Heading into the lockout-shortened 2011 season, the L.A. Clippers made no secret of their desire to upgrade the small forward position.
Ryan Gomes had manned the spot for the majority of 2010-11, and, while the results weren’t terrible, he’s more suited to play power forward. Rookie Al-Farouq Aminu had shown flashes here-and-there, but clearly wasn’t ready to seize the starting spot full-time.
So, the club went out and picked up veteran Caron Butler, moved Gomes to the bench and shipped Aminu to New Orleans as a part of the trade that brought Chris Paul to town.
However, the primary piece the Clippers parted with in that deal was young shooting guard Eric Gordon, leaving the team with a sizable hole at that spot.
So, L.A. nabbed veteran point guard Chauncey Billups off the amnesty wire from the New York Knicks, and plugged him in as the starting off-guard alongside Paul. Behind him, the Clippers used Mo Williams and Randy Foye – another pair of guys that had spent a large chunk of their careers playing point.
Of course, Billups went down relatively early with an Achilles injury, thrusting Foye into the starting spot with Williams as his primary backup. Right before the trade deadline, the Clips were able to pry Nick Young from the Washington Wizards. Young, at 6’7″, actually gave the team a guy with enough size at two guard to present matchup problems for other teams.
Now, Billups, Foye and Young are all unrestricted free agents, while Williams has a player option for next season at about $8.5 million. One would expect him to cash-in on that.
So, while none of those guys played particularly poorly in 2011-12, it would be nice for the Clippers to be able to get a legitimate starting shooting guard, as opposed to a point guard masquerading as one.
Billups would seem the most likely of the three unrestricted free agents to return, because he won’t cost much, and he appeared to be a popular and useful presence in the locker room. So, if he’s your primary backup to Paul, and Williams is your backup off-guard, who is your starter?
Eric Gordon is a restricted free agent, but will cost far more than the Clippers will be able to offer. The team is already on the hook for about $30 million over the next three seasons for DeAndre Jordan, and with Griffin and Paul (hopefully) set to sign maximum extensions within the next year, trying to pry Gordon away would be irresponsible. And, since the Hornets will probably match any offer sheet he signs, anyway, this is pretty much moot.
Next up on the list of potential candidates is former USC star and L.A. native O.J. Mayo. Mayo’s career to date has been a bit of a roller coaster ride.
He finished as the runner-up to Derrick Rose for the 2008 Rookie of the Year after averaging 18.5 points, 3.8 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game. Since then, though, his numbers have dropped in every category. His free-throw shooting has taken the most notable plunge, from 87.9% as a rookie all the way down to 77.3% last year.
Mayo was nearly traded prior to the 2011 deadline to the Indiana Pacers, but the deal wasn’t submitted in time, and he awkwardly remained with the Grizzlies. He was absolutely abysmal offensively in the seven-game first-round series against the Clippers, averaging just under nine points per game on atrocious 27% shooting from the field. He also turned the ball over 2.6 times per game, as opposed to averaging 2.1 assists. That’s unacceptably bad.
He proved to be semi useful as a scorer off-the-bench, but, with the production we’ve seen from him before, there’s no reason to think his talent just magically vanished. Perhaps a change of scenery is all he needs. He’s still just 24, so his best playing days should still be well in front of him.
The Knicks’ Landry Fields is another intriguing free agent option. His size (6’7″, 215) puts him among the league’s most physically imposing shooting guards, and he’s an unselfish stat sheet stuffer. Then again, when you’re having to play on a team and share the ball with Carmelo Anthony, Amare Stoudemire and J.R. Smith, you don’t really have any choice but to be unselfish with the ball, do you?
We saw the value of the “glue guy” this past season with the likes of Reggie Evans and Kenyon Martin doing the dirty work to help the Clippers win games. Fields falls into that same category, and would appear to be a nice fit with the Clippers.
Jamal Crawford is a free agent, but does L.A. really need another guy to dominate the ball and take shots away from Blake Griffin and Chris Paul? That’s what we typically saw with Nick Young, and that wasn’t exactly an ideal fit, either. Pass. Ditto for you, J.R. Smith.
The last potential candidate I’ll touch on is Houston’s Courtney Lee.
Lee was an essential cog as a rookie in Orlando’s team that made it all the way to the Finals in 2009, and has since bounced around the league a bit.
He really came on in the second half of last season for the Rockets, getting starter’s minutes in place of the oft-injured and oft-useless Kevin Martin. During the last month of last season, he averaged 14.1 points three rebounds and 1.6 steals per game in 14 games. Lee also shot a sizzling 42.4% from three-point range in that span, and finished at a 40.1% clip for the year.
Defensively, he is very, very good, as well. On-ball defense is something the smaller Clipper shooting guards struggled mightily with last season, and Lee would be an instant upgrade there, as well. At 6’5″, 200, he can reasonably guard small forwards and both guard spots. He is also just 26.
The Clippers don’t have a first-round pick in the upcoming draft, but could feasibly make a move to acquire one. However, unless you’re able to get into the top-15 or so, your chances of finding your starting shooting guard in the draft are very slim.
So, there are several avenues down which the Clippers (and their new G.M.) could go when trying to address the hole at shooting guard for next season.
Free agency kicks off July 1.
About the Author
Written by Taylor Smith
Taylor Smith is a writer for the Los Angeles Clippers.