The Clippers are a tough team to figure out.
You look at them on paper and what more do they really need?
You would be hard pressed to find a more talented core of Baron Davis, Zach Randolph, Marcus Camby, and Chris Kaman.
Not to mention promising youngs Eric Gordon and Al Thornton.
Apparently, the real problem is how the pieces fit together.
With that in mind, will the upcoming NBA Draft be able to provide any help for Davis, Randolph, Camby, or Kaman? It all depends on who stays and who goes.
But first, take a look at the salary cap for the 2008-2009 season, which was set at $58.68 million and the luxury tax level was set at $71.15 million. I bring this up because I see the tough economy finally catching up to sporting leagues across the country next season.
The Clippers will be in the same position as the rest of the league, which will be looking
to cut costs, especially after it looks likely that the salary cap will be lowered for the first time in a long time. The Clipps will not have any wiggle room, as their payroll is set to be around $56.67 million (HoopsHype.com).
This means the team will not be making a splash in free agency, rather I look for them to improve through the draft and with a trade or two.
With that, I give you the top 10 ways the Los Angeles Clippers can right the ship.
1. Get healthy
First things first.
This Clippers team went through so many injuries this past season, it is difficult to judge how they might have performed if the unit actually played.
Their starting point guard, Baron Davis, missed 17 games; starting shooting guard, Cuttino Mobley, played in the first 11 games before getting hurt and was traded to the New York Knicks at the end of the first month of the season, before eventually retiring due to a heart problem; starting small forward, Al Thornton, missed 11 games, most of them toward the end of the season; starting power forward, Zach Randolph, missed 32 games due to a number of injuries and suspensions; and starting center, Chris Kaman, missed 51 games, due to foot problems.
Then there was Marcus Camby—who started at center most of the season—but missed 20 games. Even Mardy Collins, a combo guard who was a throw in from the Knicks, got injured after he filled in nicely for Baron for a few games—he made an appearance in only 38 games for the Clipps.
The only healthy player of the bunch seemed to be rookie 2-guard, Eric Gordon, who only missed four games.
Their first priority is for their training staff to get these players healthy and ready to go for the 2009-2010 season.
2. Move Dunleavy to GM role
The other big question mark is whether Head Coach/GM Mike Dunleavy will be staying or going—or at the very least, whether he will be moved to the front office and relieved of his head coaching duties.
I worked for the Clippers for three seasons, from 2005-2007, and was their for his first season, where you saw an immediate change.
Dunleavy had a great effect on this lowly franchise, elevating them to be at least relevant in Los Angeles. He did so by not taking anything from anyone. It was he who traded fan-favorite Chris Wilcox and he who moved Corey Maggette to the sixth man role.
But just because he came in and changed the culture of the worst franchise in sports, does not mean he deserves the title for life.
Believe me, there is a growing number of people in the office who agree with me, but there is no way he will get fired as long as he is under contract.
The only other solution is to slide Dunleavy into the general manager position and let someone else take control of the coaching reigns.
Who do I have in mind? I heard rumors that ex-Wizards coach Eddie Jordan, an offensive minded coach, might be a possible candidate, and this might be the best available.
He got a talented group (Gilbert Arenas, Caron Butler, and Antawn Jamison) to buy into his system and took them to the playoffs a number of years. He might find similar success with a core of Baron, Zach, and Gordon.
3. Make Baron happy
Baron is the key to this team, without question. He is the most talented of the bunch, but the most problematic. I saw it before my first year interning with the Clippers. I remember a game when the New Orleans Hornets were in town, and Baron was “injured.”
However, I saw him two hours before the game walking around, talking to his teammates. He shot around with the guys, even starting heaving up full court shots for fun.
The guy clearly was not injured, but used a foot injury as an excuse not to play for a team that was no longer in contention for a playoff spot.
Everywhere he goes, he gives it his all, if, and only if, his team is competing.
He was a bad fit the moment Elton Brand skipped town. He only plays when he is happy; he is only happy when his team is winning. This is why he has clashed with his previous head coaches.
At 19-63, I think it is safe to say Baron was not very happy during the year, and when that happens, poor shot selection, ball hogging, and injuries begin to accumulate.
For anyone who has paid attention, that is exactly what went down this year in L.A.
4. Draft Baron's Eventual Successor
Obviously, you have to figure out what to do with another high draft pick. This really all depends on where the Clippers are drafting. Not that they ever have good luck, but if they do manage to get the second pick in the draft, I think they draft Ricky Rubio, without question.
I know Baron has four years remaining on his contract, but you cannot pass on this kind of flash and talent. He has a knack for the game. He is young enough to come in and understand his role as a backup and eventual successor to Davis, unless the team can find a willing taker for the four years, $54M left on his contract, highly unlikely.
Anyone who watched the US win Gold last summer witnessed a remarkably steady point guard who came of fthe bench for Spain. Rubio dissected teams and what he lacks in speed and agility, he makes up for with a great basketball IQ.
He is an exciting young player who embodies the point guard position in the same way that, I dare say, resembles the other great young point guards in the game – Chris Paul, Deron Williams, and Derrick Rose.
