UPDATE: 12:50 p.m. ET, February 24 — The Clippers have signed Jordan Hamilton to a 10-day contract, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports.
The Los Angeles Clippers kept quiet at the trade deadline. Now, they turn to the buyout market.
The Clippers have played this game before, and it's a dangerous one, because unlike last year, there may not be many free agents for them to sign.
At this point, the only available name we're hearing as a possibility is former Doc Rivers player Nate Robinson, and even the market for him has been quiet of late. It feels like we haven't heard any updates on Nate since the one from Basketball Insiders' Alex Kennedy in late January. But even if the team does, in fact, sign Robinson, his addition doesn't solve much.
The Clippers have been searching for a wing to guard athletically on the perimeter all season. It's why they were shopping Jamal Crawford for a first-round pick before the deadline, as reported by Yahoo's Adrian Wojnarowski (h/t Dan Feldman of Pro Basketball Talk), hoping they could flip that draft selection for someone who fits the "defensive-minded" description.
It didn't work.
In the end, the trade deadline treated the Clippers poorly, with some of the guys Rivers was presumptively holding out for (Tayshaun Prince, Kevin Garnett) getting dealt instead of bought out. After the team swung a deal for Austin Rivers in January, there haven't been any complementary moves. What we see now may actually be the finished product.
Last season, the Clips had their fair share of choices. Maybe none of the available free agents was going to provide immediate, upper-echelon help, but each could at least contribute.
L.A. signed Glen Davis, Hedo Turkoglu and Danny Granger, all of whom played legitimate minutes down the stretch of the season. (Turkoglu eventually got hurt for the Clips' postseason run.)
Davis played 13.4 minutes a night and acted as a cheap coverup for the zit that was the Clippers' third big man. Turk handled the ball some, made his threes and spaced the floor in the second unit. Granger, meanwhile, added some positional versatility, playing the 3 and small-ball 4 while hitting better than 35 percent of his threes.
This year, though, we're not seeing those guys.
That's right. We're not even finding Turkoglu-caliber players on the open market.
That leaves...well, just about no one. At least there are some scraps. Let's try to sell them...
Anybody want Andray Blatche? You know you want that goof ball coming off your bench.
How about Larry Sanders? If you can trick him into actually liking basketball, maybe you can get him to return to the NBA.
Ray Allen? He may say he's not playing anymore, but who knows? Maybe Doc Rivers and the L.A. weather can be the one combination to change his mind.
The free-agent market is split into two categories: generally unwanted players and Hail Marys.
There's a reason Blatche is still teamless after playing in China. You could say the same thing about Michael Beasley or most of the other guys who spent the beginning of the NBA season playing in the Chinese league.
The Clippers also could convince Sanders or Allen to come back. Against all reports and logic, it's still possible—and by possible, we mean that there's a greater than 0 percent chance it happens. We'll call it the Lloyd Christmas Theory.
Even if, by some off chance, one of those guys ends up on the Clips, they don't solve the team's main issue: wing defense. Guarding on the perimeter has been the Clippers' biggest struggle all season, and it doesn't appear it's going away.
It's hard to rip Rivers for failing to make a trade before Thursday's deadline because we don't necessarily know his thought process. It's perfectly possible the Clippers tried as hard as they could to shop what little they had for a wing defender and no one bit. It's not like we're talking about a team with loads of desirable pieces.
There's a big "but" coming up, though—an ugly, still necessary and conjunctive "but" on the horizon.
Buuuuut...the Clippers could've made a deal.
Austin Rivers has actually been as effective as anyone could've asked for, but considering L.A. didn't really need a player like him, his contributions are mostly extraneous, a luxury on a team that has actual needs. Think about the assets the Clippers cleared to acquire him: Reggie Bullock, a second-round pick, Chris Douglas-Roberts and Jordan Farmar. (The team technically waived Farmar to clear cap room.)
If the Clippers still had those assets, wouldn't they have had a chance to make a similar deal to the one the Houston Rockets did, acquiring K.J. McDaniels from the Philadelphia 76ers for Isaiah Canaan and a second-round pick?
Those are the sorts of deals for which teams have to prepare themselves. You know, just in case they pop up unexpectedly. When McDaniels went for far less on the market than most thought he would if he were to be traded, L.A. wasn't able to pounce.
The team continues to win without Blake Griffin (h/t to DeAndre Jordan and his approximate 412 rebounds per game over the past eight), and the top six remain infused with talent. Still, Rivers' team needs help; help for depth, help for defense, help for guarding on the perimeter.
The Clippers have a multimillion dollar yacht parked in the middle of the desert. Unfortunately, any external remedies seem to be mirages.
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 on ESPN's TrueHoop Network at ClipperBlog.com. Follow him on Twitter at @FredKatz.