Six Moves the L.A. Clippers Should Make
The Los Angeles Clippers are in a unique position this offseason. For the first time in their unrequited history, the Clippers have a true franchise player in Blake Griffin.
When representatives from the team met with LeBron James last summer with hopes of convincing him to come, the pitch was, “Come play with Griffin.”
Blake, who had missed his first season with a knee injury, was just a theory; an unproven player with potential unseen. Now that he’s gotten through his All-Star, Rookie of the Year campaign, Griffin has far exceeded the team’s expectations while capturing the attention of the entire NBA extended community (and beyond).
The following are six moves the Clippers should be making. The first, about keeping Griffin for the duration his career, is what dictates two through six.
#1 Keep Blake Griffin a Clipper
Griffin has two years left on his contract (including the 66-game season expected to shortly get underway) before he hits free agency.
The Clippers will offer Griffin a max extension once he’s eligible.
Using the new “designated player” label, LA should have an extension of about $80 million to make sure Blake remains with the team beyond his rookie deal (more if he qualifies for the Derrick Rose rule).
Los Angeles will have the financial advantage in dollars and in years.
What the team needs to do, in the meantime, is find a way to build a contender so that Blake retains his enthusiasm for being a Clipper.
The roster moves can’t be middling or lateral.
While it hasn’t happened to date in LA, the Clippers need to become a contender.
Everything they do needs to be about winning now, while building around their Kia-jumping star.
While that’s easy to say, the Clippers have not historically been able to follow through with any sort of sustained, long-term success.
Does the past have any hold on their future or can the organization finally emerge as a legitimate NBA power?
#2 Add Star-Power (Chris Paul, Perhaps?)
When the free agency period begins on December 9th, the NBA will undergo a flurry of activity as teams try to flesh out their rosters before the season starts on the 25th.
While it’s not an especially impressive crop of free agents, three of the league’s best players may be heading into the final years’ with their existing teams (via opt-out).
Deron Williams seems the most likely to re-sign with his team (New Jersey Nets), given their billionaire owner, Jay-Z, impending move to Brooklyn and solid cap position.
Dwight Howard might consider staying in Orlando with the Magic if they can somehow transform his good but not great team into a contender. The odds do not look good for Orlando but will Howard give them time before pushing his way out?
The player who may be the most likely to move before the season is Chris Paul. The New Orleans Hornets are owned by the NBA itself. The team is for sale and, at least on paper, doesn’t have a clear road-map back to contention.
Chris would be the ideal target. Never mind that Mo Williams is a capable starting point guard and recent All-Star (2010) . . . Paul is one of his generations’ best.
Add him to the core of Griffin and Eric Gordon, the Clippers’ emerging, young shooting guard, and LA has three impressive pieces to build a franchise around.
It does not make sense for Los Angeles to give up Gordon to get Paul. Two stars aren’t going to be enough for the Clippers to thrive.
Instead, the Clippers should offer their unprotected 2012 Minnesota Timberwolves pick as the cornerstone to a deal.
The team projects to have about $11 million in cap space along with attractive pieces like Eric Bledsoe, Al-Farouq Aminu, Chris Kaman, Randy Foye and Williams.
Vice President of Basketball Operations Neil Olshey has made his case to the Hornets and needs to find a way to entice Paul to push for the Clippers.
Los Angeles can do an uneven deal with the Hornets, using the Clippers’ cap space to facilitate a deal, but that might hurt LA’s options in free agency. If they have to take on one of New Orleans’ less-friendly contracts like Emeka Okafor or Trevor Ariza, that may be the cost of doing business.
Whatever the case, the options are open. If Olshey can find a way to land Paul, it’d be major get for the Clippers.
The same argument would apply to Howard. Now both Howard and Paul? That would certainly cost Gordon as well but wouldn’t it be worth it . . . even if it is a bit far-fetched?
#3 Fill the Need at Small Forward
The Clippers have had their eye on Caron Butler for a number of years. The impetus to trade for him was tempered by both his impending free agent status and the team’s quest (at the time) to land LeBron.
Now that Butler is available, the team met with him on Tuesday to try and sway the forward back to Los Angeles (albeit to a different locker room).
According to Ramona Shelburne of ESPNLosAngeles.com, the Clippers will meet again on Tuesday morning.
“Caron was really happy with the meeting,” said Butler’s agent Raymond Brothers, according to Shelburne’s article. “We were really impressed by (general manager) Neil Olshey and (coach) Vinny Del Negro. I think they’ve got a good young team that can win. Caron had a really good feeling about it.”
Although he’s coming off knee surgery (but was nearly healthy in June that he just missed playing in the NBA Finals with the champion Dallas Mavericks), Butler is a potent scorer at the three. He’s a solid defender and has been a well-liked teammate in each of his stops.
If Caron doesn’t pan out, Tayshaun Prince may be an even better fit. While the Detroit Pistons have been so out of whack the past couple of years, it was difficult to see, Prince is still one of the top perimeter defenders in the league.
He has an outside shot and a deceptive post-up game.
Other players like Shane Battier and even the veteran Grant Hill would be next down the list. Restricted free agents Thaddeus Young and Jeff Green would be a little more difficult to attain.
