Jimmy, Kawhi and Jenkins Could Rebuild the Clippers in Record Time

    The Clippers are embarking on a new era with another interesting front office splash. Los Angeles hired Lee Jenkins, Sports Illustrated’s longtime NBA

    September 20, 2018

    The Clippers are embarking on a new era with another interesting front office splash. Los Angeles hired Lee Jenkins, Sports Illustrated’s longtime NBA writer, to a front office role. Jenkins’ official title is Executive Director of Research and Identity, but it appears he’ll be helping the Clippers identify player personalities and tendencies rather than looking at on-court analytics.

    We’ve seen sports commentators like Mark Jackson and Steve Kerr move into basketball roles, but they were both NBA players. Jenkins has no NBA playing experience, but the team will lean on his experiences as a journalist as the Clippers embark on a rebuild.

    Between the hiring of Jenkins, additions through the draft, and the potential to add more than one All-Star two-way player, the Clippers could move from rags to riches in a hurry.

    Los Angeles hasn’t been kind to the Clippers since they moved from San Diego in 1984-85, a move that was not approved by the league and nearly cost Donald Sterling $25 million. This was at the height of the “Showtime” era, rendering the Clippers an afterthought for the majority of the decade. The Clippers made the playoffs three times from 1985 to 2010, hardly a selling point for fans. It was the controversial arrival of Chris Paul that basically rescued the franchise from itself.

    Paul and Blake Griffin kicked off “Lob City,” the most successful era in Clipper history. The duo, along with coach Doc Rivers and DeAndre Jordan, never made it past the conference semifinals, but they made it to the postseason six straight times and created a slight nudge in the balance of power within the city. Lob City’s most important contribution may have been getting Sterling out of the league and bringing Steve Ballmer in. With an owner ready to spend money and a remodeled front office, the Clippers appear primed to kick off an exciting new era.

    Jerry West is no stranger to building contenders in Los Angeles. After successfully spearheading the “Showtime” Lakers, West masterminded the Kobe-Shaq dynasty. He left the Lakers to join the Grizzlies, taking a team from the depths of the Western Conference to contention during his tenure. West was most recently a consultant for the Warriors, who have become a dynasty. When West accepted a consultant role with the Clippers, the league took notice. Los Angeles also removed Rivers from his front office role in an effort to make the organization more efficient.

    The Clippers moved on from Paul and Griffin and, despite an embarrassing display during Griffin’s free agency pitch, the team made out well in its rebuilding effort. Los Angeles got two draft picks and a host of talented role players like Patrick Beverly, Avery Bradley and Tobias Harris. One of the picks was flipped for Danilo Gallinari, another perimeter scoring threat. The Clippers held two lottery picks in the 2018 NBA draft and their selections open the door for more trades and retooling possibilities.

    Shai Gilgeous-Alexander appeared overwhelmed at times early in his Kentucky tenure. He was not the highest rated point guard recruit on the team and he was one of the rare four-star recruits to get extended playing time in Lexington as a freshman. Through the first 21 games, Gilgeous-Alexander managed just 11.8 points per game and had an assist to turnover ratio of 1.62:1. However, like most Kentucky freshmen, he turned a corner midway through the season.

     

    Gilgeous-Alexander was sublime against Vanderbilt. He exploded for 30 points and showcased his aggressiveness attacking the basket. Despite Kentucky losing its next four games, the foundation stone had been laid. In the final eight games of the season, including the conference tournament, Gilgeous-Alexander averaged 16.9 points per game while leading the Wildcats to the conference tournament title. His assist-to-turnover ratio in that stretch was 2.87:1. The Clippers expect Gilgeous-Alexander to be able to lead an offense, but his outside shooting ability is unknown due to a limited sample size.

    Los Angeles’ other draft pick, Jerome Robinson, appears to be the perfect running mate for Gilgeous-Alexander. Robinson was an offensive force at Boston College, averaging 17.7 points per game over three seasons. In his junior campaign, Robinson saw his overall efficiency increase and his scoring jump to 20.7 points per game. He shot 40.6 percent from three-point range and should help develop his all-around offensive game. When Robinson gets going, he’s tough to stop.

     

    Gilgeous-Alexander and Robinson form compelling building blocks for the Clippers, but Beverley and Bradley are currently slated ahead of them in the rotation. Beverley is reportedly a trade target for the Suns and Bradley’s friendly contract comes with a team option, making both players easy to move. And that’s where things get interesting for the Clippers.

    All-Star guard Jimmy Butler has reportedly requested a trade from the Timberwolves and has reportedly put the Clippers on his short list of teams he would be open to signing an extension with. Kawhi Leonard, who was shipped out of San Antonio after a conflict with management, is reportedly also set on playing basketball in Los Angeles whether it’s for the Clippers or the Lakers. All of a sudden, the Clippers may have a shot at not one, but two All-Star two-way wing players in their primes.

    A trade for Butler now would allow the Clippers to maintain enough cap flexibility to sign Leonard, although it would likely come at the expense of Gilgeous-Alexander, Robinson and another first-round pick. Whether or not the Clippers will make a deal remains to be seen, but if they feel Butler could lead a veteran cast to the postseason then they will sacrifice their backcourt of the future.

    By getting back assets for Paul and Griffin and cutting loose from Jordan, the Clippers are close to being back in business. They could cash their chips in now in a trade for Butler and hope Leonard arrives next summer, or they could simply wait out both players and attempt to sign them in free agency while keeping their current roster intact.

    Bringing Jenkins in as part of the Clippers’ reboot makes sense when looking at the Leonard and Butler sagas in San Antonio and Minnesota, respectively. For years, Jenkins has been able to connect with players on a level beyond basketball with his storytelling. Now, he’s going to be able to help the organization understand what players like Leonard and Butler are processing beyond the basketball court.

    Maybe San Antonio or Minnesota should’ve hired him first.

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