Clippers cleaning house and looking ahead. Could that mean LeBron? Maybe

By the time the Feb. 8 trade deadline passes, the only familiar face left on the Clippers roster may be Austin Rivers. And that may or may not have something to do with his dad being the head coach.

Monday’s decision to send forward Blake Griffin to the Detroit Pistons in exchange for Tobias Harris, Avery Bradley, Boban Marjanovic, a first-round pick, and a second-round pick came as a shock, but the Clippers have been trade-happy since June.

The Clippers lost a perennial All-Star in Griffin and a good chunk of depth with the accompanying trades of Willie Reed and Brice Johnson. But Doc Rivers still emerges the winner by passing on Griffin’s five-year, $173 million contract extension to the Pistons' bill.

That extra cap room and draft picks are the next step in the Clippers’ plan to clean house, basically starting an entirely new team by 2019. The process that began with Chris Paul’s trade to the Rockets is now fully underway, as the last of the Big Three, DeAndre Jordan, will likely be gone before the All-Star break.

The 2016-2017 Clippers starters have been scattered across the league as Steve Ballmer has been pinching pennies like a frugal mother at the grocery store. JJ Reddick is in Philly. Paul and Luc Mbah a Moute are in Houston. Mo Speights is in Orlando. Blake Griffin is packing his bags for Detroit, and if the rumors are true, Jordan and Lou Williams are up next.

The Cavaliers and the Bucks have reportedly expressed interest in a trade for Jordan and Williams. For the Cavs in particular, the pair may be a solution to their struggles this season and even provide some incentive for Lebron James to stay in Cleveland when he becomes a free agent this summer.

With Kevin Love out for six to eight weeks with a broken hand, the Cavs may find a replacement in Lou Williams, who was left off the All-Star rosters this season but led the NBA in points in January and is averaging 23 points per game.

The Clippers have never made it to the Western Conference Finals in 48 years as a team.

In a Western Conference that’s only getting better with time, it was clear to the Clippers management that Blake Griffin at the helm could only take them so far when it came to playoff hopes. Rather than continue to invest the franchise’s precious salary money in a good player that can’t single-handedly deliver the Clippers to playoff success, they went for broke, cleared the shelves, and went back to the draft board.

The first-round pick for the upcoming 2018 draft will hopefully pay off down the line, especially given the strength of a draft class that includes DeAndre Ayton (Arizona), Marvin Bagley III (Duke), and Trae Young (Oklahoma). The Clippers will likely not be back to full strength until 2019 or even 2020 after accumulating enough draft picks to round out the roster.

Although the return on the Blake Griffin trade may seem sparse for the end of the 2017-1028 season, getting solid players like Avery Bradley and Tobias Harris, whose 18.1 points and 5 rebounds are identical to the stats posted by Chris Paul last year, is more than they could have asked for in a trade meant to free up salary and make room on the bench.

Bradley and Harris will make it possible for the Clippers to finish out the season above dead last, although it may be hard to maintain their current .500 record without Griffin (and presumably Jordan and Williams).

The city and people of Los Angeles (or at least those who have resisted the charm of the Ball show — I mean the Lakers) are certainly going to feel the absence of Griffin, even more than they mourned the loss of Paul. Everyone, including Griffin himself, expected him to retire a Clipper.

But it’s gotta get bad before it gets good, or in the Clippers’ case, it’s gotta get sad before it gets good.