Clippers: Summer’s early winner, but questions loom

July 7, 2013

We’re 6+ days into free agency, and most of the big chips have fallen. Dwight Howard to Houston, Chris Paul to stay in L.A., Al Jefferson to Charlotte, Josh Smith to Detroit, Andre Iguodala to Golden State and Paul Millsap to Atlanta. Four notable pieces still on the market include Brandon Jennings, restricted and likely to stay in Milwaukee; Monta Ellis, probably headed to Denver or Atlanta; Nikola Pekovic, restricted but likely out of Minnesota; and Andrew Bynum, who knows.

Below, I take a look at my ‘winner’ of free agency through 6 days.

The Los Angeles Clippers

L.A. was known for its deep bench last year, boasting the likes of Jamal Crawford, Willie Green, Lamar Odom, Ryan Hollins, Matt Barnes, Eric Bledsoe, Ronny Turiaf and Grant Hill. At 40.1 points per game, L.A.’s bench trailed only Dallas and Denver in scoring, and Crawford finished the runner-up in the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year voting.

But a postseason bench is not 12 guys deep. Hill played in 1 game in the team’s 6-game opening-round loss to the Memphis Grizzlies, and Ryan Hollins and Willie Green averaged less than 7.5 minutes per and did not appear in every game. DeAndre Jordan’s inability to make free throws saw him to the bench in crunch-time minutes, and Lamar Odom, and his 11.0 PER, was ineffective all season.

Six days into free agency, the Clippers have turned Caron Butler and Bledsoe into J.J. Redick and Jared Dudley, re-signed Matt Barnes and acquired Darren Collison, an ex-UCLA product, for pennies on the dollar. L.A. drafted sharpshooter Reggie Bullock at No. 25 overall. Oh, and they extended arguably the top free agent in this year’s class, Chris Paul, for 5 years, and traded for a championship coach in Doc Rivers, who brings instant credibility, and an offensive system, to Staples.

Concern: Lack of frontcourt depth

My concern with this team, as they flirt with luxury tax territory, is frontcourt depth, especially after a playoff series where they were bullied by the Grizzlies’ Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph; in that series, Gasol and Randolph averaged a combined 38.1 points and 15.5 rebounds. Right now, with Turiaf and Hollins unrestricted free agents — though ones, according to Brad Turner of The Los Angeles Times, they’re interested in re-signing — the only NBA-caliber bigs on this roster are Griffin and Jordan, the latter of whom cannot play down the stretch and is owed an immovable $22.4 million through 2014-15.

Doc could always move Blake to the 5 and play Barnes or Dudley, 6’7″, at the 4. Both are strong individual defenders. And, then there’s also the rest of the summer. L.A. flirted with Carl Landry, whom eventually agreed to a 4-year, $27-million deal with Sacramento, one that L.A.’s cap flexibility, or lack thereof, would not have permitted. Rivers just needs to fill a 19.7-minutes-per-game slot opened by Odom’s likely departure, whether that’s more minutes to Blake, DeAndre, both or other faces.

Improvement: 3-point shooting

In last year’s postseason, L.A. shot a measly 30.4% from 3. L.A. loses an OK 3-point shooter in Butler and an improving one in Bledsoe, but Dudley (40.5% career) and Redick (39%) are improvements. Redick’s averaged double-figure scoring numbers each of the last 3 seasons, including 15.1 in 50 games in Orlando before his trade last season. Dudley’s also been in double figures each of the past 3 years, and has never shot below 45.9% from the field in his 6-year career.

Bullock shot 44% from 3 last year at UNC, and possesses great size, 6’7″, for a hybrid guard-forward. Barnes is 33% from deep throughout his career, but is especially efficient in the corners.

Bottom line: More weapons for CP3, Blake

The spacing provided by these shooters should open Blake post-ups and CP3-Blake pick-and-rolls, L.A.’s bread-and-butter source of offense. With Paul, Blake, Jordan, Redick, Dudley, Collison, Barnes, Crawford and Green, L.A.’s as good 1-9 as any team in the league. All 9 of those guys are capable of double-digit scoring nights any game.

