In what many consider to be the most important offseason in franchise history, the Clippers started things off with a risk-averse move (re-signing Del Negro), and followed it up with a huge gamble (trading for Lamar Odom). They weren’t nearly proactive enough in retaining Neil Olshey, but they were incredibly proactive in retaining Chauncey Billups. They exercised patience in a “search” for a new GM, then became impatient once free agency began. They pinched pennies, and then they spent their money quickly. They retained flexibility in one area, and threw it away in another. They claimed cohesiveness, then didn’t maintain it. They “wanted players who wanted to be here”, but then traded for a player just hours before he could have made that choice for himself.
The Clippers have this nasty habit as an organization of saying one thing, and then doing another. The GM search has been a perfect example of that, a thinly veiled attempt to lead people to believe the Clippers ever had the intention of hiring someone Donald Sterling would be forced to pay a yearly salary to. The Clippers’ front office made all the right plays in the media — they constructed a list full of highly respectable candidates, and floated it at the right time. Nevermind they only formally interviewed their sideline reporter (Kiki Vandeweghe)…they were going through the motions for all to see.
As we can safely assume now, the Clippers never had any actual intention of hiring a new GM. While they “searched”, they let the three-headed monster of Vinny Del Negro, Andy Roeser, and Gary Sacks handle the draft, a big trade, and every substantial move in free agency. And, hey, what do ya know? Support for Sacks is suddenly coalescing! And now that all the big moves are done, do the Clippers really need a GM? After all, what GM wants to come in and take the ownership for moves that weren’t their own? It’s not worth the title, at least for the list of candidates the front office must have worked oh so hard to compile.
It was pretty smooth, really. The Clippers did well to string everyone along until they could produce something shiny and distracting in Lamar Odom. Would it have been that awful just to name Gary Sacks the GM instead? The Clippers would have had an even thinner scouting department, I suppose, but at least they would have someone empowered to execute a cohesive plan. But instead, by introducing Vinny Del Negro into the fold, presumably giving him a louder voice (the loudest?) in the process, the Clippers have put their future in the hands of someone who shouldn’t really care about the future.
This is not an attack on Del Negro’s basketball acumen — I wouldn’t trust any lame duck coach on a one-year deal to make critical personnel decisions. There’s a reason those duties are separated or given to the league’s smartest coaches on long-term deals.
And while I understand the Clippers’ desires to make Chris Paul happy and allow him to have a say in personnel decisions, ultimately, someone needs to save him from himself. Del Negro isn’t doing that. Andy Roeser — a man who has said yes to much worse in his career working for Donald Sterling — isn’t going to do that. Gary Sacks — publicly trusted only after a fake search that would make O.J. Simpson jealous — isn’t going to do that. Paul wants to win. There are plenty of players out there that he likes, but it’s the job of the Clippers front office to pick the one who fits best.
Given the team’s insistence on saying one thing and doing the opposite, it only makes sense the Clippers would jump all over signing Jamal Crawford to a long-term deal.
“We were overloaded at certain positions because of the roster…” – Vinny Del Negro’s exit interview with ESPNLA.com on May 21st, 2012
Let’s start with the roster redundancy. With only Chris Paul and Eric Bledsoe under contract, the Clippers had their chances to round out the backcourt and add a wing with size for defensive and rebounding purposes — maybe someone who could even passably cover small forwards and spend some time at the 3 behind the incredibly injury-prone Caron Butler.
Jamal Crawford is 6-foot-6, so he looks the part, but he plays smaller than any of the Clippers’ other backcourt occupants. In 2010-2011, Crawford posted the league’s worst total rebounding rate. In a league with many players under 6-feet tall and slight of frame, Crawford rebounded worse than every last one of them. That season wasn’t exactly a fluke, either. To give you a better sense of how Crawford uses his height, 6-foot-1 Mo Williams is the better career rebounder.
You could look past that if Crawford could guard size, but he can’t. As John Hollinger noted about Crawford prior to last year, he’s a “low effort defender who is better suited to cover 1s.” The Clippers could get away with playing Nick Young at the 3 last year for periods of time, but Crawford can’t do that without it getting ugly, fast.
By bringing back Billups and signing Crawford, the Clippers have done nothing to fix their roster redundancy issues in the backcourt.
“We have to do a good job moving forward [of] putting certain types of players in front of Chris and Blake. (…) We’ve got to get some shooters and space the court for him a little bit, help Blake, help our spacing.” – Vinny Del Negro interview with Sam Amick of SI.com on May 21st, 2012
Vinny Del Negro never shied away from saying he wanted more shooters. Mo Williams and his 39% career 3-point percentage was going to be tough to replace, but the move for Odom was a worthwhile gamble to try and move the team into the top of the Western Conference. Although you could certainly make the argument that the Clippers 17th ranked defensive efficiency was a more pressing need, getting another shooter would help.
Defense and 3-point shooting didn’t have to be separate entities, thus the term “3 and D” guy. Courtney Lee, Brandon Rush, and even lesser sought after players like Carlos Delfino could have fit the bill.
But it’s not just that the Clippers aren’t getting a good defender in Crawford — they aren’t getting a good shooter either.
I understand the argument for Crawford. He has never played on a good team. He’s never played with a great point guard who can get him wide open looks. His role has always been to create his own shot, something he’s really good at doing in Costco-sized bulk attempts. If the Clippers could turn Nick Young into something worthwhile and tame his desires to chuck, they could do the same for Crawford.
I get that he’s a great locker room guy. His willingness to come off the bench is a definite plus. He definitely looks the part — great length, insane handle, ability to get his shot off easily.
But here’s what we know about Crawford, and there’s 12 years of evidence to prove it:
Crawford is a 34.8 percent career 3-point shooter. The league average last year in 3-point shooting? 35 percent.
Crawford’s career True Shooting Percentage, despite being an excellent free-throw shooter, is 53.8. The league average last year? 52.8 percent.
That’s not mentioning the low-hanging fruit — Crawford’s dreadful 38.4 percent field goal shooting on 16.4 attempts per36 minutes last season and his 30.8 percent 3-point shooting on 5.8 attempts per 36 minutes.
Remember Baron Davis’ first season with the Clippers? You’ve probably erased it from your memory, but consider this: Baron shot 5.0 attempts per 36 minutes (less than Crawford) and made 30.2 percent (barely less than Crawford). Think about that.
The Clippers wanted a shooter. In Crawford, they got a decidedly average one. He will win a few games by getting hot, and he will lose a few by going cold. But no matter what, he’ll keep shooting.
Crawford is one-dimensional, but he’s not a bad player — he’s just a luxury the Clippers couldn’t afford with their primary means of improving the roster already exhausted. You get the sense that the Clippers were just excited to get a big name, regardless of fit.
And that’s really the problem. The Clippers are only acting as an elite franchise, operating the way they think an elite franchise does, getting the players they think the elite franchises want.
But you know what elite franchises also do? They hire the best coach available, and if they don’t, they sure as hell don’t stick the placeholder coach in the front office to make decisions. They pay their employees YEARLY salaries. They don’t hold fake searches for a new GM. They hire an actual GM, and a scouting department, and an analytics crew and empower those people to make basketball decisions so the part time real estate mogul, part time heckler and professional accountant don’t have to.
They use leverage and they seize opportunities to get better. They identify needs — not wants — and prioritize them and address them. They go into the tax and cough up a few bucks if they really feel they’re that close to a title. They acquire draft picks. They focus on the present and the future, because they know their star player will do the same when the time comes.
Crawford looks like an elite player, and the Clippers look like an elite franchise.
But for both Crawford and the Clippers right now, there’s too much evidence telling us otherwise.