Why Clippers’ Downfall Could Have Carmelo Anthony Heading West
Chris Paul reprimanded J.J. Redick near the Clippers bench in the first quarter of Sunday’s Game 7. The shooting guard had failed to rush over to help out Paul, who had given up his dribble after being trapped by Utah’s swarming double-team.
Two hours later, the Clippers left the Staples Center court, their season over, Knicks president Phil Jackson waving his imaginary Jazz pennant. The Clippers exited, perhaps for the final time, without Carmelo Anthony on their team.
An inevitable shake-up is coming with the Clippers’ array of free agents. The team may not be dismantled after the first-round flameout, but it will be reconfigured. Anthony, if he so wishes, could be at the heart of their makeover.
According to sources, the Clippers were interested in obtaining Anthony before the Feb. 23 trade deadline, but the Knicks turned down all of their offers — none of it making sense for Jackson at the time. More options will spring open this summer, including Redick’s free agency. With the Knicks lacking 3-point prowess, Redick is a 3-point marksman who wasn’t made available in January and February.
“It was a tough series for him,’’ Clippers coach Doc Rivers said of Redick, who shot just 40 percent in the series, averaging 10 points per game after averaging 15 per during the regular season while shooting 44.5 percent.
There are so many variables with the Clippers’ offseason, starting with Paul, who would want nothing more than to bring buddy Anthony aboard. Paul is a free agent, but nobody expects him to leave. Blake Griffin, with yet another injury helping to derail the Clippers, is another matter. As is Redick.
“Luckily, that’s not my job,’’ Paul said when asked what the Clippers must do this offseason.
Even Rivers has heard rumors he is ready to return to Orlando as general manager.
“We’ll figure that one out,’’ Rivers said. “I’m sure everyone will have their own suggestions. We’ve been reading our obituary for three months now.”
An Anthony deal centering around a sign-and-trade with Redick and young Austin Rivers, whom the Knicks pursued as a free agent in July, could make sense for both clubs.
Rivers can play three positions and is an able defender on the defensively deficient Knicks. Erasing 37-year-old Jamal Crawford from a Knicks package and adding Redick, 32, would seem to fit better for the trying-to-get-younger Knicks. Rivers turns 25 in August.
Ready to cut his losses, Jackson made it clear he wants to trade Anthony because he’s no longer an active defender and doesn’t fit into the Zen Master’s vision of a ball-sharing triangle system.
The Clippers need change, failing to get out of the second round for six straight years. Reports have suggested a chemistry imbalance.
After Game 7, Rivers blamed their anemic offense. Missing Griffin was a major factor, but they proved to again lack the front-court firepower to compensate. To start the fourth quarter, Rivers fielded four guards — Rivers, Paul, Crawford and Raymond Felton.
Rivers called Griffin his “best scorer, second-best rebounder, second-best passer.” Clippers billionaire owner Steve Ballmer said the other day he’s willing to go deep into luxury-tax territory to bring back his free agents. But status quo won’t be enough. A Big 4 of Paul, Griffin, Anthony and DeAndre Jordan is at least an attempt.
The Clippers aren’t allowed to deal their first-round pick until 2021. Adding Redick (for, say, a new deal starting at $11 million) with Rivers ($11.8 million) gets close to the fudge factor to match Anthony’s mathematical price ($28 million with trade kicker).
In expanding the deal, the Clippers reportedly had interest in Knicks shooting guard Courtney Lee at the trade deadline.
The no-trade clause issue still looms. Anthony indicated to the Knicks he was agreeable to Los Angeles, his second home, last winter. That could have changed because of his deep personal crisis as he fights to keep his marriage from shattering. He is currently separated from wife LaLa. Living on the other coast could complicate matters regarding his wish to remain close to his son, Kiyan.
While the Celtics, another potential Anthony destination, are three wins away from the Eastern Conference Finals, the Clippers are toast — just the way Jackson hoped.
“You lose in the first round, it didn’t work out, we gotta change some people on our team,’’ Jackson said at his recent press conference. “So there may be some quick outs may change some people’s minds as to what they’re going to do. … Some teams called that were but weren’t willing to give up core groups or members of their team — which is understandable at that time of the year. So we said no.”
Now the answer could be yes.