What's Driving Los Angeles Clippers' Fascination with Headcases?

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What's Driving Los Angeles Clippers' Fascination with Headcases?
Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Desperate times call for desperate measures.

The Los Angeles Clippers can hardly be considered one of the NBA's more desperate teams—not yet, anyway. They currently sport a 14-8 record, good enough to lead the Pacific Division by two games.

The Clips, though, had good reason to dip into the market for a fresh body on the wing.

LA came into the 2013-14 season knee-deep in perimeter depth, but they have since seen that depth tested with injuries to J.J. Redick, Matt Barnes and Reggie Bullock. Jamal Crawford, Willie Green and Jared Dudley are all ready, willing and able to do the job for Doc Rivers with the former three out.

But the Clips could ill-afford another injury to a swingman.

Naturally, Doc, who doubles as LA's senior vice president of basketball operations, took that development as his cue to replenish the team's ranks with...Stephen Jackson?

"We need him in a pinch and we need him like now," Rivers said of Jackson on Tuesday, via Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times. "And that's a guy that you can bring in and hopefully he can give you something right away with Reggie [Bullock] being out for at least this trip and maybe longer."

What, exactly, is that something that Captain Jack might bring? 

"He's a guy that can make shots, can defend and give us some toughness," Rivers added. "So I thought he was a good fit. After doing all our research and talking to a lot of people, I thought we'd take the jump."

Jesse D. Garrabrant/Getty Images

And what a jump it figures to be.

The Clips won't likely call upon Jackson to be a major contributor—which is a good thing, because he may not be able to add much at this point in his career.

The 35-year-old is coming off a season in which he shot just 27.1 percent from three while launching more than half of his attempts from beyond the arc and saw his team, the San Antonio Spurs, outscore the opposition by 2.5 points more per 100 possessions when he sat than when he played, per Basketball Reference.

In Doc's defense, he was right to highlight Jackson's toughness, attitude and experience. Jackson's long been known for his swagger and his willingness to "mix it up" on the court. His role on the Spurs squad that took home the title in 2003 lent credence to the efficacy of his antics—the same antics that landed Jackson in hot water for his role in the "Malice at the Palace" in 2004.

But the value of Jackson's contributions no longer outweighs the negative effect of his exploits. That was essentially the conclusion at which Pop arrived this past April, when he cut ties with Captain Jack on the eve of the postseason.

It's understandable that Rivers would hold Jackson's grit in such high regard. Doc's success with the Boston Celtics came once Kevin Garnett brought his bully tactics to Beantown in 2007. Rivers surreptitiously attempted to steer the aging Garnett to LA this past summer to lend those same qualities to Doc's next operation before the NBA put the kibosh on the Clips and the C's talking shop.

Brian Babineau/Getty Images

Rivers, it seems, knew all too well about his new team's reputation as a pack of "softies," whiners and flat-out floppers. He's already scolded the Clips publicly for this sort of behavior—most recently after LA's road loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers, after which he caught his players "pouting" (via the Los Angeles Times).

Doc's also well aware of the risk he's running by bringing Jackson on board. "He's had his issues. There's no doubt about it," Rivers continued on Tuesday. "He's breathing and living and I think if that's true, you should always give a guy another chance. ... The good news is contractually, if it doesn't work, we'll walk."

The bad news: In the meantime, Jackson's presence could jeopardize the "Ubuntu West" culture that Doc is attempting to inculcate in his players. The Clips boast their fair share of veterans, but youngsters like Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan remain impressionable.

Moreover, those two could use some help up front, which Jackson (6'8", 218 pounds) can provide only nominally. He played some power forward in small lineups for the Spurs during his last two seasons in the Alamo City, though he can hardly be counted on to crash the boards and protect the rim like a legitimate big man.

Fortunately, the Clips have one more spot on their roster that could be filled by another frontcourt player.

Too bad it might be reserved for Lamar Odom.

Noah Graham/Getty Images

Rivers and Odom reportedly met to discuss Lamar's potential comeback in mid-November. Rivers, though, did his best to downplay the significance of the conversation, via Ramona Shelburne of ESPN Los Angeles:

I've always had interest in him. I've always liked him. The teams he's played on and the coaches who have coached him have always liked him, but honestly it really didn't go much further than that.

Odom may not be one to make waves like Jackson so often does, though the former's baggage is no lighter than that of the latter. The two-time champion and former Sixth Man of the Year found his name sprawled across the tabloid pages this past summer, when his longstanding personal demons came back to torment him.

Odom has spent the weeks and months since then working out in Rhode Island and dealing with the consequences of his recent missteps. CBS Sports' Ken Berger reported last week that Odom wouldn't likely be ready to join a team until January, thereby giving the Clips plenty of time to evaluate their roster and peruse the landscape for other options.

Still, it's tough not to wonder what, exactly, Rivers sees in Odom and, in turn, whether LA's new guru might be looking for love in all the wrong places, so to speak.

The Clippers' addition of Stephen Jackson—smart or not smart?

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As with Jackson, the temptation to see the best in Odom is understandable. He's considered one of the most likable guys in the NBA. More importantly, his diverse skill set at 6'10", when coupled with his prior connection to the Clips, would seem to make him a solid fit to back up Blake and DeAndre.

But Odom is coming off the two worst seasons of his roller coaster of a career and, at age 34, he's highly unlikely to recapture much of his old magic. Throw in the extent to which Odom's personal life can become a distraction to his teammates, and it's clear that the Clips should tread lightly with Lamar.

Which, to their credit, they have thus far.

One can't help but wonder, though, why the Clippers haven't courted other frontcourt options (assuming, of course, they haven't). If they're willing to bring in a free agent who might be a distraction, why not reach out to Jason Collins? The 35-year-old center is still waiting for a call from an NBA team, presumably because organizations aren't particularly interested in subjecting themselves to the potential media circus that Collins would invite.

And the extent to which that distraction would trump his on-court contributions.

If there's any team that's both in need of a defensive-minded big and equipped to handle a Collins-centric frenzy, it's these Clips. Rivers, who briefly coached Collins in Boston, had nothing but praise for Jason when the veteran came out of the closet (via Sports Illustrated's Ian Thomsen):

He is terrific. Losing him was hard for me because I just thought he was such a great teammate and such a great guy in the locker room. That's what you want is those guys in your locker room.

He just was honest. He was an honest teammate. He worked hard. He did anything you asked him to do. He accepted his role.

Rocky Widner/Getty Images

Wouldn't that make Collins the perfect addition to the Clippers' bench? Couldn't they use a high-character guy who plays a physical style and does the dirty work, as opposed to a career troublemaker (Jackson) or a rapidly declining talent (Odom) whose personal life has been rife with turmoil?

Are the Clippers already so desperate for help that they'd willingly overlook obvious downward trends in productivity and established patterns of behavior for a dose or two of "championship experience"?

If so, LA's title hopes may be in even more trouble than a handful of injuries on the wing would suggest.

 

How do you feel about the Clips courting nincompoops? Let me know on Twitter!

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