Doc Rivers: Clippers might blow up their core if they don’t win it all this season

Could the Clippers break up this trio?

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The Los Angeles Clippers have been a championship contender ever since they acquired Chris Paul in December 2011, but for various reasons — health, luck, matchups, unforeseen collapses — they haven’t been able to make it past the Western Conference semifinals.

No good team wants to be stuck with a core that can’t get over the hump, and as Clippers coach Doc Rivers puts it to Grantland’s Zach Lowe, the team is "right on the borderline" of deciding whether their core can win it all together or not.

From Lowe’s must-read on the state of the Clippers heading into the 2015-16 season:

The Clippers have had three cracks at it with Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, and DeAndre Jordan all in their primes, and they’re not afraid to admit the fourth could be their last — that another flameout will force them to ask whether the core has grown stale.

“We’re right on the borderline,” Doc Rivers tells Grantland during a long sit-down at his office. “I have no problem saying that. I’m a believer that teams can get stale. After a while, you don’t win. It just doesn’t work. We’re right at the edge. Oklahoma City is on the edge. Memphis, too. We just have to accept it.”

Rivers is right, to an extent.

The Clippers’ core has suffered some excruciatingly painful playoff losses — blowing a 2-0 series lead against the Grizzlies in 2013, collapsing in Game 5 against the Thunder in 2013 and, worst of all, blowing Game 6 at home against the Rockets in 2015 — and there is reason to question whether the team has the mental strength to learn from those losses and move on, instead of letting them define the core’s tenure together.

At the same time, as Lowe states in his piece, this team can basically sleepwalk its way into 55 wins, which is the general benchmark for a true contender. With Paul (30 years old), Jordan (27) and Griffin (26) still in their respective primes — though Paul is nearing the ending his — the Clippers theoretically have another two or three years contending, at the very least.

Basing the franchise’s future on the success of one season seems to be a bit drastic. What’s the alternative? Trading Griffin, Paul or Jordan and rebuilding? Reloading? The Clippers don’t really have another plan other than riding out this core. They can add periphery pieces, but this is their foundation for the next few seasons.

The past few seasons have been disappointing, often because of the team’s own unlucky mishaps. That doesn’t mean that they still don’t have just a good a chance of hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy in June 2016.