The Clippers, by any measure, have helped themselves greatly for the future thanks to their good fortune in the draft and the Randolph trade. But they’re still in desperate need of some defensive help on the perimeter.
Eric Gordon has the makings of a solid, straight-up base defender for his small size at the shooting guard, but has a limited capacity to handle larger wings. The Clippers were 6.3 points better defensively with Al Thornton on the bench. While Mardy Collins showed some defensive chops at times (the Boston win, most prominently), plantar fasciitis slowed him down late in the season. There’s a natural tendency to characterize any offensively challenged players “defensive specialists,” be they utility infielders or perimeter players who can’t shoot, and Collins might have also be subject to this phenomenon, though he’s still far superior to anything Thornton, Quentin Richardson, or Steve Novak (if he ends up back with the team) brings to the table. Fred Jones, at 6-3, was no answer either, even if he didn’t embarrass himself. Often, a team can get a little defensive help from its backup point guard, but other than some pesky ball pressure, Mike Taylor is no match for most 2s or 3s.
Without some defensive help out on the perimeter, the Clippers are likely to finish in the bottom third of the league defensively again this season. Looking at the remaining free agents, where might that help come from?
- Desmond Mason: An OSU standout, and big fan favorite in OKC, Mason has publicly stated that he’d like to stay with the Thunder. For a guy best known for dunkage, Mason’s greatest asset on the court is on the other end of the floor, where he’s your protoypical “long and quick” guy who stays in front of his man effectively.
- Jamario Moon (restricted): Another athletic wing, Moon is a true small forward who would be an immediate upgrade for the Clippers. He can be a confounding player at times with a questionable shot selection, but his teams were measurably better defensively with Moon on the floor — particularlty last season. He can also crash the glass, something the Clippers desperately need on the wings. Miami has extended a qualifying offer to Moon, which gives them the right to match any offer. But they’re also dangerously close to the luxury tax threshold, and could be dissuaded from matching a medium-size offer for Moon. Commiting considerable resources to Moon would probably be a mistake, but if the Clips could pry him away with a lowball offer, they’d be a much better team headed into the fall.
- Keith Bogans: He carries the air of “wily veteran” at 29, and seems to be the kind of backup the Clippers would gravitate to this offseason. He’s got good size, can shoot from the outside at a reasonably efficient rate (TS greater than 50% each of the past three seasons), and defend intelligently. More important, Bogans can be bought on the cheap. This wouldn’t be a splashy acquisition, but it would be a smart one.
- Rodney Carney: Although he’s a bit of a ball-stopper on offense and certainly not a glue guy, Carney is nevertheless an insane athlete who has proven himself to be a capable defender in the NBA. Last season, he put up some impressive on court/off court defensive numbers. At 6-6, he’s quick enough to guard triple-threat shooting guards and big and long enough to handle more physical 3s.