Though they stumbled to a 32-50 record last season, the Los Angeles Clippers are one of the NBA's most exhilarating teams due to their youth, high-energy players and of course, the Kia-jumper himself, Blake Griffin. Now that the 2011-2012 season appears to be on track, the Clippers are facing high expectations for Griffin's sophomore campaign and need to hit free agency aggressively to round out their promising roster.
The team's first priority should be keeping defensive-minded center DeAndre Jordan, a restricted free agent, in Los Angeles. After they sort out a deal with Jordan, the team needs an answer at the small forward position. Al Farouq-Aminu showed some promise as a rookie out of Wake Forest and undoubtedly deserves his share of time at forward, but he is better suited coming off the bench for the moment. Veteran journeyman Jamario Moon came over in the Baron Davis trade, but he too is not ready to assume major minutes on a team that is close to contending for a postseason appearance in the hyper-competitive Western Conference.
Enter Tayshaun Prince. The 31-year-old veteran is a free agent this offseason and would be a perfect addition to this up-and-coming Clips squad. After the constant turmoil that surrounded last year's woeful Detroit Pistons, Prince is likely looking for a fresh start for the first time in his nine-year NBA career.
Including the qualifying offer the team will likely tender Jordan, they only have $45 million in salary on the roster, so if notoriously stingy owner Donald Sterling is willing to shell out some money the team could afford to offer Prince a contract in the neighborhood of $18 million over three years.
Prince started 78 games last season and averaged 14.1 points, 4.2 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game, in addition to half a block per contest. He was the only member of the 2004 championship team not constantly in John Kuester's doghouse, despite the two clashing a few times.
Prince's absurd 7'2" wingspan makes him one of the league's better perimeter defenders, something a Clippers team that will likely still be starting Mo Williams at point guard could certainly use. Los Angeles' starters have the athleticism to become elite defenders, and Jordan, Griffin and Eric Gordon have all shown excellent defensive capabilities in bursts, with a veteran defensive presence like Prince on the roster he could elevate the efforts on that side of the floor for the entire team. After all, who would you rather have mentoring your team defensively than this guy?
With Prince on the roster the Clips would have the opportunity to throw a variety of defensive looks at opposing perimeter players. They could use his length and basketball IQ along with Gordon's quickness and Griffin's pure athleticism to seriously disrupt their opponent's offense.
On the offensive side, Prince's versatility would be a huge asset. His career three-point percentage is 36.8 and he shot 47.3 percent from the field in the 2010-2011 season. He can play effectively as a spot-up shooter receiving passes from driving guards like Gordon or kick-out passes from big men in the post. With the attention a star like Blake Griffin demands on that end of the court, Prince would likely be the recipient of some open looks he hasn't seen since the Chauncey Billups/Rasheed Wallace days.
He can also take his man off the dribble and penetrate. Though he doesn't have the weight to bully a defender inside, he is extremely intelligent on the offensive end and can often be deceptively fast.
In addition, because Prince has already won an NBA Championship so he won't necessarily jump ship to join a team like Miami or Oklahoma City for fear of retiring ring-less. Joining an up-and-coming, extremely exciting Clippers squad is definitely more attractive to a player who isn't only concerned with their legacy, and Prince has always demonstrated high character throughout his career.
If the Clippers want to take the leap from fun team to watch on NBA League Pass to serious contender, they should pursue Tayshaun Prince and similar players when the free-agency frenzy begins on December 9th.
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