Clippers Trade Deadline
As the season inches closer to the playoffs, it is clear that the top two teams to beat in the Western Conference are the Golden State Warriors and the San Antonio Spurs. After that, there is a considerable gap between them and the next tier of NBA teams. The Clippers find themselves in a precarious position as the fourth seed in the West. This is a make or break year for them in determining whether or not they keep the core of Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan together who have failed to move beyond the second round of the playoffs after four years. Expectations are high and the pressure is on for this team to perform. While there have been suggestions to trade Blake Griffin, I do not think moving Blake will result in getting back better or equal value. Instead I want to focus on what additions the Clippers need to take to get over the curse of early round exits and enter the promise land of the NBA Finals. As currently constructed, the Clippers will not get out of the second round. Below I outline three missing pieces that the Clippers must address as we approach the trade deadline on February 18th.
In case you missed All-Star weekend, Steph Curry and Clay Thompson faced off in the finals of the three-point shooting contest with Clay out-dueling Curry 27-24. This duo bodes trouble for the Clippers who lack perimeter defensive playmakers to slow down this two-headed monster formally known as the Splash Brothers. To have a realistic chance of beating the Warriors, the Clippers need to acquire a shutdown defender who can take either Steph or Clay out of the ball game. Based on his proven track record, Tony Allen fits this description perfectly. A member of the 1st Team NBA All-Defensive team three times out of the last four seasons, Allen has earned the reputation as a premier defender in the NBA. In order to get Allen, I believe a one for one trade for Jamal Crawford would be fair for both the Grizzlies and the Clippers. While Jamal, has provided great scoring off the bench, his defense is a liability which cannot happen once the game slows down in the playoffs and teams are able to shut down his rhythmic one-on-one style of offense. The Grizzlies desperately need an offensive spark off as they rank 24th in the league in points per game and the Clippers need a solid defender at shooting guard to relieve the offensive minded J.J. Redick. Both Crawford and Allen make around $5.5 million this year and both are in their mid-thirties with specialties in scoring and defense respectively. The incentives are on both sides to make this deal happen. The Clippers major need is on defense as defense has proven to win championships. The addition of Tony Allen will make all the difference in saving Chris Paul’s legs in a grinding 7-game series.
A True Starting Small Forward:
Nothing has baffled me more this season, besides moving Paul Pierce into the starting lineup for Blake Griffin, than the decision by Doc Rivers to start Luc Mbah a Moute at small forward. The Clippers brought in Lance Stephenson over the summer paying him $9 million a year to fill this starting role. Instead, Lance is averaging merely 15 minutes a game off the bench, resulting in a four man starting offense given Mbah a Moute’s lack of offensive ability. While Mbah a Moute is an above average defender, he is not an All NBA defender that warrants him to be in the starting lineup. There needs to be more offensive production from the small forward position if the Clippers are serious about contending this year. While I believe Lance can be the solution at small forward, Doc through his actions has clearly demonstrated that Stephenson’s role is to come off the bench. With no interest in putting Lance back into the starting lineup, it is time for the Clippers to part ways and make a trade for a quality starting small forward. The two players that would be a major upgrade compared to Luc are Trevor Ariza and Jeff Green.
Trevor Ariza has championship credentials from his time with the Lakers and has proven to be a caliber starter. He gives the Clippers a good defender with the ability to shoot consistently from beyond the arc, making opposing defenses respect his 3-point shot, which will result in opening up lanes for Chris Paul as he rips through opposing defenses. The Rockets are in turmoil, currently on the outside looking in of the playoff picture. Given the stage of where Ariza is at in his career, he wants to play for a championship caliber team. From Houston’s perspective, they may be on the cusp of rebuilding with rumors surrounding a trade for Dwight Howard. Trading Ariza for Lance wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility given Stephenson’s youth at 24 years old. From a Clipper perspective, adding Ariza makes sense as he would provide veteran leadership and add stability to a locker room that has had to deal with a lot of adversity. Ariza wants to play for a contender and if he doesn’t see Houston as a team competing for rings, then a move to the Clippers seems like a great opportunity.