Now what if the Clipps luck into the number one pick overall? If the big three of Randolph, Camby, and Kaman are all back next year, drafting someone like Blake Griffin would not really help the team. Instead, if the Clippers get the No. 1 selection overall, they should trade it, preferably for a wing—but I will discuss this in depth later.
If they get the third pick, I really do not know if there is a solid third option in this year's draft.
There are a lot of bigs with potential, but that role is already taken by DeAndre Jordan, who has not found much playing time in the crowded frontcourt, even with all three bigs injured most of the year.
I think there is more value in picks 10-15, where I think Stephen Curry might end up being the steal of the draft.
If it were up to me, I would trade the pick, unless I can get Rubio.
I see no one else helping the Clippers, who already have some nice young talent. When all they really need are healthy bodies and a better mix.
5. Establish an identity
Another problem you may have noticed was that this team was never able to determine their style of play. What exactly were they trying to do? It was hard to say because there was three new players in the starting lineup one night to the next.
With Dunleavy out and in the front office, an offensive minded coach Jordan coming in, and Baron Davis as the captain, I think this team needs a reformation. They need to break free from Dunleavy's chains and get out and run.
6. Find guys that fit
Now that a run and gun style of play has been instituted, it is time to make sure the pieces fit. No square pegs here.
This is why I want the team to target Rubio, who thrives in the open court. This team already has a pair of nice, athletic wings in Gordon and Thornton, who need to be let loose.
While the only race Randolph might win is a hot dog eating competition, he always tries his best on the offensive end, and will surely want to keep up if he is to ever to get the ball in a scoring position.
I have even seen Kaman outrun bigs when (if) healthy. And of course, Baron Davis, who with his exceptional size and speed needs to running and gunning, as we saw all season long in Golden State.
7. Trade a big
I know Dunleavy is convinced his trio of Kaman, Camby, and Randolph can coexist, but I don't see it. You can't play Kaman and Camby at the same time, which means you need to find equal time (28-32 minutes per game) for each, and that is simply not possible. The Lakers get away with it because they can move Pau Gasol to power forward and get Andrew Bynum his due time.
This means someone has to go.
While I think it is clear the Clippers would love to send Kaman somewhere, with his numerous injuries, poor play, and large contract—three years, $33.9M left after this year—it is simply not possible to move him at this time. So, he becomes your starting center.
That leaves Zach to fill in the power forward spot and while he might not have the overall game of Elton Brand, he certainly can fill it up from all over the court (21 PPG) and has shown an ability to gobble up rebounds at an alarming rate (10.2 RPG). I see him staying.
As much as I hate to say it, Camby seems to be the odd man out. The good news is, he should have the most trade value. While his best days are behind him, he showed enough flashes and defensive prowess to still garner interest from most teams in the league, especially with a nice $7.65 million contract that expires at the end of the year.
The biggest thing I can imagine them doing, and it might be a long shot, would be to go after Chris Bosh. It sounds like he has one foot out the door in Canada already and I am sure Toronto would love to get some cap relief in return, as well as our potential top 3 pick in the draft to sweeten the pot.
8. Bring in big name wing
If the Clipps get rid of Camby, who do they trade for?
I say they need a top notch wing. They could go for the biggest name, maybe a Vince Carter, who would give them yet another scorer. Or, they could try Richard Jefferson, who might give them more of a defensive presence they seem to be lacking.
Both players were shopped around at the deadline, and should be on the market this summer as well. Even Tracy McGrady might be a possibility with all the success Houston is having in the playoffs without him.
In order to do any of these trades, I envision a three way trade going down, because none of those teams are in need of a center and Camby is our biggest trading chip.
This would also help provide depth. The way I see it, Gordon and Thornton are both nice players, but if the team can get an elite scoring wing, like anyone mentioned above, then they could use either Gordon or Thornton as the sixth man.
9. Make Thornton the energy, scoring 6th Man
Speaking of sixth men, I think Thornton's game is made to come off the bench. He appears to have reached his ceiling this year, and while 17 points and five rebounds is nice, I think his game is a bit limited.
By coming off the bench, I think he would provide a much needed scoring punch off the bench. You look at all the great teams around the league, and they all seem to have that sixth man who can score in common. Camby as the sixth man seems like a waste.
10. Instill a winning mentality
This is perhaps the most underrated, yet most important aspect of every team. And it starts from the top down. Dunleavy got it started a few years ago, but I think there needs to be a new voice.
He has shown a knack for bringing in quality players—Randolph for nothing was a great move—which is why he would fit in nicely as the GM. Eddie Jordan could bring in some excitement, having had success before.
If the Clippers can convince Baron that this season was lost due more to extenuating circumstances (i.e. Injuries, etc.), and can get a highly motivated Davis, then I think the rest of the pieces will fall into place.
The only thing I would fear is the fact that the decision process is not up to me. Instead, I could see a scenario where the Clippers let Dunleavy continue to perform both coaching and GM duties, where he in turn keeps all of his bigs, and adds a young player like Hasheem Thabeet, Greg Monroe, or Ed Davis—all draft prospects and risky project type picks—with this year's draft pick.
It is the Clippers way!