LA Clippers Don't Need Kevin Garnett to Contend for 2013 NBA Title

Sean Hojnacki@@TheRealHojnackiFeatured ColumnistFebruary 19, 2013

March 12, 2012; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Boston Celtics power forward Kevin Garnett (5) guards Los Angeles Clippers power forward Blake Griffin (32) during the first quarter of the game at the Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

A funny thing happened to the Los Angeles Clippers this season: They actually have too much depth.

It's an embarrassment of riches. It's also one of those good problems.

Even though Chris Paul is the lifeblood of Clippers basketball, they have found themselves with skill players they didn't even know were so skilled.

Eric Bledsoe has been backing up CP3, and he's looked great doing so. He's started when Paul has been out with injury, and Bledsoe looks like one of the better young PGs in the league.

According to Ramona Shelburne and Marc Stein of ESPN, the Boston Celtics "have expressed the league's most well-chronicled interest in trading for Bledsoe."

Boston's bait is Kevin Garnett, but there is the sticky issue of his no-trade clause.

During All-Star weekend, Garnett was "adamant...that there is no scenario in which he'd consent to waive the no-trade clause." However, as we learned, along with La La Vasquez earlier this year, you just can't believe everything that KG says or is supposed to have said.

So does trading an unknown quantity in a rising point guard for a graying future Hall of Famer make sense? And do the Clippers need to pull the trigger if they want to contend for a title this year?


The Trade

Sending Garnett to the Clippers would not just net the Celtics Bledsoe either. Boston is rumored to also get either young (and foul-shot challenged) center DeAndre Jordan or veteran Caron Butler.

Even though the former would shed a tiny bit of salary, the latter swap makes the most sense. Butler is signed on to make $8 million per year through next season.

He would provide a good balance to the trade for the Clippers. They would get rid of salary but would not lose out on untapped potential. But the Celtics might feel that trading KG should net them more than a rising star and an aging vet like Butler.

So just how good is Bledsoe?

After sitting out due to injury for part of last season, Bledsoe has come back strong and reached new heights.

Taking a look at his per-36 stats (15.9 points, 5.5 assists, 5.2 rebounds, 2.7 steals and 1.4 blocks), it quickly becomes apparent that he's too valuable to leave sitting behind Chris Paul on the depth chart.

But looking at Bledsoe's statistical track record, there could be some fool's gold in his numbers. While he's turned up the scoring this season, it's been to the detriment of his assists.

In his increased time running the point for the Clips, Bledsoe is still averaging just 5.5 assists per 36 minutes. He turns the ball over at far too high a rate (3.2 per 36).

The Clipper is currently 68th in the NBA in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.68), which is seven spots behind the turnover-addled Monta Ellis. Chris Paul leads the league by far in that category (4.49).

Bledsoe is also unproven as a perimeter shooter.

Even when his offense hits a speed bump though, Bledsoe can still offer superior defense.

Basically, the Clips are not in a hurry to swap Bledsoe. His contract is inexpensive and he doesn't become a restricted free agent until 2014, so they can afford to bide their time and wait for the right offer.

Trading him for a 36-year-old power forward probably isn't the right move, especially considering that they haven't locked Chris Paul into a long-term contract yet.

And that in turn raises the question: Just how good is Garnett?

KG has been sneaky this year. After a faltering start to the season when his legs seemed ready to give up the ghost for good, Garnett has gained strength as the season has progressed.

Looking at his statistics, he's declining slightly but still outperforming his numbers from 2009-10.

While he's not the banger inside that he used to be, he's still effective from the perimeter and has the ability to impose his will on opponents in stretches when called upon.

So are the Clips so desperate for another quality player in the frontcourt that they would hasten to trade a talented young guard for a veteran with a lot of tough miles on his odometer?


What Do the Clippers Need?

According to ESPN's trade machine, which uses the advanced statistic of Player Efficiency Rating to gauge the effect a trade would have on each team's win-loss record, swapping Bledsoe and Butler for Garnett would get L.A. two more wins and cost Boston three wins.

That probably doesn't affect either team's regular season too significantly, but if those two wins for the Clippers were to come during playoff time, then the value of a deal for KG would be much more pronounced.

Currently, the Clippers are the only team in the league other than the San Antonio Spurs to be in the top six in the NBA in both offensive and defensive efficiency.

While they're not a particularly strong rebounding team, especially on the defensive glass, the Clippers do at least take a lot of high-percentage shots.

But when you look at their depth chart, the need for another guy who can play at the 4 and 5 becomes more apparent. While the Clippers have a good young nucleus in the frontcourt with Griffin and Jordan, the reserves are a patchwork.

Luckily, Lamar Odom has remembered how to play basketball this year, because sophomore PF Trey Thompkins has been out all season with a knee injury.

At center, Ronny Turiaf is doing his darndest to provide what the team lacks due to the loss of Reggie Evans in the offseason. Ryan Hollins has been eating up some minutes at center, but his main qualification is that he can actually shoot free throws. 

Yes, of course KG would benefit the Clippers and would help bolster their physical game in the frontcourt, but would his services warrant mortgaging their hot new trade prospect earlier than they have to?

Ultimately, the risk of giving up Bledsoe for a 36-year-old outweighs the reward that Garnett's inside help would bring. 

Simply put, the Clippers aren't desperate enough to do this deal.

They're getting enough from guys like Jamal Crawford and Matt Barnes to cruise into the playoffs with a top-four seed. And they can certainly make a run in the postseason if they play their best basketball.

Plus, KG is not the only option available.


Other Options

Swapping Bledsoe with the Utah Jazz for 28-year-old forward Paul Millsap could indeed be the right move.

In that deal, LA would probably be able to retain Jordan, as Butler is certainly the easier of the two trade chips to part with.

Millsap is also a much, much better free-throw shooter than Jordan, so he could play the minutes in crunch time when some coaches seek to hack-a-DeAndre.

Utah lost point guard Mo Williams to a thumb injury and is desperate for someone to run its high-altitude offense.

The Jazz have depth in the frontcourt with Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors coming along. This offseason, they'll need to choose between signing Millsap or Al Jefferson; they figure to trade one of them and Millsap seems the likelier target so far.

Zaza Pachulia, Andray Blatche, Chris Kaman and Earl Clark will all become unrestricted free agents in the offseason, so the Jazz can wait until then to shore up their frontcourt.

At the end of the day, the Clippers could use help in the frontcourt, but so could most teams. They just aren't desperate for it. And KG doesn't want to waive his no-trade clause anyway.

Regardless, when playoff time rolls around, Lob City will be making a run at the title whether it's Eric Bledsoe, Kevin Garnett or Paul Millsap donning a Clippers jersey.



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