Chris Paul looks set to stay in L.A. blue and red. So who does he need around him?
The Los Angeles Clippers have been busy beavers already this offseason, but they have much work yet to be done if they want to contend for a title. That's why a trade this offseason could very well be in the cards.
ESPN's Chris Broussard reports that Chris Paul is so likely to re-sign with the Los Angeles Clippers, his representatives have told teams around the league not to bother calling about him. Everything will now be built around Paul going forward, with the goal of winning a championship.
New coach Doc Rivers has also been named the Senior Vice President of Basketball Operations. Perhaps owner Donald Sterling merely made this move to feel like he was getting his money's worth out of Rivers, but there's no doubt about who's in charge of assembling this squad.
Rivers inherits a 56-win team that earned the first division title in franchise history. They finished fourth in offensive efficiency (measured by points per 100 possessions) and ninth in defensive efficiency. It was a very good year.
But their swift exit from the postseason ensured a change was coming, and Rivers has some things to fix if he wants to mold a very good Clippers team into a true title contender. Based on his track record, Rivers will likely look to preserve and enhance the team's half-court prowess while also stocking the team with solid defenders.
The biggest area of need for the Clips is at swingman. Caron Butler and Willie Green did their best impressions of competent NBA starters last season, but the Clippers will need something more if they want to style themselves as real contenders.
Step one for the Clippers should be to re-sign their Swiss Army knife Matt Barnes. Step two should be to bring in a new face to galvanize the team and shore up the middle of their lineup.
First, we'll look at two of the most prominent trades that have been rumored, and then consider four players who would make for an even better fit in Lob City.
Marc Stein of ESPN.com reports that the Toronto Raptors have a keen interest in Eric Bledsoe. The framework of a deal with the Raps would net the Clippers perpetual-trade-rumor Andrea Bargnani or shooting guard DeMar DeRozan.
This deal is half good and half bad, and the bad half hails from Italy. The Raptors have been trying to unload Bargnani for quite some time now, and L.A. should feel wary of this deal, which would likely include Caron Butler. That being said, both players can shoot from outside and score in bunches.
For some bizarre reason, the Clippers really like Bargnani, even though DeRozan seems to be the better overall player (14.8 player efficiency rating to 11.3 for Bargnani). DeRozan became expendable after the Raptors acquired Rudy Gay, and Rivers really likes him, as pointed out by Ryan Wolstat of the Toronto Sun.
Still, if the Raptors are demanding Bledsoe in this deal, neither Bargnani nor DeRozan has the consistent track record or defensive prowess to make this swap go through. Unloading Butler's $8 million expiring contract is not nearly enough of a sweetener.
Afflalo has really come on offensively in the past three seasons, steadily raising his scoring average in each of his six seasons and posting a tidy 16.5 points per game last year. Of course, he did so for the moribund Magic, so the numbers are somewhat relative.
The other troubling aspect of Afflalo's game is his declining defense. As ESPN's John Hollinger (subscription required) wrote about him:
Afflalo had a rep as a defensive stopper that helped him get a big contract the previous summer, but all his metrics last season were poor. Synergy rated him the single worst wing defender in basketball, and while his other metrics weren't that bad, none of them painted him as a net positive at the defensive end. Afflalo was overrated as a defender to start. He's an average athlete and really needs to be competing all out to be a plus at this end. Last season he wasn't.
Perhaps Doc Rivers would be able to coach the kid up on D and reinvigorate him, but the Clippers shouldn't fall into a grass-is-greener mindset.
Bledsoe looked more than capable when starting in place of CP3 last season. And per 36 minutes, Bledsoe averaged robust numbers: 14.9 points, 5.4 dimes, 5.2 boards, 2.5 steals and 1.3 blocks. At just 23 years of age, the Clippers should be in no rush to trade a young man who was such a hot commodity at last year's trade deadline.
Danny Granger led the Indiana Pacers in scoring for every season from 2007-08 until last year when a knee injury limited him to just five games. Suddenly, the Pacers found themselves flourishing in Granger's absence, which made him expendable upon his return.
Naturally, the team will kicks the tires on trade offers for him.
Now this would be the player to trade Eric Bledsoe for. Granger is owed $14 million on his expiring contract next season, a very high price point for the Clippers, who are up against the cap. But the trade works according to the venerable ESPN trade machine.
The primary worry for the Clippers would have to be the state of Granger's knee, but if they're comfortable with his recovery prospects, they should pull the trigger.
Granger has length and scoring prowess bolstered by solid defense to boot. At 100 percent, he immediately makes the Clippers better and would diversify the roster on both ends of the floor, which is so crucial in the postseason.
With the retirement of Grant Hill and free agent Chauncey Billups wishing to play for the Miami Heat, the Clippers could be a little light on veteran leadership next season. And that's why they should trade for Shawn Marion.
In his 14th NBA season, Marion averaged 12.1 points on 51.4 percent shooting, 7.8 rebounds and 1.1 steals per game. He still flashes some quickness, though he doesn't go to the hoop aggressively anymore, instead relying on mid-range jumpers and floaters in the lane.
Marion has the savvy and experience to be a leader on the Clippers, and he still has enough left in the tank to be a solid starter for a serious playoff team.
This postseason, the Oklahoma City Thunder lost their championship hopes concurrently with Russell Westbrook. That served as a wake-up call that they need more scorers on their roster, and Thabo Sefolosha's time in OKC may be up as a result.
Sefolosha is a very good on-ball defender who also rebounds well for his size. Capable of averaging better than a steal per game, Sefolosha's defense helps elevate his middling offensive game. He's best served when finishing in transition, as his creativity on offense is severely limited.
Nevertheless, he shot 48 percent from the field last year, the highest mark of his career. Doc Rivers would love to add Sefolosha's stout D and playoff experience, and the Thunder just might be ready to ship him off in the final year of his contract.
Get them to throw in Reggie Jackson, and you've got yourself a deal.
Philadelphia is hardly a small media market, but the fledgling Philadelphia 76ers fly easily under the radar. That's probably why you have no idea that Thaddeus Young turned in a fine season last year.
Among all NBA small forwards, Young tallied the seventh-highest player efficiency rating. He averaged 14.8 points per game on 53 percent shooting. While his free-throw shooting plummeted from 77 percent down to just 57 percent, he saw considerable bumps in rebounds (7.5 per game, up from 5.2 the previous season) and steals (1.8 a night, up from 1.0).
Young is a skilled defender in the half court, which will endear him to Doc Rivers. And the Sixers could use all the help they can get after the bust that was the Andrew Bynum trade last year.
After trading All-Star Jrue Holiday to get Nerlens Noel from the New Orleans Pelicans, Eric Bledsoe could fit nicely in Philly's lineup while also netting the Clippers a player to round out their starting five.
Of course, a similar player in fellow Sixer Dorell Wright is now a free agent, so the Clippers could always pursue him instead. Wright would carry a lesser price tag and therefore might suit them better, though moving Caron Butler's contract remains a goal that could give momentum to trade talks.