5 New Year's Resolutions for the Los Angeles Clippers
It's that time of the year when we all pretend we're going to be better people in the coming 365 days.
What were your New Year's resolutions last year? I can't recall mine. I'm betting you can't remember yours, either.
We obsess over them for a week, maybe two. Sometimes, we even execute them successfully for a full month.
Then, February comes, you lose your pink, year-themed glasses (which you never should've bought in the first place), the four-digit novelty of 2-0-1-5 wears off and you continue to live your life.
But basketball is far more important than us.
These New Year's resolutions are serious. They're live-or-die, making or breaking championship hopes, especially for the Los Angeles Clippers, whose 21-11 record may appear better than it's looked in person.
In reality, the Clippers own a flawed roster with issues all over the floor, and in a brutal Western Conference they haven't looked like a top-five team. It's by no means time to close the door on a squad that came closer to the Western Conference Finals a season ago than people realize, but the Clippers will have to make some changes in 2015 to find success come April and beyond.
The Clippers can't afford to pretend they're going to be better. They actually have to be.
Acquire a Wing
How many times have we heard the following? They need a wing defender, and they need one badly.
Matt Barnes is a fine backup small forward (and that's likely how the Clippers graded him when he signed to his current three-year deal), but Jared Dudley-related issues pushed him into the starting lineup last season. He hasn't left since.
So, at age 34, an athletically declining Barnes has to be your most reliable one-on-one perimeter defender. J.J. Redick doesn't fill that role. Reggie Bullock hasn't been able to find playing time. C.J. Wilcox hasn't been able to find his way onto the active roster.
All of the above means the Clippers have to acquire a wing. So, what do they do without many tradable assets on the roster?
Do they trade Jamal Crawford and pieces for a Wilson Chandler type? Do they make Spencer Hawes, who is having a down season, available (though he may he tough to move on a four-year deal)?
Doc Rivers waited around for buyouts last season to upgrade his roster. It didn't work as effectively as he'd hoped. Maybe this year brings a different kind of executive strategy in searching for a small forward upgrade.
Improve the Bench
Acquiring a starting-caliber small forward would help the Clippers bench, if only because Barnes would be relegated to the reserve unit, but that's not the only way L.A.'s second team can gain some fresh blood.
Hawes was supposed to fix the Clippers' biggest flaw from last year, the lack of a third big man, but has vastly disappointed whether it be because of injuries or production. Meanwhile, Rivers is giving Glen Davis and Hedo Turkoglu everyday minutes, not exactly the sign of a contender.
Jordan Farmar has been a major downgrade from Darren Collison. Chris Douglas-Roberts hasn't found the success he had with the Charlotte Bobcats a year ago. Ekpe Udoh hasn't contributed at all. You could say about the same for Bullock and could certainly claim it about Wilcox, whose face is still unrecognizable even to diehard Clippers fans.
The all-bench unit has been a disaster, even more over the last few games than before. There aren't too many free agents out there, especially if Ray Allen is leaning toward retirement. Everyone and their mother (OK, maybe not all mothers) seems to think Jermaine O'Neal is either retiring or heading to the Dallas Mavericks, so we can likely cross him off as an option for the Clips.
The Clippers' best move may just be to stay the course, hope Hawes improves to last year's form, wait for some inevitable buyouts to come in early 2015 and try out a similar strategy to the one last year, which netted them Davis, Turkoglu and Danny Granger. But they have to at least try out some seemingly inconsequential moves.
They could make a small-time trade. The Philadelphia 76ers are always in the market for second-round picks and could possibly be enticed into a a deal involving Robert Covington, Hollis Thompson or Luc Mbah a Moute. But that's just speculation, and those players would all be patch-ups for pencil-poked holes—not nearly enough to move any sort of championship needle.
That said, the Clippers lack depth because they've failed to upgrade at the margins. If they could steal someone who can give 10 minutes of play at a higher level than Turkoglu, that's a trade that has to be made.
Revive Blake Griffin
Griffin's numbers don't seem all that different, and they're certainly not bad.