With Collison, a former teammate of Paul’s in New Orleans, L.A. has a very capable backup point. Collison may not have Bledsoe’s ceiling, but he’s averaged double figures all 4 seasons of his career and only 25. After a disappointing season in Dallas, you can bet on consistent energy from Collison. Should Doc decide to go this route, Collison’s very effective in 2-Lopoint-guard lineups — in 2011-12, Indiana’s most efficient lineup to play at least 100 minutes together featured Collison and combo guard George Hill in the backcourt.

Now, if the Clippers can sure up their frontcourt, I’ll put them right next to San Antonio.

Follow me on Twitter @PatrickJDuprey.


3 thoughts on free agency after 3 days

July 4, 2013

We’re almost 72 hours into NBA’s free agency period. Of the two major dominoes, one has fallen; Chris Paul is, unsurprisingly, returning to L.A. on a 5-year, $107-million extension. The other cornerstone in this class, Dwight Howard, has met with 5 teams — Houston, Dallas, Atlanta, Golden State and L.A. — with a decision coming as soon as Friday.

Several second-tier names are still on the board, namely Andre Iguodala, Tyreke Evans, Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap, Nikola Pekovic, Brandon Jennings and Josh Smith.

Here’s 3 random thoughts as we head into Day 4. Happy Fourth, all!

1. I love what the Clippers are doing.

Priority No. 1: Bring back Chris Paul, the league’s best PG. Check. Priority No. 2: Hire a championship coach to replace the fired Vinny Del Negro. Check. Priority No. 3: Add perimeter shooting and secondary ball-handling. Check.

The latter was completed Tuesday, when the Clippers acquired J.J. Redick and Jared Dudley in a 3-team deal with Milwaukee and Phoenix. As part of the deal, L.A. sent Caron Butler’s $8-million expiring and top asset Eric Bledsoe to Phoenix, and Milwaukee snatched 2 second-round draft picks.

Bledsoe, 23, is an extremely athletic, promising young combo guard who improved immensely from 2011-12 to 2012-13. He averaged 8.5 points, 3.1 assists and 3 rebounds in 20.4 minutes, nearly doubled his 3-point efficiency (on limited attempts) to 40% and shot 45% from the field. His 17.6 player-efficiency rating trailed only Paul and Blake Griffin among regular rotation players. But with Paul inked long-term, there was little room for Bledsoe in the rotation, and he probably could have bolted as a restricted free agent next summer.

The Clippers acquired 2 potential starters for next season, too, should Rivers elect to keep Jamal Crawford as a sixth man. Redick, a career 39% shooter, immediately becomes the Clippers’ top 3-point threat; L.A. shot a league-average 36% last season and 30.4% in the postseason, good for 14th out of 16 playoff clubs. J.J. also is a capable defender who can handle the ball in second-team situations, and teams will have to respect his shooting on CP3-Blake pick-and-rolls. In 50 games for the Magic last year, Redick averaged 15.1 points.

In Dudley, Rivers gets a younger, better and cheaper Butler — a guy who can hold his own, in most cases, on defense, shoot the corner 3 and even run a second-team offense. Dudley, a career 40.5% 3-point shooter, has averaged double-figure points each of the last 3 years, all on pretty bad Phoenix teams. He’s still only 27, and has shot at least 45.9% from the field in each of his 6 NBA seasons.

Considering the market for swing guards/forwards this postseason, 4 years, $27 million — the signed-and-traded contract Redick reportedly signed — is hardly a burden. J.J.’s still 29 and has played in the postseason all 7 years of his career. The Wolves signed Kevin Martin for $28 million over 4, the Wizards signed Martell Webster for $22 million over 4, Atlanta signed Kyle Korver for $24 million over 4 and the Wolves signed Chase Budinger for $16 million over 3.

There’s not a player on that list I’d take over Redick. If the Clippers managed to re-sign Matt Barnes on the cheap and lure Carl Landry below market value — a big who, unlike DeAndre Jordan, could play in crunch time — I’d put them in the same conversation as San Antonio, a healthy Oklahoma City and Memphis.

2. Did the Wizards overpay for Martell Webster?

Shortly after news broke Washington used their mid-level exception to ink Webster for 4 years, $22 million, with the final year only partially guaranteed, Twitter morphed into a ‘THEY OVERPAID’ frenzy.

