The Los Angeles Clippers have made the playoffs five years in a row. Each year, they fell short of the Conference Finals.
They are in postseason purgatory.
Now, the debate about what the Clippers should do going forward will be what drives the offseason. Questions about head coach Doc Rivers and his role as President of Basketball Operations will continue to persist, though I am in the minority that Rivers has been more of an asset overall than a liability. PF Blake Griffin is a difference maker, but the former top overall pick has shown decreased durability recently. PG Chris Paul ignited the Clippers to new franchise heights, but he’s now on the wrong side of 30. C DeAndre Jordan has seen his value go up since the departure of head coach Vinny Del Negro, but he’s about to be a $20 million non-All-Star.
The 2011-2016 Clippers are the 18th team in NBA history to make at least five consecutive postseason appearances without making the Conference Finals. Of those 18 instances, these Clippers are the only team to win at least 60 percent of their regular season games in each season.
Over the next few weeks, ClipperBlog will feature the other 17 teams to make at least five consecutive postseason appearances without reaching the Conference Finals during the streak. Eight of those 17 teams broke through and eventually made the Conference Finals before the end of the postseason streak, and two made it all the way to the NBA Finals.
But none of the previous 17 teams to make at least five consecutive postseason appearances without reaching the Conference Finals won a title before missing the playoffs first.
All of these roundups will feature the players who played at least 10,000 regular season minutes, the head coaches, and what happened to each team at the end of their run of Playoff Purgatory. We’ll circle back and relate it to the Clippers’ current situation.
Clippers 2011-2016 Summary
– 2011-2012: 40-26 (5th seed), defeated Memphis Grizzlies in 7, swept by San Antonio Spurs in Semis
– 2012-2013: 56-26 (4th seed), lost to Grizzlies in 6
– 2013-2014: 57-25 (3rd seed), defeated Golden State Warriors in 7, lost to Thunder in 6 in Semis
– 2014-2015: 56-26 (3rd seed), defeated Spurs in 7, lost to Houston Rockets in 7 in Semis
– 2015-2016: 53-29 (4th seed), lost to Portland Trail Blazers in 6
10K minutes: C DeAndre Jordan, PG Chris Paul, PF Blake Griffin
Head Coaches: Vinny Del Negro (2011-2013), Doc Rivers (2013-2016)
Before 2011, the Clippers had zero 50-win seasons in 41 years as a franchise and exactly one postseason series win. That all changed when the Clippers acquired Paul from the New Orleans Hornets (now Pelicans) in exchange for SF Al-Farouq Aminu, SG Eric Gordon, C Chris Kaman, and a 2012 1st-round pick that would be used to select current Clippers PG Austin Rivers. Paul joined 2011 Rookie of the Year and 2009 1st overall pick Griffin and Jordan, who the Clippers retained after matching Golden State’s 2011 offer sheet.
Lob City was established, and the Clippers won the first Game 7 in franchise history in 2012, followed by the first division title in franchise history in 2012-2013. But with Paul set to be a free agent in 2013, the Clippers blew a 2-0 lead in Round 1 and lost to the Grizzlies in 6. The Clippers fired Del Negro, and they put Paul in an awkward position as far as who was responsible for Del Negro’s departure.
The Clippers recovered by hiring Rivers as the team’s head coach and senior VP of basketball operations, giving the Boston Celtics their 2015 1st round pick as compensation. Rivers oversaw the development of Jordan as a 30-minute anchor on defense, while Paul’s injuries opened the door for Griffin to establish himself as one of the best offensive big men in basketball, averaging career-highs in points, assists, and free throw percentage. Rivers’ first Clippers team won a franchise record 57 games.
And then, the playoffs started. Owner Donald Sterling was banned for life by NBA Commissioner Adam Silver during the Clippers’ first round series with the Warriors. The Clippers were able to win another Game 7, this time against the Warriors. But after taking Game 1 of the Semis against the Thunder, the Clippers were eliminated in six games.
The Clippers would get a new owner in 2014, Steve Ballmer, and Rivers would be named president of basketball operations. 2014-2015 also marked Jordan’s contract year. Griffin wound up missing 15 games with an elbow injury, a period where Jordan averaged 14.9 points, 18.5 rebounds, 1.3 steals, and 1.4 blocks per game. Griffin returned in time for the Clippers to win 15 of their last 16 games, but the reward was a first round matchup with the defending champion Spurs. The Clippers would beat the Spurs in Game 7, and despite a hamstring injury to Paul, they led the Rockets 3-1. But the Rockets would defeat the Clippers in a series highlighted by an epic Game 6 collapse.
Jordan verbally agreed to join the Dallas Mavericks in free agency, but after a bizarre trail of emojis, Jordan re-signed with the Clippers. The Clippers did well to win 53 games in 2015-2016, a season that saw Griffin miss most of the season after Christmas due to a quadriceps tear and a broken right hand from an off-court incident that would result in a four-game suspension and five-game fine. The Clippers took another 2-0 series lead in the first round, this time against the Trail Blazers. But after losing Game 3 in Portland, Paul (hand) and Griffin (quad) both suffered season-ending injuries in the 3rd quarter of Game 4, and the Clippers were right back where they were when Rivers arrived three years earlier – losing in the first round with home court advantage. With the Raptors making the 2016 Eastern Conference Finals, the Clippers franchise is one of three not to make the Conference Finals, along with the Charlotte Hornets/Bobcats and the New Orleans Pelicans/Hornets.
Resolution: To be determined…