The Los Angeles Clippers’ long drawn-out, much publicized affair is over, consummated with the acquisition and new hiring of Doc Rivers. A process that seemingly took eons to complete, the negotiations only one week and one day, first leaked last Saturday morning that the Clippers and Celtics were revisiting a deadline deal that would send Kevin Garnett to the Clippers. Only this time, Boston’s high-priced shepherd would accompany their aging Hall-of-Famer. Much has changed from the the nascent murmurs of this deal. Let’s break it all down:
The details of this transaction can be boiled down to a 3-year, $21 million dollar contract, Los Angeles effectively assuming ownership of the remaining salary owed to Rivers from Boston. In exchange for Boston’s willingness to release Rivers from his contract, the Clippers gave up an unprotected 2015 first round pick.
This came after earlier rumors that the Clippers were only willing to offer a second round pick. Where this pick would come from would have been anyone’s guess as Los Angeles currently does not have a second round pick that can be offered until 2017. But compensation was ultimately achieved on the unprotected 2015 pick as Boston coveted a 2014 pick (said to be the best draft class since 2003) and Los Angeles upgraded their offer to a protected 2015 pick. Dropping the protection appears to be the middle ground.
What it means
Supposedly, this is only the first domino to fall in what those close to the Clippers have suggested will be an aggressive offseason. And while Boston is able to stock their cupboards with an asset for the impending rebuild and extricate themselves from the highest paid coach in the league, Los Angeles gives up a first round pick projected to be in the late twenties. A few byproducts of this transaction:
1. There’s a certain reluctance to give up a first round pick as compensation for a coach. However, late first round picks, which all Clippers picks are currently projected as, tend to yield mixed results at best. For example, the Clippers traded a future first round pick for the rights to Eric Bledsoe in the 2010 draft, the number 18 pick. That traded pick eventually landed with the Boston Celtics as the 22nd pick, which was Fab Melo.
2. Giving up a pick in the 2015 draft does enable the Clippers to use the 25th pick this year, either to draft a player or trade as an asset. It also forces the Clippers to keep the 2014 first round pick as a result of the Stepien Rule, which forbids a team from trading first round picks in consecutive years. By giving up their rights to the 2015 draft, the Clippers have almost assured that they cannot trade out of the highly regarded 2014 draft class.
3. Although speculation was rampant that the Clippers would eventually acquire Rivers, Garnett and Pierce, the league office seems intent on squashing that idea:
ESPN source says NBA does NOT intend to budge from Stern's stance & would see subsequent KG-to-Clips deal as connected & thus in violation
— Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) June 23, 2013
Will Celts & Clips pursue three-team (or more) trades that win NBA's blessing to land KG in LA? Who'd guess "no" after week we've just seen?
— Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) June 24, 2013
David Stern scuttling any sort of personnel swap between Boston and Los Angeles ultimately may not be a bad thing. As I’ve outlined at the end of last season, the simple data shows Garnett may not be much of an improvement over their proposed counterparts. And Kevin Arnovitz at ESPN wrote about why giving up so many future assets for players in the twilight of their career may not be the best idea. This notion is only reaffirmed by the fact that the Clippers are now without a 2015 first round pick, two years from now, with Garnett and Pierce both year-to-year whose skills atrophying at an undetermined rate.
What to expect
Undoubtedly, one of the big things to observe will be how much of Boston’s vaunted defense will translate to Lob City. Since 2007-08, the year that Kevin Garnett and Tom Thibodeau joined the team, Boston has had the best defense in terms of defensive efficiency. No doubt Garnett and Thibodeau played a part in the Celtics’ elite defense, but Rivers had been the supervisor under which said defense was constructed. And while the Clippers’ offense is more publicized, either for its highlights or lack of creativity, Los Angeles’ defense has been the glaring problem during the Chris Paul era. If the Paul-Griffin offense can be married to Boston’s stifling defense, we could be set for a devastating amount of boring, unimaginative basketball that leads both ends of the court in statistical efficiency. And that usually translates to elite teams and records.
The other curious wrinkle to develop from this event is Donald Sterling’s willingness to part with both a first round pick and pay for the NBA’s most expensive coach. Sterling has traditionally been loathe to trade draft picks because he intuitively understood the notion of inexpensive labor locked into a fixed price for four seasons. But this is now the third time in four years that the Clippers have traded a first round pick in an effort to improve the team. A willingness to spend a premium on a coach and deal draft picks is just a continued signal to the rest of the league that Los Angeles is serious about competing. Theories were abound during the on-again off-again flirtations in the past week that the Clippers were being stingy with Rivers’ salary or they could not get authorization to offer a draft pick as compensation. But now that the dust is settling, it appears that all the distress from Boston and Los Angeles were simply negotiating tactics. The Clippers tangled with Danny Ainge, a notoriously strong-armed negotiator, and emerged with a reasonable transaction.
Many had thought Chris Paul was very likely to re-sign with the Clippers regardless of the dealings this past week. And more than likely people will suggest that the hiring of an elite coach in Doc Rivers cemented any small uncertainty remained in the Clippers’ star free agent. But what shouldn’t be undersold is the process by which it happened. Would the Clippers be better off had they hired Brian Shaw or Lionel Hollins and simply kept their 2015 draft pick? Possibly. But now Chris Paul has seen a front office smoothly secure his young running mate to a long-term contract and calmly navigate treacherous negotiating waters to embrace the best available talent in the coaching pool. And observing organizational competency will have as great a role in securing Paul’s signature as the arrival of Doc Rivers will.