The nightmare is real for Steve Ballmer's squad. DeAndre Jordan is gone, leaving the Los Angeles Clippers with a huge hole in their roster and only limited resources with which to fill it.
That is, unless L.A. head coach Doc Rivers can pull another rabbit out of his hat this summer.
According to Yahoo Sports' Marc J. Spears, Jordan will be taking his talents to Texas, to serve at center for the Dallas Mavericks. Per the Los Angeles Times' Brad Turner, Jordan will earn roughly $80 million over the next four years—the maximum the Mavs could've offered—while teaming up with Dirk Nowitzki, Chandler Parsons and the soon-to-be-signed Wesley Matthews.
While Dallas continues to fill out its team, L.A. is left to pick up the pieces.
Make no mistake, this is a devastating blow for the Clippers, who made Jordan a five-year, $109 million plea to stay, according to ESPN's Arash Markazi. Jordan was the backbone of a defense that, while merely middling for most of the 2014-15 season, would've been minced meat without the seven-foot Houstonian. He led the league in rebounding and ranked among the leaders in blocks over the last two seasons, and he was widely recognized by his opponents as one of the most daunting defensive deterrents in basketball.
Jordan was no slouch on offense, either. Sure, he consistently ranked among the worst free-throw shooters in the NBA, and his futility in that regard made him the target of constant (and insufferable) hacking during the playoffs. But the dude's also a monster athlete—arguably the best among players his size in basketball right now—who doesn't miss games (he's the league's current iron-man) and almost never misses lobs.
Put a rim-rocker of Jordan's repute in the Mavs' sweet-shooting spread pick-and-roll, and he'll get to be something like the star Mark Cuban sold him on being, via ESPN's Tim McMahon:
It's no wonder, then, that Grantland's Zach Lowe was so dour about L.A.'s prospects:
Two weeks ago, the Clippers would've at least had some sort of backup plan in place, but the Lance Stephenson deal did a number on that. As a result of that trade, Spencer Hawes, L.A.'s second-string center last season, is now a member of the Charlotte Hornets.
To be sure, Hawes didn't impress during his lone season as a Clipper. The Seattle native shot a career-low 39.3 percent from the field and fell out of Rivers' rotation by season's end, albeit while battling injuries and struggling to adapt to life as a reserve.
Playing time wouldn't have been such an issue with Jordan gone, but there's no use re-litigating the recent past. The Clippers don't have time to lick their wounds if they're to hang onto even the last shreds of title contention in the Western Conference. The onus now is on Rivers and the rest of L.A.'s front office to find at least a stopgap solution in the middle, with only limited (but potentially significant) flexibility.
Rivers does have some chips to work with here. Chief among them is Jamal Crawford. The two-time Sixth Man of the Year is probably the Clippers' best trade asset, at least among those that Rivers might actually move.
With Stephenson brought aboard to be an offensive focal point off the bench, the Clippers can somewhat comfortably part ways with the 35-year-old Crawford. Paul Pierce, L.A.'s latest addition, can make plays in a pinch as well.
As former NBA executive Bobby Marks surmised on Twitter, the Clippers could try to trade Crawford for Pierce instead of signing Pierce outright. That would open up a bit more money, by way of the full mid-level exception, to spend on a new big man:
Or L.A. could cut a smidgen of the free-agent guesswork out of it by dishing Crawford to, say, the Memphis Grizzlies in a sign-and-trade for Kosta Koufos, as Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski suggested:
At present, Koufos seems to be the safest option, and he also fits within the Clippers' potential price range on the market. He was more than suitable as a starting center during his days with the Denver Nuggets, and he did well in backup duty behind Marc Gasol in Memphis over the past two seasons.
Beyond Koufos, the free-agent pickings get slim for L.A. Brandon Bass and Kendrick Perkins were Celtics on Rivers' watch, and Amar'e Stoudemire fits the mold of a player who was good during Doc's heyday in Boston—something familiar to the Clippers' fringe acquisitions over the past two years.
The Clippers could use Crawford's contract to swing a swap for a center currently under contract with another club. But nabbing someone like Indiana's Roy Hibbert won't even be feasible unless Rivers is prepared to part with at least one of his other pricey pieces (J.J. Redick, maybe?).
Perhaps the Clippers can try their luck in the Sunshine State, where the Miami Heat have Josh McRoberts and Chris Andersen and the Orlando Magic are sitting on Channing Frye. The Philadelphia 76ers might not mind rerouting Carl Landry from Sacramento. The Milwaukee Bucks have several bigs (Miles Plumlee, John Henson, Zaza Pachulia) who are ripe for movement in light of Greg Monroe's recent signing.
If Rivers' brain trust gets creative, it could see about relieving the logjam in the Chicago Bulls' frontcourt by taking on Taj Gibson. And if any teams out West are keen to help a neighbor in exchange for Crawford, there could be other options available to L.A.
The Clippers aren't dead in the water yet, though they're likely to take a significant step back in the West regardless of what happens next.
Rivers' track record on the personnel side since being traded to the Clippers in the summer of 2013 won't inspire much confidence in his team's fans.
To his credit, he was having a solid summer prior to Jordan's snub. Swapping one "distressed asset" (Hawes) for another with more upside (Stephenson) stands as a solid feather in Rivers' cap. So, too, does the job he did luring Pierce back to his hometown.
But those were moves made from strength, not as responses to emergent weaknesses. It'll take more than Jedi mind tricks for Rivers to solve this latest crisis—one that, per ESPN's Ramona Shelburne, was at least partly his own doing, assuming Doc had a hand in trying to bring Kevin Garnett with him to L.A. two years ago:
As Bill Simmons wondered, Chris Paul might've had a hand in Jordan's departure as well:
However much Rivers and Paul are actually implicated in this mess, they'll certainly be responsible for keeping the Clippers afloat going forward. Rivers could do worse than having one MVP candidate (Paul) at the point and another (Blake Griffin) in his frontcourt, with plenty of other offensive talent on the roster.
But scoring a ton of points can only get you so far, especially if there's dysfunction afoot. Just ask the Mavs, who finished fifth in offensive efficiency last season but won just one playoff game in the midst of defensive ineptitude and locker room discord.
That's the sort of shaky future the Clippers are facing, with a blown shot at the Western Conference Finals in the rearview mirror and Paul and Griffin bound for free agency two years from now.
Clearly, the Clippers have their work cut out for them.
Unless noted otherwise, all stats courtesy of NBA.com.
Josh Martin covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter.