NBA free agency begins July 1, and the Los Angeles Clippers find themselves in a situation where they can start to improve their roster. With Darren Collison, Danny Granger, Hedo Turkoglu, Willie Green and Glen Davis all hitting the open market, the Clips now look to fill their biggest possible holes: the lack of a third big man, an athletic wing defender and backup point guard. Let’s look at some of the possible candidates heading into the offseason:
Third big man
This is the spot where the Clippers could stand to use their mid-level exception (they also have the bi-annual exception). The issues with bigs off the bench plagued them all of last season. That was partly because of their waiting-it-out strategy.
The Clips weren’t aggressive going after big men last summer and lagged off the trade market during the year. They signed Turkoglu and Granger to play some small-ball 4 mid-way through the season. They brought in Davis to be a power forward and even an occasional center. But none of that worked particularly well. The Clippers defense was never the same with DeAndre Jordan off the floor. Now, after selecting C.J. Wilcox, a shooting guard, with their only draft pick, that’s an issue they have to address during free agency.
Skilled bigs like Boris Diaw and Andray Blatche will be looking for new homes. Jordan Hill is a solid rebounder. Patrick Patterson, though he is restricted, can stretch the floor and is an undervalued power forward. Ed Davis hits unrestricted free agency and could be a guy who slips through the cracks. Even someone like Mike Scott or Jason Smith, who is coming off knee surgery, could go for cheaper than he actually deserves.
The Clippers are going to have some money to spend and some flexibility with which to work, but even if the bigs aren’t a huge priority again (which would be confusing to say the least), that doesn’t mean they can’t upgrade on that front.
Best-case scenario signing: Boris Diaw
This isn’t a slight to Matt Barnes. He may be 34 years old, but the guy can still defend. But reread that: he’s 34 years old.
Barnes is losing athleticism and with that, so are the Clippers’ wing defenders. The Clips may have had effective perimeter players this past season, but most of them were offense-first guys. Jamal Crawford is a scorer, Collison dies on screens and Jared Dudley found himself ineffective on both sides of the floor. Barnes was the go-to, lockdown guy on the outside, but he could only do so much. Again, he’s 34 years old.
The Clippers need a youth infusion on that front. They need some athleticism to come in and help. Maybe Reggie Bullock can lend himself to that role better in his second year than he did as a rookie. It’s possible Wilcox, a similarly styled collegiate player to Bullock, could do the same. But it would be imprudent to rely on an unproven rookie and second-year player to make “the leap” to NBA contributor.
Obviously, the biggest rumors will start with Paul Pierce, who played for Rivers for nine years in Boston. But though Pierce may still be an effective scorer and a quality player, he doesn’t help in the areas the Clippers need: athleticism on the wings. Trevor Ariza would be a perfect addition, but he’ll probably come at too expensive a price. That means you have to scroll down the list and keep flowing until you get to…P.J. Tucker, a vastly underrated small forward who I keep throwing into every possible free-agent signing, mainly because he fits everywhere.
Tucker is a low-usage, three-point shooter who knocked in 40.7 percent of his long-range balls from the corner this past season. He’s a 6-foot-5 defender build like a house, who can body up guys bigger than him. He knows how to rotate. He knows how to defend on the ball. He can guard and score at the 2 and the 3. He’s a versatile and unselfish offense player. He’d slot in perfectly to the Clippers roster. Now, we’ll just have to wait and see exactly what his value is on the open market.
Best-case scenario signing: P.J. Tucker
Backup point guard
After Collison opted out of the second and final year of his deal with the Clippers, LA found itself without a backup point. But really, Collison’s opt-out shouldn’t be that scary a situation for the Clippers.
He may have averaged 15.9 points per 36 minutes with a 57.5 percent true shooting this past season, but Collison is replaceable, especially once you factor in his defense. That’s not so much a knock on him as it is a statement about the current state of NBA point guards. There are a plethora of solid points out there, and we’re talking about legitimate guys.
In reality, Collison may not even be a top-five backup on the open market this offseason, and even if he is, failing to bring him back wouldn’t set the Clippers up for a disastrous scenario. Just look at the long list of names who find themselves without contracts for next year (and we’ll even ignore the restricted free agents like Greivis Vasquez):
Shaun Livingston, Ramon Sessions, Patty Mills, Kirk Hinrich, Jerryd Bayless, Mario Chalmers, Mo Williams, Jordan Farmar, Jameer Nelson, Jordan Crawford, Devin Harris, Brian Roberts, D.J. Augustin, Steve Blake, Aaron Brooks, Luke Ridnour and Shelvin Mack.
All of those guys fall from somewhere between serviceable and elite as backups. Collison was supposed to make $2 million this season. If you can get one of the aforementioned guards for cheap, why overpay for a luxury? And if you’re going to spend money on your backup 1, why not upgrade with a defensive guard like Livingston who can play next to Paul and/or help run the bench offense. Shouldn’t the Clippers be concentrating on their greater needs like the ones on the wings and inside?
That’s why it’s so disconcerting that Doc Rivers said one of his main priorities would be to re-sign the recently opted-out Collison. The Clippers have greater needs. There’s no reason to waste resources when the team from this year was strong, but flawed. Those imperfections don’t need to return, but if the Clippers lose roster flexibility by re-signing Collison, those issues may end up coming back, anyway.
Best-case scenario signing: Shaun Livingston