The Clippers can also look into trade. The team made inquiries last season on the availability of Andre Iguodala of the Philadelphia 76ers but the offer of Kaman and pieces wasn’t enough. LA won’t give up their Minnesota pick for anyone less than a star and while Iguodala is a tremendous small forward, the Clippers would rather have the pick.
Finally, LA can be slightly patient given the prospects projected to shine in the 2012 NBA Draft. Would Anthony Davis fit at the three next to Griffin? How about Harrison Barnes, John Henson, Perry Jones, Quincy Miler, Terrence Jones or Michael Gilchrest?
The pressure to fill the position exists but it doesn’t have to be solved in full this year . . . if LA keeps the pick.
#4 Re-sign DeAndre Jordan
Jordan is Griffin’s best friend on the team. Additionally, he’s an athletic marvel just coming into his own defensively.
On offense, Jordan doesn’t demand touches. He’s a constant lob threat, exuberant dunker and demonstrative shot-blocker.
He may also be the beneficiary of his height as big men are a premium in free agency.
According to the Twitter feed of Adrian Wojnarowski (Yahoo! Sports), the Clippers have given Jordan an opening offer of $40 million over five years. Sources say DJ is looking for a deal starting in the eight-figure range. As a restricted free agent, the Clippers have the right to match so Jordan will shop for the best offer. Teams with interest include the Houston Rockets, Toronto Raptors, New Orleans Hornets and Golden State Warriors (among others).
Once players like Nene and Tyson Chandler find a home, Jordan will get an offer.
As long as it’s not off the charts, the Clippers expect to match.
On a side note, LA explored the Nene possibility but couldn’t justify paying a near-30-year old center with an injury history and good (but average) numbers the max.
#5 Trade Chris Kaman (or Keep Him if DeAndre Leaves)
Kaman had a bad year with injuries but in 2010 he was an All-Star. Now he’s almost 30 and heading into the final year on his contract at $12.7 million.
If Jordan lands a monster offer sheet, the Clippers will keep Kaman on as their starting center and then address the position long-term next summer. If it comes down to the Minnesota pick, Andre Drummond could be a possibility.
The Clippers are concerned that if they move Kaman without having size in place, that they’d only have two rotation-ready big men in Griffin and Jordan.
It wouldn’t be hard to find a backup power forward but center is difficult.
The deeper issue would be Kaman’s feelings on the matter. When he returned from injury last season, Chris didn’t complain about sharing time with Jordan but he made it clear he didn’t see that as a viable long-term solution.
Jordan may be the better fit with Griffin but based Chris is the more well-rounded, seasoned player. Offensively there’s no comparison, except on dunks where Jordan excels.
Is Kaman going to be comfortable, happy or even accepting of a bench role? Moving him earlier than later, even without a clear third big, may be the wise move.
The Mavericks would be interested in a Kaman for Butler swap should Caron choose LA.
The Detroit Pistons would be open to a Kaman for Prince trade as well.
Since the Clippers can sign either outright, there would have to be some other considerations befitting LA to participate in a sign and trade.
A number of other teams have made inquiries, including the San Antonio Spurs who have long-coveted Chris. If the Spurs would offer Manu Ginobili, the Clippers would jump (although perhaps that changes if negotiations progress with Butler).
#6 Find a Backup Center
The prospect of having to overpay someone like Samuel Dalembert because the team doesn’t have a backup center won’t fly for the Clippers. That’s understandable.
Still, how many teams can boast a single, legitimate center?
If Jordan does return, a sign and trade for Kaman could benefit the Clippers if additional cap room or a young player (Rodrigue Beaubois or Dominique Jones, etc.) facilitates a deal with a team like the Hornets.
Using the Amnesty Clause on Ryan Gomes ($8 million over two) could add even more space to the tune of $17-21 million depending on who, what, when and why.
This wouldn’t be a move LA would make on a whim but instead with something lined up with New Orleans or the like.
Regardless if Kaman is the price for making a deal go through (either directly or to a third party), the Clippers need to find another big capable of playing 30 minutes a game, at either the four or five.
That would make players like Kris Humphries or Reggie Evans too undersized (although Humphries has a very Blake-like game on much more of a role-player level). Arguably going a little smaller can be the best way to win.
The Hornets would probably include Emeka Okafor but given that he’s owed $40.5 million for three years, that doesn’t look like a natural fit for the Clippers.
One important note on timing. The Clippers are charged just $1.1 million on their cap for Jordan until he signs a contract. Then, his starting salary becomes his cap number. For the sake of argument, say it’s $8 million in the first year . . . now LA has just $4 million in space left.
That’s not enough to sign someone like Butler.
Timing is crucial for the Clippers, given that DeAndre may sign an offer sheet early and the Clippers would face losing some of their spending power or letting him go (and in turn making Kaman someone the team can’t afford to move).
As much as the Clippers would like to weigh their options (as any team would), decisions may have to come quickly.
A quick yes from Butler would make the Jordan decision less timely. Then it becomes a question of Kaman as a trade piece, a starter or an unhappy reserve.
Ultimately the Clippers are in a strong position. The odds of landing a player like Paul isn’t high but there’s a chance.
It may come together quickly for the Clippers or they may need another season.
In addition to making Griffin a Clipper-for-life, the team is looking at a possible extension this summer for Eric Gordon.
This is a crucial time for the organization where foundation for success may finally be forged.
The team is thinking and expected more than just a playoff entry. With the right moves, the team may indeed make that leap . . .