Jordan may not either. Instead, the Clippers should seriously gauge the trade market.

Per Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com, the Cleveland Cavaliers would have interest in Jordan, in exchange for Tristan Thompson and a draft pick.

Thompson has two years and $36 million left on his deal in addition to $16.4 million for this season.

"It's humbling. It shows that other people want you and that you have value," Jordan told Bleacher Report on Monday. "It's my 10th season. I'm happy here."

Jordan's not used to losing, something he hasn't experienced since his early seasons with the Clippers.

"It's definitely tough, but I can't give up on my teammates," Jordan said. "I've got to stay positive, and hopefully it will turn around."

LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 27:  DeAndre Jordan #6 of the LA Clippers reacts to his foul with Blake Griffin #32 during the first half against the Los Angeles Lakers at Staples Center on November 27, 2017 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Get
Harry How/Getty Images

With Griffin out, however, the path will get far worse before it gets better.

Jordan's trade value is a tricky thing, given he can leave after the season. Another team would be able to offer Jordan an extension. That may be a requirement if the Clippers want anything substantial in return.

Would the Milwaukee Bucks want Jordan in return for John Henson and future considerations, or is Thon Maker their center of the future next to All-Star Giannis Antetokounmpo?

Perhaps the Toronto Raptors would consider Jordan's defensive ability a better fit than Jonas Valanciunas or the New York Knicks would think similarly about scoring big Enes Kanter?

More and more, teams are moving away from centers who don't space the floor. Jordan may be the best of his like, but the market for true bigs could be tight.

From the outside, the answer isn't clear. It's up to the Clippers front office to gauge the market, the value of Jordan staying long-term on a new deal and the value of salary-cap flexibility if he leaves for nothing.

Injuries have given L.A. a chance to play rookies Jawun Evans and Sindarius Thornwell extended minutes. The team has Sam Dekker under contract for next season, while Montrezl Harrell can be a restricted free agent in July.

Brice Johnson may finally get some minutes with Griffin out. If he blossoms, the Clippers won't be able to pay any more than $1.5 million to keep him, since they declined his rookie-scale option for next season.

Outside of reserve center Willie Reed and two-way players Jamil Wilson and C.J. Williams, that's the extent of their youth movement.

Tony Dejak/Associated Press

If they are rebuilding, they need to add to that contingent. Los Angeles owes its 2019 first-round pick to the Boston Celtics, but that's lottery protected through 2020 (and would convert to a 2022 second-rounder).

Adding a first-rounder in return for Jordan, in addition to what could be a high lottery pick in June, could help revitalize the Clippers.

It's worth asking how long Rivers would want to helm a non-contender, but it's premature to speculate on his exit.

The Clippers weren't going to beat the Golden State Warriors this season, but the franchise was hoping for a playoff berth.

The team had survived to this point, but its hopes for a postseason run are gone with Griffin on the shelf.

Tanking is never the solution until it is. It's time for the Clippers to trust the process.

    

All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Email Eric Pincus at eric.pincus@gmail.com, and follow him on Twitter @EricPincus.