If the L.A. Clippers were in the Eastern Conference (Why would they ever be in the East, you ask? Shut up. That’s why.), they could probably win 45-46 games and easily cruise to the No. 3 seed in the playoffs. That is how absolutely god-awful that conference is. But they’re in the West, of course, where they’ll have to battle it out all season long in a conference that could have as many as 12 legitimate playoff contenders. Sometimes, that’s just the breaks.
Fortunately, even with the West being as loaded as it is, the Clippers are likely to finish somewhere in the upper tier. On paper, they should be every bit as good as the likes of San Antonio, Oklahoma City, Golden State and Houston. If the postseason were to begin today, the Clips would have the No. 4 seed and a first round date with the Rockets. Both teams are 10-5, but the Clippers have already beaten the Rockets twice, so they’ve got the edge.
Los Angeles is still one of the league’s absolute worst defensive teams, but the signs of a turnaround are there. When I wrote about their defensive woes a week ago, the Clips were dead-last in the league with a defensive efficiency of 106.4. Since then, they’ve been able to lower that to a still-bad 103.3, which is the 22nd-best mark in the NBA. They’ve clearly still got a long way to go before they are where they want to be as a defensive bunch, and the number was certainly helped by the win over the punchless Bulls on Sunday during which the Clippers surrendered just 82 points.
But even if their defense continues to solidify, the Clippers still have a few holes. The core group of talent is obviously stellar, but there’s a major need for an upgrade along the front line behind Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. Byron Mullens is bad on both ends of the court, and I don’t imagine the potential signing of Lamar Odom will be what ultimately puts this thing over-the-top. And Antawn Jamison can’t even get onto the court, while no contending team should ever be giving Ryan Hollins meaningful minutes. They’ll either need to wait for a veteran to get released sometime in early 2014, or swing a trade.
The Clippers have plenty of assets, particularly along the wing, so a deal is very possible. Let’s check out five potential targets the Clippers could seek in order to try and mold themselves into a more well-rounded bunch. Keep in mind that players acquired this past offseason can’t be involved in a trade until December 15.
Jason Thompson, Carl Landry, Chuck Hayes or Patrick Patterson, Sacramento Kings
Honestly, any of these four guys would be better than what the Clippers are currently running out there in place of Jordan and Griffin. Luc Richard Mbah a Moute would be another name I would like for the Clippers to target, but the Kings are reportedly on the verge of sending him to the Wolves in exchange for Derrick Williams.
Since Williams is likely best suited to play power forward, and the Kings are in the midst of a rebuild, it wouldn’t be a shock to see them part ways with any of these veteran forwards, of which they have too many, anyway. They just signed Landry to a long-term deal this past offseason, so I wouldn’t really anticipate them trading him away immediately.
Of the remaining parts, I think Thompson is the best fit, and also may be the most attainable. He has the size (6’11″) to play either forward or center, and features a fairly polished offensive game, as well.. His numbers have dwindled in recent years as his minutes have, likely due to the fact that they keep packing their frontcourt, for some reason.
Who do the Clippers have that the Kings might want? The Clips aren’t exactly teeming with young talent at the moment, but perhaps Reggie Bullock + a draft pick would be enough to get something done.
Hayes is undersized, but he’s always been known as one of the NBA’s toughest post defenders, while Patterson is a nice stretch-four that can shoot and rebound a little.
Zaza Pachulia, Ekpe Udoh, Milwaukee Bucks
The Bucks are just 2-11, and clearly right in the thick of things in Tankapalooza 2014. In an effort to lose as many games as humanly possible, they may be looking to shed some talent that might accidentally help them win a few. Pachulia and Udoh are a couple of interesting names (as is Ersan Ilyasova, but he may cost too much). They’re actually all interesting names both literally and from a basketball perspective, but we’re here to talk about basketball.
Pachulia is a massive center in his first season with the Bucks after spending the rest of his NBA career wasting away in Atlanta. He can score a little bit and is a decent enough rebounder. He doesn’t block any shots whatsoever, though, so he’s not exactly ideal.
Udoh is a formerly lottery pick of the Warriors that hasn’t yet panned out in the league. He’s a wiry 6’10″ that can hit the glass and help protect the rim a bit. He doesn’t score at all, but offense isn’t really one of the Clippers’ dire needs, anyway.
I’d rather have one of the aforementioned Kings bigs, but perhaps it’d be easier to pry talent from a major tanker like the Bucks. If the Clips can convince the Bucks to throw Bango into the deal then I’m even more on board.
Anderson Varejao, Cleveland Cavaliers
The Cavaliers came into this season with high hopes, but right now they’re sitting at 4-10 and look to be one of the very worst teams in the league. They curiously hired a retread coach in Mike Brown this past summer, and have apparently blown a slew of recent lottery picks, including Anthony Bennett and Dion Waiters.
They’re a young bunch that seems headed back to the lottery yet again, which isn’t the worst thing, considering the star-studded draft class likely coming out next year. If Dan Gilbert and friends fully embrace the tanking effort, then veteran big man Anderson Varejao should be available via the trade market.
Varejao has been toiling in Cleveland for years, and has battled some injuries recently. But when he’s healthy, he’s one of the most useful glue guy-type players in the league. He’s a phenomenal defender, rebounds very well and can even score a little bit here-and-there.
With the way first-round picks are being held at a premium in today’s NBA, surely the Cavaliers would be interested in nabbing one from the Clippers. After all, the last time the Clippers sent a first-round pick to the Cavs, it wound up winning the lottery and allowing them to nab Kyrie Irving. Even if it costs a pair of first-round picks, Varejao would be worth it to the Clippers. He has a team option for over $9M for next season, as well, so the Clippers could hang onto him for another season, if they so chose. His combination of defense and rebounding would be exactly what the doctor ordered for this team. Unfortunately, the Clippers may not be able to match the money necessary to bring Varejao into the fold without sending back some crucial rotation pieces of their own.
Kris Humphries, Boston Celtics
Despite the OBVIOUS benefits of bringing Humphries to L.A. for potentially awkward interfacings with random Kardashians, there’s actually some on-court logic to this one, too. Humphries is another big-bodied, defensive-minded player the Clippers could plug-in immediately and use. He averaged a double-double in his two big-minute seasons with the Nets, and gobbles up rebounds at a rapid rate.
He’s now wasting away with the horrendous Celtics, yet another team in full-on lose-at-all-costs mode. Boston is already flush with future first-round picks thanks to the blockbuster deal that sent KG and Paul Pierce to Brooklyn, so surely they’d be happy to take another from the Clippers in exchange for their useful big man. The Clips would have to send something back since they’re over the cap and he costs $12M this season, which is the only real catch. Same with Varejao.
Channing Frye, Phoenix Suns
Frye missed all of last season due to injury, but he’s come back and played pretty well for Phoenix thus far this season. He’s playing about 26 minutes a game and is shooting nearly 36 percent from three, which is useful, of course. However, despite being 6’11″, he’s only listed at 245 pounds and offers you little-to-nothing by way of an interior presence either offensively or defensively.
He’s a stretch four and little else. He likely wouldn’t cost as much to acquire as some of the others listed here, but he’s also not the ideal piece the Clippers may be seeking. He can shoot free throws pretty well, though, which can make him a useful piece down-the-stretch of games, as the Clips know very well, having two unreliable free-throwing big men of their own.
About the Author
Written by Taylor Smith
Taylor Smith is a writer for the Los Angeles Clippers.