With free agency right around the corner, the ClipperBlog staff takes a look at five available, reasonable players (I like Garnett, too, guys) the Clippers could make offers to. Here’s Kevin Arnovitz kicking us off with his choice:
Courtney Lee, SG, Restricted Free Agent — Kevin Arnovitz
Pop quiz: Among players who attempted more than 100 corner-3s this past season, who posted the highest field-goal percentage from that location?
Answer: Courtney Lee of the Houston Rockets.
Lee went 50 for 103 last season in the corners, which is where Vinny Del Negro’s wings tend to be situated an an offense that’s predicated primarily on high pick-and-rolls at the top of the floor and post feeds to Blake Griffin on the block.
The Clippers don’t have a lot of flexibility under the salary cap, which means they’re not going to find that potent “third option” in the free agency market. Truth be told, as the league’s No. 4 offense in 2011-12, the Clippers don’t require a lot of firepower to improve. What they need is some glue — players who can shoot standing still when the defense collapses on Paul or smothers Griffin, and who can do the work on the defensive side of the ball.
Should the Clippers, by happenstance, decide to install a defensive system, Lee would come in handy. As a rookie, he was the starting shooting guard in the league’s stingiest defense under Stan Van Gundy in Orlando. He thrives as both a system and individual defender, can play the ball, cover a good number of NBA small forwards, knows when to help, and understands the science of the NBA rotation.
With the obscene amount of cap space floating around the league this summer, someone could conceivably offer Lee Aaron Afflalo money. Barring that outcome, Lee would fit snugly into the Clippers’ long-term plans with a multi-year, mid-level deal.
The Clippers have enough sex appeal on their roster. What they need now are players who don’t need shots and will work hard to deny opponents theirs. Lee can do that.
Brandon Rush, SG/SF, Restricted Free Agent — Charlie Widdoes
There are better players available in free agency, at least one of which is on this list (Courtney Lee). But for the money, Rush just might be the Clippers’ best option if you believe, like I do, that getting a wing with length is their biggest need this offseason.
Rush is 6-foot-6, with the versatility to play the 2 or the 3. He’s a career 42 percent three-point shooter, who shot 45 percent last year in Golden State. You wouldn’t call his offensive game “well-rounded,” — over half of his plays came in spot up or transition situations — but at 1.105 points per possession, he’s one of the most efficient offensive players in the league. He’s a bona fide sharpshooter who knows his role and can passably guard two positions. And he’s still relatively young, at 26 years old, so giving him a multi-year deal doesn’t come with the same risk that it would for some other free agents.
He would not come without flaws. His career assist rate (6.5%) is lower than that of Nick Young (7.2) and he was 41st among qualified swingmen in rebound rate, according to Hoopdata. Jared Wade, who covered Rush for three years as the editor of the fine Pacers blog Eight Points, Nine Seconds, says that Rush rarely gets beat off the dribble thanks to good strength and foot speed, though he sometimes struggles with rotations and positioning off the ball. But for the Mid-Level exception (MLE), you can’t expect to get a guy who shoots like Rush and defends like Tony Allen.
Word is that Golden State will be aggressive in trying to keep Rush (a restricted free agent), and you can never put anything past that front office. But like the Warriors did to the Clips last year with DeAndre Jordan, it might be wise to offer him the full MLE of about $5 million per year and at least force the Dubs to match. If they decide not to, the Clippers would be getting a guy entering his prime, with a proven ability to punish sagging defenses from the perimeter and stop opponent penetration on the other end.
Lamar Odom, SF/PF, To Be Determined — Jordan Heimer
I know – This was a seriously bad year for Lamar Odom. After twin tragedies last summer (while in New York to attend his murdered cousin’s funeral, Lamar was a passenger in a car accident that claimed the life of a 15-year-old boy) and an ill-considered trade demand, Odom sulked and slept-walked through 3/4 of a season in Dallas, eventually antagonizing Mark Cuban into deactivating him. His heart, his ability, and his commitment to his teammates and to the game were all called into question.
Which is exactly why the Clippers should sign him.
As we’ve discussed in this space ad naseum, the Clippers can’t challenge the Spurs and Thunder without a major addition, but lack the flexibility to go after an elite free agent (to see how the Clips might gain wiggle room, check out Charlie Widdoes’ excellent post on Mo Williams). A motivated Odom would address multiple needs: he has size, the ability to guard multiple positions, create his own shot, and would add much needed versatility to a one-dimensional front-court. You could play him with Blake as kind of a double-4 and add stretch to the front court, or use him to spell Caron at the three.
