LOS ANGELES — Following the conclusion of the 2017-18 season, despite missing the playoffs, the Clippers organization was filled with positivity as the team reflected on their accomplishments over the past year.
“I challenge any team to lose three or four starters for most of the year and finish with the record we did,” said Clippers coach Doc Rivers.
Ending the season with a record of 42-40, the Clippers fought tooth and nail, game after game, overcoming a myriad of injuries which forced different lineups and rotations to form regularly. It took 79 games before LA was officially eliminated from playoff contention. In total, the Clippers used 37 different starting lineups, a league-high. The next closest teams were the Suns, Kings and Grizzlies, all of whom ended the season near the bottom of the league’s standings.
“Chemistry is one of those things that is hard to define, but you know when you have it and you know when you don’t,” said Clippers President of Basketball Operations Lawrence Frank. “I think the fact that this group showed so much resolve, they kept fighting back even when we would dig some holes, it’s because they truly cared about each other.”
To begin the season, the Clippers roster included nine new players, after representing one of the NBA’s most consistent rosters over the previous few seasons. By midseason, three new players arrived after LA traded Blake Griffin to the Pistons, making it 12 new guys. Then, there’s the three two-way players who frequently flew to join the team on game days only, creating nearly an unrecognizable roster.
“I don’t know if those guys know any of y’all’s names,” Clippers guard Lou Williams once said in a team huddle during the middle of a game. “I’m not sure they know who you are.”
Still, the Clippers persevered, anchored by Williams and center DeAndre Jordan. In his 13th season, “Sweet Lou” averaged 22.6 points and 5.3 assists – both career-highs – becoming the first player in league history to hit those marks as a reserve. In January, Williams set the basketball world ablaze, scoring 50 points at Golden State on Jan. 10, recording 31 points and 10 steals in Utah on Jan. 20, and adding a 40-point, 10-assist game at Memphis on Jan. 26, only the third player in history to do so off the bench. Williams’ play and leadership was rewarded with a multi-year contract, providing the Sixth Man of the Year favorite with the stability he’s been longing for.
“It was nice for this organization to commit to me the same way I’ve committed to these guys this year,” Williams said. “In years past, these scenarios don’t usually go my way. So it was nice for one to go my way and be somewhere I wanted to be.”
Jordan, in his 10th year with the Clippers, climbed to the top of the franchise record books for games played, passing Randy Smith as the most tenured Clipper ever. He finished the season with a career-high 15.2 rebounds per game, ranking second in the NBA. Recording 46 double-doubles on the season, Jordan sits one behind Elton Brand for most in Clippers history, a mark he’s sure to pass next season if he returns. But Jordan headlines some of the questions regarding the team’s future.
Jordan has a player-option on his contract, meaning he can either opt-in for another year, or he could decide to become a free agent and test the open market. The same is true for guards Austin Rivers and Milos Teodosic, and forward Wesley Johnson. Guard Avery Bradley and forward Montrezl Harrell are both free agents. The Clippers, most likely, will also have two top-15 draft picks in this year’s draft.
“When you look at the draft and you look at our two picks, obviously we’ll be in position to get two very good players,” Frank said. “We’ll also potentially be in a position where we can package both of those picks and move up, and we may be in a position where we can take one of those picks and move down to get a future asset. We just have more chips and when you look at our roster and trying to build a championship roster, we just know we’re a little bit short-handed on young, emerging talent, and this gives us a great runway to start that process.”
Whatever happens going forward, the Clippers are looking back on the past season with pride, defying expectations while playing with passion and energy that will surely create a lasting memory within Clipper Nation.
“We won a lot of games against teams that are better than us and I thought as a group, I don’t think I have been more proud of a group, maybe ever, than I have been of this group,” Rivers said. “We have asked a lot of guys to do a lot of stuff that they should not have had to do and yet they did it.”