For the second straight summer, the Los Angeles Clippers seem to be making the right moves to improve their team and stay relevant in the conversation for potential Western Conference champions.
There are two reasons why this is big news.
The first is that people are used to only talking about the Clippers in terms of lottery picks and being near the bottom of the standings. Second, the Clippers are making aggressive and necessary moves, all while not having a general manager on staff.
Last year's GM and vice president of basketball operations, Neil Olshey, decided in early June to accept a position as the Portland Trailblazers general manager. Olshey is given credit for putting together last year's team that brought Chris Paul, Chauncey Billups and Caron Butler to the Clippers. The team finished 40-26 and made it to the second round of the playoffs.
So far this summer, the Clippers have been just as progressive as last, seeming to correctly sign quality players where there are immediate needs.
They have re-signed Billups, who is a former NBA Finals MVP and served last season as the confident backbone behind the team. They have also brought in the versatile Lamar Odom, who is one year removed from winning the NBA Sixth Man of the Year Award and has two championship rings while playing for the Lakers.
They also signed Jamal Crawford, the sharp-shooting guard who was the 2010 NBA Sixth Man of the Year. Crawford is known for instant offense off the bench. The Clippers will be his sixth NBA team (Bulls, Knicks, Warriors, Hawks and Trailblazers) and although he has bounced around, he has undoubtedly left his mark at each stay.
He is already in the record books as being only the fourth player in NBA history (after Wilt Chamberlain, Bernard King and Moses Malone) to score 50 points or more with three different teams. While playing for the Hawks, Crawford set an NBA record by surpassing Hall of Fame guard Reggie Miller by completing his 24th four-point play.
He will definitely give the Clippers much-needed fire power from the perimeter. With the double teams that Blake Griffin will get and the pin-point passing of Chris Paul, Crawford will have many opportunities to light up the scoreboard.
There are still holes that need to be filled. The Clippers are losing players from last year's playoff team. According to the Associated Press, they reportedly lost Nick Young to the 76ers (though deals can't be officially signed until July 11), but filled his outside shooting with Jamal Crawford.
Young also served as a backup small forward to Caron Butler. Currently, Ryan Gomes fills that role off the bench but lacks the consistent outside shooting needed for that position.
Lamar Odom can play small forward and can shoot well enough from the outside. He also plays power forward because of his height and versatility. If he plays small forward, that leaves a void at backup for Blake Griffin. Kenyon Martin played well in that position last year, but he is currently unsigned. Re-signing Martin would be a smart move.
Since the 76ers amnestied Elton Brand in order to sign Nick Young, re-signing Brand, who played for the Clippers from 2001-2008 after being traded from the Bulls for Brian Skinner and the draft rights to Tyson Chandler, would also be a good move.
Brand was the No. 1 overall pick in the 1999 NBA draft and shared the Rookie of the Year award with Houston Rockets guard Steve Francis.
The Clippers need more low-post scoring to help when Griffin is out of the game, an area they were lacking in last season. Brand could fill that void. Odom could also help in that area, but is so versatile he will be called on to help with ball handling and perimeter play. Brand and Odom played together on the Clippers from 1999-2003.
The Clippers should also take a look at Grant Hill.
Hill is an unrestricted free agent who played for the Phoenix Suns last season. Hill is also a very versatile player. At 6'7" he can play small forward or shooting guard and would only add to the total basketball I.Q. of the team. In addition, Hill would make the bench one of the best in the league.