But really, making the case for Odom the basketball player is so easy as to be beside the point. The question is whether the team that signs him will get a perennial 6th Man of the Year candidate or the disinterested zombie who helped sink Dallas’ title defense.
It’s not unreasonable to think that the Clippers might get the former. Lamar (and Khloe) has expressed an interest in returning to LA, and a return to the Lakers looks highly unlikely. And, unless you believe that a guy can simply lose his drive over night, sheer self interest should compel Odom to compete this season: General managers can be somewhat forgiving with top players, but consecutive lost seasons would imperil his future in the league.
When you have limited flexibility and multiple holes to fill, you have to take some risks. By definition, a veteran with huge upside and a low price tag comes with red flags, be they injury concerns, attitude problems, or reality show TV cameras. Hopefully, a Chris Paul/Blake Griffin core offers the leadership to bring the best out of the league’s most enigmatic talent.
Gerald Green, SG/SF, Unrestricted Free Agent — Andrew Han
Is this the Green that was a bargain bin rookie deal player the Spurs found? Or the Green in Boston that sat the year out correcting a heart ailment? No, this is the Green that blew out a candle on a cupcake during the 2007 Slam Dunk Contest.
There are exactly three reasons why the Clippers should pursue Gerald Green and I’ll list them in order:
1. He’ll likely be cheap. C-H-E-A-P. Five letters that have dogged the Clippers franchise that can actually be of some use now. I mentioned in a previous column that LAC has to be judicious in maneuvering from here on out as their cap situation becomes more rigid. What better way to hedge against risk by using the Bi-Annual Exemption (2 years, $1.957m/yr)? It’s probably the least amount the Clippers can pay for a shooting guard and the contract length is short.
2. Green rebounds. Everyone mentions perimeter defending as a big need for the Clippers. Wing rebounding is almost as important. The Memphis series showed that if the Clippers frontcourt is neutralized on the glass, then they will lose the rebounding battle because no one else can crash the boards. Gerald Green had a defensive rebounding rate of 14.2, which placed him 6th amongst all qualified shooting guards this past season.
3. He’s 6’8” and is an exceptional athlete. Green gives the Clippers great size in their backcourt. Additionally, his past season with the Nets displayed some solid offensive efficiency with a 15.88 PER and 57.4% true shooting percentage (avg PER for SGs this past season was 12.59).
Yes, the sample size is small, but this is exactly the kind of low risk, high reward move that the Clippers need to investigate to further evolve as a team and an organization. If it doesn’t work out, Green is an expiring contract in a year. But if it does? Maybe Gerald becomes an inexpensive gem not unlike another team that had title aspirations and found a Green in the bargain bin.
Anthony Tolliver, PF/C, Unrestricted Free Agent – D.J. Foster
With “stretch” becoming less of a luxury and more of a requirement league wide, we’re seeing a crowded free agent market for big men with range, really for the first time ever. Ryan Anderson, Marreese Speights, Brandon Bass, Ersan Ilyasova, Jeff Green and Boris Diaw are all guys who can really space the floor.
The Clippers can’t reasonably woo any of those players with just a veteran’s minimum contract as bait, but they should be happy they’re on the market. Why? Because a guy like Anthony Tolliver might just fly under the radar.
A lot of people, Vinny Del Negro included, felt the roster was a little too redundant last year. When Mark Jackson or Gregg Popovich went to hack-a-whoever, Del Negro had to grin and bear it (and continue to ignore Trey Thompkins). Del Negro has said he wants more shooters this offseason.
Well, Anthony Tolliver is a shooter. On his career he’s 77% from the foul line, and he can play both frontcourt spots offensively and knock down spot up jumpers. Although he’s “just” a 32% career 3-point shooter, Tolliver hit 40% of his threes two years ago for Minnesota in a killer season (48th in the entire league in Points Per Possession!) that most have probably forgotten now.
At 6-foot-9, 240 pounds with good length (7″2 wingspan), Tolliver can legitimately cover most frontcourt players, save for speedy small forwards. Tolliver’s biggest strength defensively is that he’s a good help defender and a smart player who could help shore up the Clippers’ backline with the ability to take charges, defend pick and rolls well with his mobility, and make sensible rotations — something the Clippers desperately need in the frontcourt, even more than the stretch he provides.
Tolliver is an intelligent, efficient, low-mistake, spot up shooting big man in the prime of his career. At a minimum contract, he’s a steal.