Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers took great offense recently to a report that the team had discussed dealing young star forward Blake Griffin to the New York Knicks for a slightly older star forward, Carmelo Anthony.
Doc didn’t make clear exactly what irked him—the notion that the Clippers would deal Griffin for Anthony, or that they would discuss dealing him at all. If it's the former, his exasperation is understandable because that trade makes little sense, on the books or on the court. If it's the latter, then Rivers is ignoring what a majority of the league firmly believes: that Griffin and center DeAndre Jordan are a bad fit, especially on a team with championship aspirations.
I know, pairing title hopes with the Clippers still has a dissonant ring to it. The Clippers, though, are in win-now mode and have been ever since owner Donald Sterling, born in 1933, dipped into his 70s. It's why the Clippers have the fifth-highest player payroll in the league after years of hovering just above the necessary minimum and making perennial trips to the draft lottery.
It’s also why trading Griffin, who is locked up for at least three more seasons, for potential free-agent-to-be Anthony is, as Rivers said, "stupid." While Sterling’s franchise may have moved ahead of the Lakers in the current battle for L.A. supremacy, that stake is planted in soft soil; the Clippers have a ways to go before the team's poor history of attracting or retaining free agents no longer looms.
But pairing two big men who are not scoring threats outside of the paint—Griffin and Jordan—with a ball-dominating dribble-drive point guard such as Chris Paul also has a dissonant ring. A stretch 4—a power forward with three-point or deep two-point range—would be far more ideal, and while Griffin's jump shot has clearly improved (27.8 percent up to 41.2 at the top of the key alone), he’s a long way from being a consistent threat as a jump shooter. Anthony, despite unlimited shooting range, still does his best work in the paint and dominates the ball as much as Paul.
A general manager who has one of those three players said he has not been contacted by the Clippers about dealing for his power forward, nor has he heard that the Clippers have expressed an interest in moving Griffin. Nor does the GM expect they will, for one particular reason: the owner.
"Sterling is not going to do anything with Blake because he’s terrified they're going to say, 'See, you screwed it up again,'" the GM said. "Donald understands dunks and star power, not spacing the floor.”
There was a time when creating a better fit would've meant dealing Jordan, but that was before he emerged as a triple-double threat in points, rebounds and blocked shots. Griffin’s curse is that the value of his unique strengths among big men—ballhandling and passing—is minimized by Paul’s dominance of the ball. Paul, sources say, sees Jordan as a younger version of his lanky center in New Orleans, Tyson Chandler, and wishes Griffin were more like his New Orleans power forward, David West.
The tough part of all of this is that Griffin has clearly worked on his weaknesses. His defensive footwork and overall effort have improved this season. His free-throw shooting has risen to a respectable 70.7 percent, and he is utilizing that handle and his strength to score with his back to the basket. His 6'11" wingspan, however, prohibits him from ever being the same shot-blocking paint presence that Jordan is with his 7'6" wingspan.
The issue is compounded by the fact the closest semblance to a stretch 4 on the roster is 37-year-old Antawn Jamison, who is shooting a career low 20 percent (8-for-40) from three-point range and 29 percent overall.
Perhaps that’s why one league source with unique insight into the Clippers organization does expect them to make a blockbuster deal before the February trade deadline. That assumes Rivers has the ability and the desire to convince Sterling such a move is necessary. Rivers did joke, in his lambasting of the report, that he had not bothered to talk to Griffin about it because, "If I do pull him aside, I'm probably not telling him the truth."
The truth being that, while the Clippers as of now may not have discussed dealing Griffin, internally or externally, the composition of their team could lead them to do exactly that somewhere down the line.
• The Warriors’ search to bolster their bench—particularly with another backup point guard—led them to seriously consider Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry, a league source said. However, concerns about how Lowry— a soon-to-be free agent—would fit into their locker room prompted them to pass. Golden State’s unselfish camaraderie is both rare and a decided advantage. The asking price for Lowry apparently has risen with his and the Raptors’ success as well. League executives are conflicted on who would be a better fit among the other big point guards potentially available, the Nuggets’ Andre Miller or the Bulls’ Kirk Hinrich. Miller is a better offensive option than Hinrich but, as he has demonstrated in Denver, is not happy if he isn’t playing; there are questions, however, if Hinrich has enough left to be a playoff factor at either end of the floor.
• The compliments around the league about Celtics’ coach Brad Stevens are understandable. After a tough last-second loss to the Warriors, he had the calm deportment of a coach preparing for a summer-league workout. That’s impressive considering college coaches usually need time to stop treating the result of every game as if they were a bubble team looking to get in the tournament. For whatever it’s worth, he’s also the first head coach I’ve ever seen A) be the first to walk out of a postgame locker room, and B) do it wearing a backpack.
• A league executive offered this plausible reason for the Rockets’ interest in Bulls forward Mike Dunleavy: It gives them more flexibility at power forward without having to deal Omer Asik for one before the trade deadline. Dunleavy can either play stretch 4 or allow small forward Chandler Parsons to slide there; the presence of Dwight Howard allows the Rockets to get away with it defensively. That then allows Houston to wait to move Asik in a draft-related deal. Several GMs are fully expecting Dunleavy to be moved for a pick as the Bulls transition into full rebuild-for-next-season mode.
Ric Bucher covers the NBA for Bleacher Report.
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