At the surface level, the Los Angeles Clippers have everything they need to be a championship-caliber team. The reality is, however, that they fell short of lofty expectations and have more work to do this offseason.
The one move they need to make is more nonaction than a major acquisition—they can't afford to lose soon-to-be-free agent Darren Collison.
According to Chris Haynes of CSN Northwest, the Los Angeles native will opt out of the second year of his contract and test the market. Though he may command more than the $1.9 million he earned a year ago, his representation and the Clippers need to come together to find a middle ground to keep him in his hometown.
More value than meets the eye
Los Angeles can't afford to lose such a valuable commodity off the bench.
The former UCLA Bruin did everything the Clippers asked him to do while playing behind superstar Chris Paul in 2013-14. In 35 games as a starter when Paul went down with injuries, he averaged 14.8 points and 5.3 assists per game with a plus/minus of 8.2 as opposed to 1.6 as a reserve.
More importantly, he's been the model of consistency throughout his five-year career and has shown no signs of slowing down as he enters his prime. Here's a look at how some of his numbers have taken shape over that span:
With so many variables that exist throughout the grind of an NBA season, having a player as consistent as Collison who can be counted on is a major asset. That's especially true when that player fills in behind such an important component of the team's success.
Which leads to...
Chris Paul's injury history
The Clippers floor general isn't afraid to throw his body around, and that's resulted in numerous injuries for the 29-year-old. In nine seasons, Paul has yet to play a full 82-game campaign. He played in 60 of the 66 contests in the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season.
Because of Paul's propensity to miss extended periods of time, having a trusted backup is vital.
For a team on the cusp of realizing the game's ultimate prize, the insurance Collison provides is invaluable. With him as a spot starter, the Clippers can still be an elite team. Because of Paul's track record, there's reason to believe they may need to use Collison in the same capacity once again.
Beyond basketball reasons
The pieces for the Clippers to win it all are already in place.
They include Doc Rivers' quality coaching, a rim-protector in DeAndre Jordan and superstars Paul and Blake Griffin. With a team as stacked as Los Angeles, it's hard to imagine it needs more of anything to take the next step and compete for an NBA title.
The Clippers finished the 2013-14 season with a franchise-record 57 wins and the No. 3 seed in the elite Western Conference.
They need not disrupt the sound infrastructure of the team. That includes Collison.
In fact, without the distraction of the Donald Sterling saga, the Clippers may improve through attrition given the stellar reputation of new owner Steve Ballmer. Even more invigorating is Ballmer's vision for what Los Angeles can become in a new era:
With a small, yet important piece such as Collison returning, the Clippers won't skip a beat. If all else is equal, they'll find themselves back in the hunt for NBA glory.
The question that remains is whether Collison will embrace the notion that a contractual discount is likely necessary to keep him in Los Angeles. He's earned a raise, but the Clippers are somewhat handcuffed in what they can offer him since they don't retain his Bird rights.
The non-Bird exception would allow the Clippers to give him a raise to the tune of roughly $2.3 million, but will that be enough? If not, they'd have to decide if they're willing to use the same mid-level exception to re-sign him versus adding depth somewhere else.
In this case, the right decision seems clear given his immense production and value to this team. While it would be ideal for Collison to see the big picture and give L.A. a bargain, it may not pan out that way.
That means the onus lies with the club. The Clippers need to do whatever it takes to keep him.
Advanced statistics via Basketball-Reference.com.
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