It's Time to Start Searching for Answers, Clipper Nation
The whole Donald Sterling fiasco is the first thing we'll all be thinking about as the Los Angeles Clippers move into their offseason. There's surely a long process ahead for all parties involved. Sadly, it will be covered as much as anything will (with the exception of the NBA Finals, I hope) for at least the next few months.
But this shouldn't be the Clippers main concern as they look to improve upon their 57-25 regular season campaign. They must focus on getting back to the playoffs, and actually getting past the second round if they want to make a run at the title next season. In order to improve their on-court performance, they face much bigger challenges than Donald Sterling. It's crazy to think that the number one ranked team in terms of numberFire's efficiency metrics needs to make improvements to get to where they want to be, but when expectations are so high, they are very necessary - especially when that team is so potent and effective offensively.
In fact, the Clips' 112.1 points per 100 possessions ranked first among all NBA teams, much due to the efforts of Chris Paul and Blake Griffin. The two ranked fifth and eighth in nERD respectively as well. But, as you might have guessed, the Clippers need to play better defense. Though they ranked ninth according to our metrics, they need to be better than ninth in order to advance past the monsters in the Western Conference.
Particularly, the Clippers need a third scorer to consistently contribute while also playing quality defense. Certainly DeAndre Jordan and Matt Barnes made their own contributions in the Clippers' playoff stint, but they were inconsistent offensively. Jordan depends on his jumping and rebounding abilities to lead to dunks and put-backs, while Barnes depends on his streaky three-point shot to contribute on the offensive end of the floor.
As for J.J. Redick, it's hard to argue against his ability to be a solid third-scorer with his consistency from three-point range, but his inability to check bigger guards has followed him throughout his career. His first season was also hindered by injury. Danny Granger could return and fill part of the "three and D" void the Clippers are looking to fill. However, the Clippers may be hoping he doesn't return, as his salary will significantly increase (as shown below), and with that so will his age (31). Granger has already shown signs of his age on the court, struggling to keep up with more youthful players on defense. So if the Clippers are going to improve where they need to, they must look elsewhere. Let's look at the possibilities.
What Might Work
First, let's take a look at the Clippers' possible departures for free agency this summer:
|Possible Free Agents||2013-14 Salary||2014-15 Salary|
|Darren Collison (player option)||$1,900,000||$1,985,500|
|Danny Granger (player option)||$357,452||$1,316,809|
|Glen Davis (player option)||$338,594||$1,227,985|
With some salary cap problems (over the cap by almost $14 million) and the possibility of returning contracts, the Clippers may be better suited looking for a younger player to contribute a la Kawhi Leonard. The Clippers still have the project that is Reggie Bullock, but he hasn't shown the signs of improvement that his team is starving for. That leaves free agency and the draft.
If some of the above-listed players do decide to depart, there will be some options out there. Wesley Johnson will be an unrestricted free agent, and he should be an affordable option at small forward with his current salary of $916,000. Johnson's numbers weren't great this year, as he averaged 9.1 points and 4.4 rebounds per contest on a terrible Lakers team. He only got to play in 62 games though, as D'Antoni messed with lineups night in and night out. Johnson did show signs of production, however, as he had three solid outings in the last week of the season. Against Memphis, Utah and San Antonio, he averaged just short of 13 points, 11 boards and 2 steals per game. His 6'7" size would allow Doc some flexibility at the shooting guard and small forward positions.
Brandon Rush could be another option for the Clips. He should come at a discounted price after tearing his ACL with Golden State in 2012, and struggling with the Jazz this year. Rush only played in 38 games this year, averaging 6.8 points per game, earning him a nERD of -2.6. Prior to his injury in 2012, Rush was a productive player for the Warriors and Pacers. He averaged 12 and 13 points respectively in his 2011-12 and 2012-13 campaigns while shooting over 40% from three. With Doc's help, Rush could revive his career and improve his defense (a career 109 DRtg). However, the front office may decide to pursue a Leonard-like player in the draft.
Clemson product K.J. McDaniels may be the answer for the Clippers. It looks like they will have a late first round pick, so clearly they will miss out on the top talents of the draft, but McDaniels is a proven performer. This past year, the 6'6" forward led the Tigers with 17 points and 7 boards per game. But his offense was nothing compared to his defensive prowess. McDaniels averaged just short of three blocks per game with a defensive rating of 90.8 and 3.1 defensive win shares. Could he be the answer?
It's going to be a very long offseason for the Clips as they look to address problems off the court, but more importantly, on it. It will be interesting to see if they can find what they're looking for.