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Why the Clippers haven't won a championship this decade

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

What do LeBron James, Larry Bird, and Rick Barry have in common?

They are all championship-winning small forwards.

In today’s NBA, a do-it-all small forward is the easiest recipe to winning a championship. LeBron James (3x), Andre Iguodala, and Kawhi Leonard have won the last five Finals MVP awards.

So much talk is made about the importance of a scoring point guard in the NBA, but do not forget how crucial a stellar scoring and defensively dominant small forward is.

There are plenty of skilled small forwards in today’s NBA. James and Leonard are joined by Kevin Durant, Paul George, and Jimmy Butler are just a few of the other superstar small forwards in the Association.

One team has not gotten the memo that it needs a difference-making small forward to win a championship: the Los Angeles Clippers.

The Clippers have done everything right to no longer be looked at as the Lakers’ little brother… except win a championship.

Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan and Chris Paul form a trio that, when healthy, is one of the NBA’s most intimidating groups. The Clippers have made the playoffs five years in a row and have won at least 60 percent of their games in each of those seasons.

Despite all of that success in the regular season, the Clippers have only won three playoff series. As good as Griffin, Jordan and Paul are, this team has yet to find a small forward to add depth scoring and defense. Los Angeles does not need James or Durant, but it needs someone better than Luc Mbah Moute, who is averaging 6.1 points per game.

One might argue that the Clippers do not need a small forward to score a lot since they have their big three as well as J.J. Reddick, a reliable three-point scorer.

The problem is, there is no one on the Clippers’ bench to help take the weight off of the main scorers. Who steps up when Chris Paul goes to the bench? The coach’s pet, Austin Rivers. What about when Griffin needs a breather? Brandon Bass and his three points per game.

The lack of a small forward is killer. It is not as if Mbah Moute is wasting someone else on the roster’s playing time. Paul Pierce is next in line at small forward and he looks even worse now than when he got hurt in the 2008 NBA Finals.

The Clippers have tried a lot of different guys at small forward, hoping that one could fix things. Since 2011, here’s a list of the many different players that the Clippers have tried out at small forward (minimum 25 games).

Matt Barnes

Hedo Turkoglu

Reggie Bullock

Wesley Johnson

Jeff Green

Paul Pierce

Caron Butler

Bobby Simmons

Ryan Gomes

Grant Hill

Jared Dudley

There are some solid players on that list, but several were acquired at the tail end of their careers.

The best of the bunch was Matt Barnes, who averaged 9.3 points per game and agitated opponents defensively for four years. However, his attitude and off the court issues speak for themselves and he did not last long in Los Angeles.

Time to win titles is running out in Los Angeles. Reddick, Griffin and Paul can all become free agents in the summer of 2017. To cash in with the current core, the Clippers need to do what it takes to find a small forward and contend for a title this season.

So, how do the Clippers address this problem? Who do they acquire?

Though he’s been the subject of trade rumors for the better part of the last six seasons and played for three different teams in that span, Rudy Gay has averaged at or near 20 points per game each season. He’s played along plenty of talent in Memphis, Toronto and Sacramento so the adjustment to the Clippers’ stars would not be an issue. The tough part about acquiring Gay would be who or what the Clippers gave the Sacramento Kings, who would likely demand a first round pick for Gay.

Otto Porter Jr. would be a gamble after inconsistent play in the last few seasons in Washington but could be had for a cheap price since he is a free agent after this season.

Gordon Hayward is also a free agent next summer and quietly a superstar, but he and his 23.1 points per game won’t be on the move this season unless the 14-9 Utah Jazz collapse.

The best shot is to go all-in on Gay and hope for the best. As mentioned before, the Clippers do not have a lot of time to win a title. Even with Gay, it will be hard to get past the Warriors and Spurs in the West, but for the first time in the past six years, the Clippers could be confident in all five of their starters producing championship-winning numbers. 

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