Going back to the Grizzlies, I think Jeff Green would be an excellent pickup for the Clippers. He is averaging 12.2 points per game and doubling Mbah a Moute’s rebound production with 4.5 per game. More of a slasher, there is never a doubt of Green’s ability to finish at the rim as he often dunks with style and authority. He would be an ideal candidate for a trade because he is set to be an unrestricted free agent following this season. If Memphis feels like Green is going to explore free agency, it would be in the Grizzlies best interest to trade him and get something in return. Luckily for the Clippers, a one for one swap of Lance Stephenson for Green would fit perfectly as both players make around $9 million a year. Brining Jeff Green in would fill the offensive void at the small forward position and create easy assists for Chris Paul as Green is accustomed to alley-oops. I think a one for one trade for Lance can definitely work out in this scenario as the Grizzlies could use a creative ball handler like Stephenson on their team. If the Grizzlies seem reluctant to the trade given the amount of minutes Stephenson is averaging, a two player trade of Jamal Crawford and Lance Stephenson for Tony Allen and Jeff Green would be a hard deal to pass up on if you are Memphis. Making this move would not only improve the Clipper roster, but also help foster a tough and defensive mentality that has eluded the Clipper identity over the past couple of seasons.
With Blake out of the lineup, Doc Rivers has turned to Paul Pierce to be his main replacement, relying on a more small ball approach. The problem with this strategy is that the Clippers, who already weren’t a great rebounding team before Griffin got injured, have become even less effective at cleaning up the boards ranking 24th in the league with a heavy reliance on DeAndre Jordan. This is a problem because as teams implement the hack-a-Jordan strategy, it forces Doc to take Jordan out of the game resulting in more offensive rebounds allowed to opposing teams. In a series versus the San Antonio Spurs it is imperative to have a solid back up that can fill this void that the team desperately needs. If you remember from the 2012 season, Reggie Evans was that player who came into the game with the sole purpose of rebounding and setting screens. The most affordable and effective players to acquire at the trade deadline are Brandon Bass and Jordan Hill.
The Lakers have made it known that it is a rebuilding year and they are willing to trade some of the veterans on the team to better evaluate their young talent. Bass is a solid pro who crashes the board, fights for loose balls and plays with effort on the defensive end of the court. Bass is a perfect fit for the Clippers as he can provide energy off the bench and isn’t a liability at the free throw where he shoots 85%. The Lakers are in a prime position to deal Bass for a draft pick making it an attractive trade for the Clippers as they are in the win now mentality. Bass is reliable and would provide consistency off the bench. With a wingspan of 7’2.5’’, Bass will make it tough for opponents to gain offensive rebounds and score inside the paint.
Jordan Hill of the Indiana Pacers is another great trade opportunity for the Clippers as he is an unrestricted free agent this offseason. With uncertainty of whether or not Hill is part of the Pacers future plans, I think the Clippers would benefit to see if the Pacers are interested in cash or a future draft pick for Hill as Indiana probably will let him walk after this year. Jordan Hill is a hustler who fights for both offensive and defensive rebounds and finishes strong at the basket. The high use of the pick and roll by the Clippers suits the skill set of Hill who is able to finish around the rim shooting 52% from the field. With Hill on the floor, the Clippers do not have to fear San Antonio and can match up with their big lineup of Duncan, Aldridge and West.
The Clippers front office would be remiss if they think that the current roster will be able to get the job done in the playoffs. If the Clippers are to be serious contenders they will need to be active at the trade deadline or else face the same results that have plagued them during the Chris Paul era. The Clippers have been fortunate to be in 4th place in the West considering the long absence of Blake Griffin. However, general management should not be deceived and look harder at the numbers and realize that the Clippers are 0-4 versus the Warriors, Spurs and Thunder. Hopefully management recognizes the weaknesses and makes the necessary improvements to find a way to win come June.