The managing triumvirate of Andy Roeser, Gary Sacks and Vinny Del Negro made the acquisition of Lamar Odom and his $8 million contract its top priority this offseason.
For the group in general but specifically Del Negro — who is presently the loudest voice in the room — plenty of questions remain. How do you plan to fill out the rotation? And how will he utilize the guy who flourished in an entirely different system than the one they run, before falling off a cliff in Dallas? We’ll get to that in a second.
By giving away a player with some value in Mo Williams and a 2nd round pick with some potential in Furkan Aledmir to get Odom (even though they didn’t have to), the Clippers have left themselves with the Mid-level exception of about $5 million as their primary means of acquiring outside talent. They can still re-sign their own players to go over the cap — and they are likely to do so with at least one, probably two of Chauncey Billups, Randy Foye and Nick Young — but they’ll still need a legitimate starting-quality wing. And since Odom can’t be your primary backup at the 3, 4, and 5, we can probably add a center to that shopping list, as well.
The incumbents mentioned above constitute a perimeter package of some sort, but it appears as though they are targeting shooting guards during the early part of this negotiation period. Given the depth and quality of the position in this year’s free agent group, that’s probably a smart decision.
They are reportedly showing interest in Courtney Lee. That’s a very good thing. Lee, as we’ve covered, would be an ideal pick up for the Clippers. He can shoot, score, and defend, and he’s got size (6-foot-5) to start at the 2 but guard bigger wings in 3-guard lineups, a Del Negro favorite.
They aren’t likely to land Lee — multiple teams are reportedly offering four years and $25 million, and Steve Kyler of Hoopsworld suggests that the Rockets hope to bring him back for five years and $32 million. Both amounts are more than the Clippers can afford after they decided to take on Odom’s full salary rather than waiting for Dallas to buy him out.
They could offer the full MLE and hope he really wants to play with Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, but we are most likely left to appreciate that he is part of their process. And that’s OK. In an offseason full of headscratchers, merely showing interest in a player like Lee has to give some confidence.
But, assuming he winds up elsewhere, the Clippers find themselves in a similar position to last year, when they were in the market for a starting 3. Think of Crawford as Caron Butler and Allen as Shane Battier. Neither type of player is an ideal starter on a championship team, but one will probably cost way more than the other and the minutes you’ll get from the cheaper might even be of higher quality. Unfortunately for Clipper fans, it’s looking like a repeat of last year. Allen is likely to join the Heat and Crawford could be the guy the Clippers get to overpay.
Like Battier last year, Allen will choose his workplace based on a number of factors, and the Clippers will be tasked with incorporating a volume wing scorer into an offense driven by the 1-4 pick-and-roll. Add Odom into that mix, and it will be interesting to see how it all plays out.
We probably take the Clippers’ offensive success last season for granted. They ranked 4th in the league in offensive efficiency, but even if you believe they had a sustainable model, we seem to be forgetting that this will not be the same team.
They ranked 12th in the league in 3-point shooting last year, but all three of their best shooters are either gone or not likely to approach last year’s performance: Mo Williams (38.9%), Randy Foye (38.6%) and Chauncey Billups (38.4%). Foye, a C.A.A. client like Chris Paul and Eric Bledsoe, could return but figures to take a step back in terms of income, role and shooting percentage. Even if Billups, 35, does come back, he would be less than 12 months removed from a ruptured achilles, an injury that has taken younger players much longer to recover from.
Beyond those three, Nick Young is another internal option for the 2. He can be re-signed while preserving their MLE to use on someone else, so that adds value to his case. But what emerges is a team that benefitted from its ability to knock down 3’s, all of a sudden potentially without many good 3-point shooters at all.
And the pickings are slim for starter-quality 2’s that will sign for the MLE. Jamal Crawford isn’t a particularly good 3-point shooter (34.8% career, 30.8% last year). They’ve yet to be linked to Brandon Rush, who is also out there and could really help. Who knows, maybe they are committed to a process that will lead them to consider him.
But as of now, they are deficient in this area, and they’ll have to adjust offensively if they don’t address the problem. With Odom in the mix, Del Negro has some options, should he choose to explore them. He could play Blake Griffin and Odom off of each other in high-low sets or run Odom-Paul/Bledsoe side pick-and-roll with Griffin crashing from the weak side.
On which 2-guard they spend their MLE will be be important, but ultimately it will come down to how Del Negro plays them. Without shooters, there will be even more pressure on the staff to get the most out of what they have.
Of course, this all assumes the roster stays mostly in tact, which isn’t necessarily a guarantee. In a bit buried towards the bottom of Kyler’s Hoopsworld piece, he alludes to the big shakeup that is still not out of the question:
Sources close to the situation label the LA Clippers, the Dallas Mavericks and the Houston Rockets as very much in the mix, however all would want some level assurance that (Dwight Howard) re-signing after the season was at least possible before agreeing to a major transaction.
One league source joked if Howard would “just look affectionately at the Clippers”, they’d do a deal. The Clippers do not have a deal with Chris Paul beyond this season and believe that adding Howard to Paul and Blake Griffin would be enough to get both players to re-sign, Howard simply needs to agree that it would be seriously considered as Paul has done.
It’s unlikely that anything happens, but it appears they continue to stay involved in the Dwight Howard conversation. So if Orlando wants Eric Bledsoe, DeAndre Jordan, Trey Thompkins and some draft picks, the Clippers could look a lot different than they do now.
In the mean time, there is work to be done.