As of Friday afternoon, the Los Angeles Clippers sit at 3-2, and are the only team in the Pacific Division with a winning record. With all the roster turnover the team has undergone in such a short period, they should be feeling pretty good about things.
However, there’s still plenty of room for improvement. One would expect things to get better as the season continues and players start to figure out how to play and succeed alongside one another, but there is one glaring need that needn’t be overlooked.
The Clippers have a massive logjam at the guard positions, and a relative dearth of size off-the-bench.
Chris Paul, Chauncey Billups, Randy Foye, Mo Williams and the injured Eric Bledsoe are all capable of playing both guard spots, and are also players that should be playing fairly large roles. Unfortunately, there are only so many minutes to allot in a given game, and with Paul being a superstar, the other four are left to pick up the scraps and divide them amongst each other.
With Reggie Evans recovering from injury, the two “big men” that play major minutes off-the-bench are Brian Cook and Ryan Gomes. Sure, Brian Cook is a wide-bodied 6’10″, but he doesn’t use that size to his advantage on either side of the floor. He’s shooting a miserable 5-20 so far on the season, with 11 of those shots coming from three-point range. He tends to hit them at a decent clip, but not well enough to warrant him playing big minutes. Cook is not at all athletic, which hinders his defensive presence in a major way, of course.
Gomes was brought in prior to last season to be the Clippers’ starting small forward, where he struggled mightily. He’s a bit undersized at 6’7″, but his skill set makes him a more viable backup power forward, where he’s played this season. As the backup to Blake Griffin, he’s playing just over 17 minutes per game, and, again, is too small to really have much impact on the game defensively when he’s in there. Journeyman Solomon Jones was signed earlier in the week, but isn’t expected to have much of a role.
The team was rumored to have interest in former Jazz big man Kyrylo Fesenko, who could potentially step in and eat up the minutes at center behind DeAndre Jordan. He’s been buried on the bench in Utah for his entire career, but has shown flashes of upside when he actually has seen the floor. He would seem to be an ideal fit with the Clippers, but seems to be drawing more interest from the Dallas Mavericks.
Veteran Joel Przybilla would also seem to be a nice fit. He’s likely in the latter stages of his career at 32, and has had recent injury troubles, but would clearly be able to help the team as a force in the defensive paint in limited minutes.
If neither of those two winds up in Los Angeles, the Clippers will likely have to dip into their depth at guard to try and swing a trade for their big man.
The Houston Rockets would almost certainly be open to dumping former lottery bust Hasheem Thabeet, but he’s never shown any ability to play at an NBA level, so it would seem doubtful that he could crack the Clippers’ rotation and do anything of note.
Minnesota youngster Nikola Pekovic could be an interesting prospect. He’s massive at 6’11″, 290 pounds, and was a solid contributor to the Timberwolves’ frontcourt in his first NBA season last year. New head coach Rick Adelman doesn’t seem to be too keen on Pekovic, as we’re still waiting for Nikola to step on the court for the first time this season. It’s a nice thought until you realize that David Kahn’s Timberwolves have an overcrowded backcourt of their own.
A trade partner that would appear to be a natural fit for the Clips is the Utah Jazz. They have a few intriguing young guards, but none of them have really stepped up and made enough of an impact of yet. They also have a bevy of frontcourt players, with Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap, Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter all fighting for minutes at two positions.
With Jefferson on the books for $29 million over the next two seasons, he’s not the answer. You’re not paying a backup that kind of money, and Jefferson is an extremely poor defender.
Favors was the big blue chip the Jazz picked up in the Deron Williams trade, so they’re surely not planning on giving up on him. Kanter has struggled offensively early, but he was still taken No. 3 overall in the most recent draft.
So, that leaves Paul Millsap.
He’s on an extremely favorable deal (about $14 million) for the next two years, and has been vocal about his displeasure with regards to playing time. He’s a tenacious rebounder, and has developed his offensive game tremendously since coming into the league five years ago. He’s also still only 26.
What would Utah want in return? Eric Bledsoe is the clear centerpiece. The Hornets wanted him in the CP3 trade, and he showed flashes of brilliance while filling in for the injured Baron Davis midway through last season. He’s an explosive athlete, and showed in college that he can be a very capable long-range shooter.
Devin Harris is clearly not the long-term answer at point guard for Utah, and neither is anybody else currently on the roster. Perhaps a deal centered around Bledsoe and a future first-round pick (with salary filler) would be enough to get a deal done.
The return of the aforementioned Reggie Evans will help matters, but you can never have enough size in the NBA. Keep an eye on this situation for the Clippers.
About the Author
Written by Taylor Smith
Taylor Smith is a writer for the Los Angeles Clippers.