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Pre-2005, Sam Cassell was a renown point guard, having won two championships as a member of the Houston Rockets in the mid-1990s. Despite bouncing around from team to team after his tenure with the Rockets (PHO, DAL, BK, MIL), Cassell’s play continued to improve making him one of the best point guards in the NBA, averaging 18.3 points, 3.5 rebounds, and 6.9 assists per game between the years of 1997 and 2005. Peaking in ’03-04, Cassell appeared in his first–and only–All-Star game in ’04 as well as appeared on his lone All-NBA appearance (2nd team) alongside the likes of Tracy McGrady, Peja Stojakovic, Jermaine O’Neal, and Ben Wallace.
Fast forward a year later (2005) and Cassell’s career would look to take another turn: the point guard was being shipped to the Los Angeles Clippers in a summer trade involving Marko Jaric.
"August 12th, 2005: The Los Angeles Clippers trade Lionel Chalmers and Marko Jaric to the Minnesota Timberwolves for Sam Cassell and a future 2012 first-round pick."
With the Clippers, the front office hoped Cassell could lift a youthful, talented team over the top. At age 36, Cassell still had a big game in him despite a down year the previous season with Minny. Averaging 16-3-7, Cassell–alongside Elton Brand and Corey Maggette, two of the league’s brightest young stars–helped the Clippers to a then-franchise best season, winning 47 games and appearing in the playoff semi-finals for the first time since the change from the Braves to the Clippers.
So where does Chris Paul come into play?
Fast forward five years and four months and you find the New Orleans Hornets attempting to trade their ‘disgruntled’ superstar in CP3. Following the veto that broke up a blockbuster trade between the Hornets, Los Angeles Lakers, and Houston Rockets, the Los Angeles Clippers found themselves in the multi-team race to get Chris Paul. Of course, they had to unload on a few assets to obtain the best point guard in the world, and the Hornets wouldn’t make it easy on them.
In trade discussions, the Hornets did their best to get three of four attractive assets the Clippers obtained: shooting guard Eric Gordon, point guard Eric Bledsoe, center DeAndre Jordan, and the 2012 first-round pick. While the Clippers, with Paul, would easily be a playoff team, the ’12 pick gained it’s value by belonging to the Minnesota Timberwolves–Minny won 17 games in 2011.
With DeAndre Jordan off the table, the Hornets would eventually give in and accept one of the Eric’s (Gordon) and the ’12 first-rounder along with a few other minuscule pieces (Kaman, Aminu). Considering the stance Los Angeles made on keeping one of Gordon and Bledsoe, it’s difficult seeing the Chris Paul trade happening without the first rounder… which never falls into Los Angeles’ without the trade that featured now-assistant coach Sam Cassell six years prior. Instead, one of the other teams interested in Paul (NYK, POR, BOS, GSW, etc.) swoop in with a better package, curving the immediate future of the Clippers.
"December 14th, 2011: The Los Angeles Clippers trade Eric Gordon, Al-Fariq Aminu, Chris Kaman, and a future 2012 first-round pick to the New Orleans Hornets for Chris Paul and two 2012 second-round picks."
Without Paul, the Clippers still held a nice hand, but it was one that relied far too much on potential and each player perfectly rounding into their projected ceiling in a timely manner. Hindsight shows us Eric Gordon (knee) falls apart and the 2012 NBA Draft was weak after the 9th selection (Andre Drummond). This leaves the team with a core of Griffin, Jordan, an unhealthy Gordon who the Clippers would’ve likely had signed to an extension, Eric Bledsoe, an unknown selection from the ’12 Draft (Jeremy Lamb, Maurice Harmless, and Jae Crowder were the three best small forwards taken after Drummond in the ’12 Draft) and cap space.
Without Paul, there’s no Chauncey Billups or Caron Butler–unless money was their thing. Without Paul, there’s no Doc Rivers, a transaction that heavily affected the career trajectory of DeAndre Jordan. Instead of a championship contender, the Clippers are one of those teams who is good, but not good enough, a.k.a. the worst kind of team as they’re bad enough to miss the playoffs, but too good to receive a high lottery pick.
This trade represents one of the many things that makes the NBA entertaining. Amidst all of the trades in which draft picks are swapped, players become inadvertently connected. Without a clue, Sam Cassell’s presence shifted the Clippers from laughing stock to legit championship contender.
That there folks is your history lesson of the day!