To most NBA fans, the Los Angeles Clippers are dead.
Yep. They died and went away last season after their embarrassing choke job to the Denver Nuggets in the second round of the playoffs.
Remember, the Clippers were up 3-1 in that series and lost. Remember, the Clippers were all the rage last season, too. They weren’t only supposed to get to their first Western Conference finals ever. Most NBA experts picked them to win the NBA title, as well.
Don’t look now, but the Clippers are back in that conversation after acquiring point guard Rajon Rondo at the NBA trade deadline on Wednesday.
The Clippers had to give plenty to get Rondo — former Sixth Man of the Year winner Lou Williams and two future second-round picks.
But you have to give to get. And the Clippers got exactly what they needed — a true point guard.
The addition of Rondo gives the Clippers renewed hope to get to that championship level most expected this club to be at when it signed free-agent prize Kawhi Leonard and traded for Paul George last summer.
Rondo is a winner. Last year, he came up big in The Bubble when the Los Angeles Lakers won the championship. There’s no denying “Playoff” Rondo was huge.
The resume also tells us that Rondo won a title with the Boston Celtics, too.
It was hard to find anyone in the NBA not to buy into what the Clippers did here in trade crunch time. In fact, even Golden State Warrior Draymond Green tweeted: “Rondo to the Clippers….best trade today.”
NBA analysts were all in lockstep.
“I love it,” NBA analyst Antonio Daniels said on my Fox Sports Radio show The Odd Couple. “The thing that they were missing was a real point guard. And I’m not saying that, discrediting someone else.
“What I mean by that is. I’m not talking about a point guard by skill set. I’m talking about a point guard by mindset.”
Added NBA analyst Ric Bucher on The Odd Couple as well, “I love it. I think they just needed to make a statement, going back to The Bubble last year that they needed to trade Lou Williams. What he’s demonstrated is that he’s a great regular-season performer. …I don’t know if (Rondo) can replicate what he did last year, but if you’re asking me which guy I have more faith in, in being able to deliver in the postseason, it’s without question Playoff Rondo.”
Without Rondo yet in the fold, the shorthanded Clippers — Leonard didn’t play — blasted the Spurs, 98-85, Wednesday night in Texas. The Clippers have won four straight and are now 30-16. They are third in the Western Conference, just 3.5 games out of the top spot.
Meanwhile, the Lakers are reeling without Anthony Davis and LeBron James — both sidelined with major injuries. They’ve lost four in a row.
Sure, they won the title and many thought they had a great chance to repeat. But that has changed.
There is an opening for the Clippers. They might actually get a chance to do what most thought they were going to do last playoffs, had they not choked.
The Clippers are a matchup problem for the Lakers. That’s why Lakers fans celebrated like they won the title when the Clippers lost to Denver.
And if there is that matchup, Lakers-Clippers in the conference West finals, Rondo could be the difference. That’s how important this trade was.
Rondo is a true facilitator. He will get Leonard and George the ball where they need it to do work on opponents.
“It looks bad when Kawhi Leonard has to take the ball to his spot to go one-on-one,” Daniels said. “Or Paul George has to take the ball to his spot.
“As opposed to a point guard who is facilitating, putting the pieces together and understanding time, score, situation, where the ball needs to go, and when it needs to get there. Rajon Rondo, to me, is a perfect fit.”
There’s no doubt that most NBA fans won’t take the Clippers seriously until they actually do it in the postseason, be the team that their roster says they are.
And that’s fair.
But the Clippers aren’t dead. Not at all. Rondo makes them alive and well.