The Los Angeles Clippers have reportedly traded for Chris Paul, sending to the New Orleans Hornets a package including two-guard Eric Gordon, forward Al-Farouq Aminu, center Chris Kaman and Minnesota's 2012 first-round draft pick. While Gordon is the real deal right now, the other pieces are either embedded in future potential or, in Kaman's case, running out of steam. CP3 is currently no worse than a top-10 player in the entire NBA, and when healthy, a clear-cut candidate for the top five. It's a massive real-time upgrade for the Clippers, at the expense of long-term substainability. (Paul is just 26, but has a history of knee injuries. Gordon is 22 and the prospect selected with that Minnesota draft pick will likely be between 19 and 21 years old.)
Is the immediate upgrade good enough to launch the Clippers into the playoffs? L.A.'s second squad has made the postseason just once in the past 15 years, a mark of futility matched only by the Golden State Warriors. The Clippers have won only one playoff series since moving to Southern California in 1978. (The franchise was previously known as the Buffalo Braves. R.I.P.) The only team with a worse winning percentage than the Clippers since 1978 is the Memphis Grizzlies; even the mediocre Charlotte Bobcats have won more frequently.
That should change. The Western Conference remains deep; the Houston Rockets won 43 games last season and couldn't even get into the playoffs. In the past four season, the No. 9 team in the West -- that is, the last team knocked out of playoff contention -- won 43, 42, 46 and 48 games, in reverse chronological order. So getting above .500 -- a rare feat for the Clippers -- won't likely be enough. Paul and the team's other additions will have to push the team hard.
But CP3 is certainly good enough to get it done: he has averaged .233 Win Shares per 48 minutes over his career, almost three times the production level of Mo Williams (who he'll replace) and even about 30 percent higher than the quite-good Chauncey Billups, who will back CP3 up and, we assume, play some two-guard. Eric Bledsoe, the only cheap top prospect not named Blake Griffin that the Clippers held on to, was highly unproductive as a rookie; L.A. can now conceivably give him no playing time. (Assume that because of the stresses of the compressed schedule he will get in there to spell CP3 and Billups.)
In Paul's six season with the Hornets, the team missed the playoffs three times. Not coincidentally, two of those seasons came when CP3 was largely injured for long stretches of the campaign. The other season was his rookie year. CP3 had one All-Star -- David West -- on those rosters, and beyond the power forward little in the way of creative offensive help. He made Marco Belinelli useful, for goodness sake. He's a game-changer for the franchise, and it would seem that only injury can keep the Clippers out of the playoffs, despite the stacked deck out West.