Webster, picked No. 6 overall out of high school in 2005, is still only 26, and averaged 11.4 points on 44% shooting last season, a ‘contract year.’ Some, including me, thought the selection of Otto Porter at No. 3 would make him expendable, but you would think he goes into next year as Washington’s starting SF.

The rag on Webster is durability. He’s only played 2 full 82-game slates in his 8-year career, with the most recent coming in 2009-10 as a Blazer. In 2008-09, Webster played all of 5 minutes. The 2 back surgeries that caused Webster to miss 55 games in his 2 seasons in Minnesota have, at least per my research, not since flared up.

Again, look at the market. Korver signed for $2 million more over 4 years, without nearly the slash game and athleticism that Webster offers. Kevin Martin signed for $6 million more over 4, but is a horrific defender. As evidenced by taking on the contracts of Nene and Emeka Okafor last summer, the Wizards are in win-now mode. And a healthy Webster gives them a more-than-capable starting SF/sixth man.

For a much more comprehensive examination of the Webster move, read this Truth About It post.

3. What’s up with New Orleans’ guard situation?

As I’m writing this post, USA TODAY‘s Sam Amick is reporting Sacramento Kings’ restricted free agent Tyreke Evans has given the Pelicans a verbal commitment on a 4-year, $44 million offer sheet. By all indications, Evans wants to play in New Orleans — much like current Pelicans’ guard Eric Gordon wanted to play in Phoenix — but Sacramento will still have 3 days to match once the offer sheet is signed.

For a few hours Tuesday, it looked like Evans would be headed to New Orleans. Sacramento had offered Iguodala a 4-year, $56 million deal, only to call their own bluff by night’s end. You would guess that Sacramento, and its approximately $17 million in cap space, would now re-sign Evans.

The addition of Evans would leave a lot of questions in New Orleans. The Pelicans just traded 2 lottery picks (barring a playoff appearance) for Jrue Holiday, an All Star last season, and are paying Gordon $14.3, $14.9 and $15.5 million over the next 3 years, respectively. Greivis Vasquez, last year’s Most Improved Player runner-up, and Austin Rivers, last year’s No. 10 overall pick, are also under contract for 2013-14.

The Pelicans would love to find a taker for Gordon’s albatross of a contract, but that’s unlikely for a guy who’s missed nearly twice as many games (97) as he’s played in (51) the past 2 years. Rivers, 20, has potential, but an ugly rookie season and 5.95 PER kills his value. Vasquez’s name, also circulated in trade rumors, is perhaps the only appealing to GMs.

If Evans winds up in New Orleans, somehow at least one of these guys has to go.

Follow me on Twitter @PatrickJDuprey.


30 in 30: PHOENIX SUNS

February 26, 2013

The way this organization is run raises eyebrows. After Phoenix officially severed ties with head coach Alvin Gentry in January, Lindsey Hunter, 42 and a 1st-year player development coordinator, not one of the team’s long-tenured assistants, was named the interim replacement. Since GM Lance Blanks made the surprise appointment, two-long time assistants, Dan Majerle and Elston Turner, have left the team, presumably for good.

Since 2010, when the Suns fell to the Lakers in the Western Conference Finals, Phoenix has let Amar’e Stoudemire walk in free agency, signed Hedo Turkoglu to a lucrative deal, traded Turkoglu to Orlando for Vince Carter’s massive contract, traded Dragic and a 1st-round pick for Aaron Brooks, and then signed Dragic in free agency.

ALSO: 30 IN 30 — PHILADELPHIA 76ERS

Then, there’s Phoenix’s draft history, where they’ve frequently opted to sell 1st-round picks to pad the team’s cap number. In 2004, the Suns drafted Luol Deng, only to trade him, much like they did in 2005 with Nate Robinson, 2006 with Rajon Rondo and Sergio Rodriguez, and 2007 with Rudy Fernandez. Deng and Rondo have since been named to All Star teams, and Rondo’s arguably a face-of-the-franchise type.

