To say the Los Angeles Clippers have a roster with obvious weaknesses as well as holes to fill from injury would be to state the obvious. They may be sitting in fourth place in their conference at this moment, but the schedule the team must play between now and the end of March looks to be one of their toughest stretches of the season. The thought of holding serve or even to move up in the standings without improvements to the roster seems daunting and unlikely given the road ahead, and with a trade deadline looming, talk of deals will soon have to take its annual late-winter hiatus.
Until that deadline passes, though, here are some thoughts and ramblings on the Clippers and where they stand.
Born Ready or Not
If Lance Stephenson’s last season in Indiana was his Ray, then his following season in Charlotte was certainly his Stealth. That leaves the Clippers wondering how much longer they’ll have to wait for his next breakout performance. He’s indeed had some notable contributions within a small sample size, especially with his recent uptick in minutes. Still, to focus on those games alone would be to ignore the erratic and inconsistent contributions he had earlier in the season.
Improvement is probable over the course of a season, and one does get a sense that Stephenson is putting in the time with the coaches to understand the plays and schemes. Plus, with Austin Rivers sidelined for a few more weeks, there is a clear need for defense on the wing as well as the need for a ball handler — both of which are areas where Lance can help. On top of that, watching him play when he’s at his best can be incredibly fun. But to accept Lance on the roster is also to accept that there will be many more games ahead with Paul Pierce as the team’s starting Power Forward, so it then becomes a question of which is the bigger hole that the Clippers need to fill.
Big and Tall and Stretchy
If Lance does end up leaving via trade, the prevalent rumor has the Clippers landing Channing Frye from the Orlando Magic. In theory, Frye would help in terms of fitting in with the type of basketball the team has been playing in Blake Griffin’s absence, as well as fill in as a starter until Griffin is able to return. His history as a capable three-point shooter stretches over several seasons, and he’d also bring in a slight bit of rim protection to a team that doesn’t have a whole lot of it.
It is worth reiterating the concerns mentioned in the previous episode of ClipperBlog Live though, and that this is not the first time Doc Rivers has flirted with the idea of a stretch big on the team. The Byron Mullens experience is one that many a fan has already forgotten, and Spencer Hawes didn’t last much longer in his time as a Clipper. Frye certainly comes with the best track record and pedigree among these three, but it also seems unrealistic to expect significant dividends from a player that has seen his production decline for the past three seasons. If the goal in an upgrade is to get the Clippers past the Warriors and Spurs of the world, this isn’t the deal that gets them there.
Beating a Dead Horse
So does that make Ryan Anderson the best potential acquisition that has shown up in trade rumors? For a rental, perhaps. Even if he provided little on the defensive end, he’d immediately become one of the team’s best long-range shooters. The question now becomes what the Clippers can provide in the swap, which then becomes a look at the Clippers draft pick situation or lack thereof. With the team’s big three set to have all their contracts expire by 2018, the choice to part ways with the 2019 pick becomes risky.
Sure, it hurts that the team’s 2017 first round pick went away along with Jared Dudley. At the same time, what is to say that the Clippers even have the assets to make a roster move for Anderson work if Dudley is still on the roster? The makeup of the team’s bench could be very different from what it is now, and it might also mean that they lack a contract like Stephenson’s to give up in the deal.
The Crawford Conundrum
When it comes to moveable assets, though, the name that has perhaps come up the most often over the past couple seasons has been Jamal Crawford. He’s played well in a recent stretch, averaging around 20 points over his last eight games. To some, that means his value is on the uptick and there’s no time like the present to deal him. To others, the streak is a sign of hope that the former 6th Man of the Year can finish the season on a much higher note than he has over the past two years.
Bringing up his name can be a divisive subject among fans. His ball dominant play and poor shooting percentage can frustrate many, but others are willing to look past that due to his kindness and generosity with the fans. Sure, being nice doesn’t win basketball games, but despite Herman Edwards staunchest exclamations on why the game is played, how an organization treats its players should not be discounted in a player-dominant league — especially for an organization lacking the history or prestige that draws players back after their playing days.
Will it Blend?
As easy as it is to match a set of contracts and look at the on-paper upgrade, questions will always follow a deal beyond winning and losing a trade based on talent and potential. If talent and potential were the only indicators, perhaps Josh Smith stays on the team and has a stellar season off the bench. Fit matters, system matters, and even though a metric can’t be applied to chemistry, that matters as well. Accepting a role also plays into all of this, and that largely is dependent on a player coming to terms with their usage, the team around them, and where that player fits into the pecking order — however high or low that might be.
I’m reminded of when the Golden State Warriors traded Billy Owens and Sasha Danilovic to the Miami Heat for Rony Seikaly. Seikaly was seen as a major upgrade for a team with rising stars in Chris Webber and Latrell Sprewell. However, the deal discounted how close the players were to Owens and how it would affect the locker room. Certainly, not every trade has the potential to blow up a team the way it did these Warriors in the late ’90’s, but Clipper fans should know from their own history that what looks good on paper doesn’t always translate to the floor.