Bill Simmons calls Clippers biggest “what if” of 2019-20 season

Bill Simmons, The Ringer (Photo by Rob Loud/Getty Images for Tribeca Film Festival)
Bill Simmons, The Ringer (Photo by Rob Loud/Getty Images for Tribeca Film Festival) /

Bill Simmons, founder and CEO of The Ringer, said the Clippers would be the biggest potential “what if” of a hypothetically cancelled 2019-20 NBA season.

With the NBA season on hold, and a real chance that basketball will not return at all for the 2019-20 season, the basketball world is left to wonder what the biggest stories of a potentially cut-short season would be. The Clippers are right at the forefront of some of those talks.

Sports analyst/Book of Basketball author/Clippers-season-tickets-holder Bill Simmons joined the discussion during his most recent podcast featuring frequent guest Ryen Russillo. The pair talk the biggest potential “what ifs” should the rest of the season be cancelled, with Simmons naming the Clippers as the team with potentially the most to look back on and wonder how things could have been different.

Simmons returns to his criticism of the Clippers off-season move to acquire Kawhi Leonard and Paul George (which we already told you he was wrong about) saying: “If they cancel this season, and it’s just gone…now you have the Clippers coming back next year, Paul George and Kawhi Leonard, with opt-outs after that year. They traded seven first rounders and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander basically for this one year…That trade becomes the all-time sink-or-swim trade in the history of the league.”

In some ways, he’s right. The Clippers made a bold move last off-season to shift from a promising, young, up-and-coming team to one that could contend for a title right away. It worked. They have looked like one of the elite teams in the NBA this year, with the fourth best record in the league (second in the Western Conference) all-the-while making sure to give proper rest to superstars Leonard (51 games total played) and George (42 games played). It certainly seemed like the Clippers were one of the favorites to win an NBA title in a year that seemed wide open after the Warriors took a step back due to injuries and roster changes (most notably the loss of Kevin Durant to the Nets.) And now that chance might get stripped away.

But Simmons’ view takes a fatalistic approach to the idea that Leonard and George could possibly opt-out of their contracts after the 2020-21 season. He’s automatically assuming a doom-and-gloom scenario where the Clippers will have traded away their future for just one possible championship run. While nothing is certain in today’s NBA, where contracts are shorter and players control their own destiny more than ever, the assumption that Leonard and George would be so willing to pack their bags in 2021 is making a gigantic leap.

Both Leonard and George are Southern California natives who will be on the cusp of entering the tail-end of their primes in the Summer of 2021 (George will be 31, Leonard 30.) While roster situations can certainly change quickly in today’s NBA, there may not be a better option for either of the superstars to go after NBA titles than staying put with the Clippers. Even if the team looks drastically different around them at that time, they are a pair of two-way superstars that play well together and provide various options to build around.

The Clippers moves last off-season also made an identity-affirming statement about the franchise and who they want to be going forward. It was a bold leap to trade away young talent and future draft picks to acquire two superstars in their prime to become a championship contender right away. It signifies that the team doesn’t want to wait around, they want to be taken seriously. They don’t want to play second-fiddle to the Lakers and can go blow-for-blow with them in luring talent to Los Angeles. Before long, the Clippers will have their own area in Inglewood, and no longer be “resident number two” at the Staples Center. Team owner Steve Ballmer’s move to purchase The Forum from James Dolan shows the same kind of bold decision-making to push the franchise forward as the team did with their roster.

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While an unfinished 2019-20 season would strip the Clippers a chance at an NBA title run this year, it certainly would not be the end-of-the-road for their contention. The team is headed in the right direction with a wide open window for the foreseeable future. If basketball doesn’t resume this year the Clippers shouldn’t dwell on “what if” they should be asking “what’s next?”