But how about this year? Headed into Monday’s games, the Suns are 18-39, good for last place in the Western Conference. Phoenix is 2-8 in its last 10, 12.5 games out of the No. 8 playoff seed and losing by, on average, 5.6 points a night. Known in previous years for their up-and-down, ‘seven seconds or less’ offense, Phoenix is 22nd in the NBA in points scored, at 94.6 per night, and also 22nd in points allowed, at 100.2. Hunter’s leading scorer is Goran Dragic, his point guard, at 14.2 points per.

ALSO: 30 IN 30 — ORLANDO MAGIC

Phoenix’s only go-to scorer on this roster is Michael Beasley, himself a ball-stopper with a checkered past, who averages 10.3 points per in 21.8 minutes. Beasley, a former No. 2 overall pick in 2008, is averaging career-lows in points, field goal percentage (39.5%), rebounds (4) and minutes.

Otherwise, Phoenix’s roster is full of nice, second-tier role players — Dragic; Luis Scola, 12.9 points per game; Jared Dudley, 11.4; Marcin Gortat, 11.4; Shannon Brown, 11.2; Markieff Morris, 7.4; and the recently acquired Marcus Morris, Markieff’s twin brother. P.J. Tucker has started 26 games at the 2-guard, but has limited range and only averages 5.5 points per in 22.9 minutes. Now in his 17th year in the league, Jermaine O’Neal’s putting together a solid year, averaging 7.2 points, 4.9 rebounds and a team-high 17.41 PER in 16.7 minutes.

ALSO: 30 IN 30 — OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER

Kendall Marshall, the team’s lottery pick in 2012, is now getting the backup point guard minutes, with Hunter at the helm and Sebastian Telfair traded Thursday to Toronto, but has an abysmal 5.7 PER in 23 appearances. But with Dragic locked up through at least 2014-15, and a player option for 2015-16, Marshall has ample time to develop in a backup role. Wesley Johnson, a former lottery pick in Minnesota, has struggled in 25 appearances, but his $4.3 million cap figure comes off the books this summer. O’Neal, an unrestricted free agent, may contemplate retirement, and Tucker, the team’s only other notable expiring, has an $885,000 team option I’d assume Phoenix extends.

Looking at next year, Phoenix has about $47 million on the books already, not counting the $7.2 million and $7.3 million the amnestied Josh Childress will receive in 2013-14 and 2014-15, respectively. Phoenix should also return Channing Frye, a stretch 4 with established 3-point range, who’s missed the entire season due to an enlarged heart. The Morris twins both show promise as athletic 4’s, and, at the very least, Gortat, who’s openly questioned his role in Phoenix and was the subject of deadline rumors, and Scola are trade chips with affordable salaries that expire in 2014 and 2015, respectively.

ALSO: 30 IN 30 — NEW YORK KNICKS

The problem in Phoenix may very well be the culture. The firing of Mike D’Antoni following the 2008 season signaled more of a commitment to defense, but winning altogether has been difficult to come by since, with the exception of Phoenix’s trip to the Western Conference Finals in 2010. Fixtures of those successful Suns teams, namely Steve Nash, Stoudemire and Shawn Marion, are long gone with no clear replacements.

Phoenix, at 32.5%, is 29th in 3-point percentage, with Dudley, 38.7%, their only consistent threat from distance. The Suns, -2.0, are 22nd in rebounding differential. Defensively, at 46.9%, the Suns surrender the league’s 3rd-worst opponent field goal percentage, and they’re dead-last in opponent’s 3-point percentage, showing just how much of a liability their perimeter defense can be, even minus the aging Nash. The Suns have actually attempted 12 more 3’s than opponents this season, but have converted 60 less.

ALSO: 30 IN 30 — NEW ORLEANS HORNETS

Phoenix’s next move, as is the case with many teams I’ve covered for these 30 in 30 reports, is finding its next Steve Nash, its next face of the franchise. Dragic is a nice piece, maybe even a starting 1-guard on a playoff team, but he’s not that guy, nor is Dudley, Brown, Scola or Gortat. Phoenix needs scoring and defense; in other words, Phoenix needs a lot.

Follow me on Twitter @PatrickJDuprey.

FULL COVERAGE: ARMCHAIR 3’S 30 IN 30 SERIES


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