His averages of 22.9 points, 7.8 rebounds and 4.8 assists per game are hardly terrible from your starting power forward, but they're also a bit disappointing considering the preseason expectations for the gentleman who finished third in MVP voting last season.
He's averaging the lowest rebounding numbers of his career, however you want to evaluate that. Rebounds per game, rebound rate, rebounds per 36 minutes—they're all down.
He's hardly been as efficient, even with an improved jumper, and it's not just because he's taking so many more shots from the mid-range area, either. Griffin is throwing down a career-low 64 percent of his shots inside the restricted area. For perspective, he was at 71 percent last season.
He doesn't seem quite as explosive, though he's started to look more like himself over the past 10 games, when he's averaged 22.2 points, 8.8 rebounds and a phenomenal 6.7 assists per contest.
Griffin is still superb. He remains a top-of-the-line power forward, but he hasn't been one of the five best NBA players this year, and that's not just because of changes on the offensive side of the ball...
Improve Starting-Unit Defensive Stability
Back-line rotations are a killer in L.A. right now, but this is actually one of the more fixable problems plaguing the roster.
Of course, plenty of the fall-off comes with a heavy dose of bench players on the floor, but the starters aren't completely without blame.
DeAndre Jordan has his imperfect moments, whether he's chasing down an unwarranted block or rotating late in help defense, but he certainly gives the Clippers more good than bad. Sadly, the lack of defensive stability falls mostly on Griffin.
Sure, the wings haven't defended well, and Chris Paul has often struggled to stay in front of quicker point guards, but that's more of a physical issue than anything else. Redick is an intelligent team defender. So is Barnes. So is Paul, who's still well above average at navigating screens, arguably the most important skill for a point guard defender.
They just are usually outmatched athletically. Still, these are mostly the same players who helped the Clippers to a top 10 defense a year ago.
Griffin, though, has been late to back up Jordan time and time again. He's been caught out of position constantly. His effort hasn't always been consistent.
It's unfortunate, because this wasn't the case last year, when he had the best defensive season of his career, propelling himself into respectability after spending the first few years of his career somewhere in the below-average category.
There doesn't seem to be any reason Griffin can't regain his form from a season ago, but we haven't seen signs pointing in the right direction, yet.
Steal Neil Olshey Back from the Portland Trail Blazers
Hey, we didn't say these all had to be realistic, OK?
We've gone over Rivers' struggles making personnel decisions time and time again, as has pretty much everyone. Executive changes don't really go down midseason, but can't you just see it happening here?
Olshey led the Clippers front office for two years before leaving for the Portland Trail Blazers in 2012. If his biggest problem was the contract insecurity of a month-to-month contract under Donald Sterling, then the issue is automatically cleared up with the presence of Steve Ballmer. And most importantly, Olshey completed the best trade in Clippers history (after putting the organization in a position in which it was loaded up on assets): the Chris Paul deal.
Let's enter the land of hypothetical scenarios.
Olshey, the former general manager of the Clippers who now holds the same position with the Trail Blazers, trades—say—Wesley Matthews to New Orleans for a bad haul. Portland owner Paul Allen gets upset about this, because he feels like Olshey has ruined a perfect core that can make a deep postseason run.
Matthews, distraught he's leaving his best friends to fall out of the playoff picture, keys Olshey's car, but leaves no trace evidence. Olshey finds it, assumes the scratches are the work of Allen, who clearly never wanted to do the trade anyway, and TPs his boss' house, only regretting it once he's out of a job.
See? It's that simple. Although, do the Clippers really want someone who's willing to TP his boss' house so passive-aggressively? Maybe they should just stay with Doc running the show...
Not that any of this matters, anyway, considering Donald Trump has a better chance at getting Barack Obama thrown out of office than anyone does at dislodging Doc from the president of basketball ops spot.
Fred Katz averaged almost one point per game in fifth grade but maintains that his per-36-minute numbers were astonishing. Find more of his work at WashingtonPost.com or on ESPN's TrueHoop Network at ClipperBlog.com. Follow him on Twitter at @FredKatz.