Not going to win any prizes, and not sufficiently versed in the payroll, salary cap, free agency status, etc. to do anything clever or particularly interesting. But as usual I have two cents worth of thoughts. Essentially I'm going to stand pat, since the most obvious way to fix the Clips is for Brand and Livingston to be healthy, but we'll see as we go along.
--Build around EB (and Kaman). Give him the max deal, do whatever it takes to keep him. Hopefully we'll get to see him play enough games next to new Kaman this year to see that they're a monster duo. Kaman's contract, which looked so dicey and downright bad, now looks real good. Lock up Brand and you have two cornerstones for a perennial playoff team.
--Thornton is a nice piece. Play him a lot, as much as possible, right now. Just about anything Tim Thomas can do, especially with regards to defense and rebounding, Thornton can do, and Thomas is very good coming off the bench. Get Thornton starters minutes until Brand comes back, and then he'll be the backup to Maggette, while Thomas is a pretty good backup for Brand.
--Maggette should stay to give himself a year on a better team and going to the playoffs, in order to try free agency in 09. If Maggette decides to opt out, give him a reasonable offer, probably a small raise on the money he's making now, something that fits for the team's future. He's not playing in a way where he can demand more money, but part of any deal depends on how Maggette and the team plays when Brand comes back. If Brand-Kaman gels and the team is very good and Maggette is a part of it, then figure out a number that fits, appropriate to a 20 ppg guy on a team with EB and K2, where he's a 3rd option or less. There are some significant question marks at this point, but as a longtime Clip, already on the roster, and a good complementary player on a team at full-strength, I'm giving him the benefit of the doubt for now. But it would be nice to have next year to evaluate the situation, with Maggs alongside Thornton. You don't want to give Maggette money that you might need to give to Thornton, if Thornton improves (plays defense, handles the ball) and shows he's superior. So the "fix" is to wait and see and let them play.
--Keep Mobley and Thomas around. (I said I was standing pat.) Reduce Mobley's minutes to keep him healthy now and in the long term. Before EB comes back, don't be afraid to play Kaman, Thomas, Thornton, and Maggette at the same time--what happened to that? I'm saying keep these guys, because I don't know who would want them for the money at this stage. And they're both servicable. Thomas can be a very good backup--the Clips would be in better shape now if he had been coming off the bench all year. His value and role will be clear when Brand comes back, but for now he should be backing up Thornton. Mobley is solid, and it's good to have a pure SG. The Clips need to use a 1st round pick this year or next to replace him. They need to draft a pure SG, not any more combo SG/3rd string PGs. And they need to draft and find guys who can shoot. Mobley will shoot better if his minutes are reduced and he can get healthy--the recent light schedule should help him play better now. They might be able to make a trade with him when his contract is expiring, but for now, he's fine.
--I hate to give up on Livingston, but I didn't want to give up on Korolev either. We have to see how he plays. But with Cassell finishing up and Liv still a question mark, the Clips need to draft a potential starting point guard. Depending on draft position and who's available, you have to pick the best SG and best PG you can get in the first round the next two years. I'd say PG this year, but not if Liv comes back okay. The SG can wait (with Mobley and perhaps Ross on the team) a year, but like I said, best guard available. The key is to pick a pure player for both positions. The SG needs to be able to shoot (better than Keyon Dooling, Diaz, Ewing, Chalmers, Jaric, Korolev, Ross--the list goes on), and the PG has to be able to penetrate, pass, lead the team, hit shots and finish (same list?). A lot of Clipper guards have struggled because they seem to split the difference.
Brevin Knight was a good signing, and he's a quality backup and even 3rd string guy. With Cassell still on the team for the moment, and Knight around this year and next, the Clips can get a good look at Livingston to see if he can play.
With Livingston the Clips should plan for the possibility that he can't play, while hoping that he can and saving money to make a deal with him. The best case is the low value 3-year deal at the end of this year, but the $5m qualifying is a good second option and would continue the wait-and-see approach. If anybody should take less money to help the team at this point it should be Livingston, not Brand. A 3-year deal for 8-9-10 million dollars would give him time to establish himself, help the team and give the team flexibility, and he'll be young enough to make a lot of money. These three year deals go by very quickly, and seem to work for both sides.
--The trick with Cassell is that he shows the team how to win. It's hard to say if the Clips have really learned the lesson yet because of the injuries--there was supposed to be a seamless transition from Cassell to Livingston, but it's messed up now. If he can be traded for a pick and wants to go, I guess that's the way it is. There's a scenario where he stays on the team and they finish out the year in impressive fashion with guys coming back, and you sign Sam to a deal next year because he wants to play one more year and he's a leader. This seems pretty unlikely to me. Again, I keep coming back to how guys play in the last 30 games of the season. But if Sam goes now it's good for Sam, good for the Clippers tanking strategy, and they move on next year.
One of the things that has happened since Dunleavy joined the Clippers is that they don't seem to be giving away players and making bad deals. They're not going to give away Sam or Maggette and get back bad players with bad contracts. That part of the Clippers doesn't seem broken, so we'll see how it plays out.
--I would give Ross and Davis low money, appropriate deals. They're good enough, with room for improvement, that they might be a part of trades down the road in the future, and they can make contributions to the roster. It's not worth it to overpay for either of them. Ross is more valuable than Davis, obviously, but Davis might have a little more upside over time.
My view of Ross is that you get a fair part of the best of Jaric, for none of the money. I firmly believe that Ralph and Mike should be banned from ever mentioning that Ross scored 20 pts a game in college. Every time they begin to say it, they should be forced to say instead that he wasn't drafted out of college. Q is an asset and works hard on his game. A 3-year deal for modest NBA money would let him keep working on it, and make him a millionaire at the same time.
The deal for Davis should be one where he might be waived if there's a better player available. His injury and its severity were quite untimely, drastically compounding Dunleavy's mistake of not giving him extensive minutes alongside Kaman, and cutting back Tim Thomas. Now we don't know what his abilities and upside might be, and it's impossible to tell if he might have any significant value on a team with Kaman, Brand, Thomas, and Thornton. My sense is that he's more valuable as a power forward than as a backup center, and his minutes would be limited regardless. It might serve the Clips better to have a real center as a backup to Kaman, as long as Thomas and Thornton are on the team. But I think a very low-money 2 or 3 year deal would be okay.
The rest is flotsam and jetsam. Aron Williams is pretty good and has surprised me a little, but he's too old, and his quiet wrist injury came at a time when the Clips badly needed backup bigs, so what good is he? Josh Powell is getting better as he gets more minutes--shocking how that happens. Dickau needed to hit a few more shots to really get the job done, but he's serviceable as a 3rd/4th string pg and an upgrade from Ewing as a rookie and the other combo PGs. Let's see what Diaz can do.
In the draft, I'm wary about everybody picking Chase Budinger. I only saw him briefly last year, and he seems like a great athlete but not the deadeye shooter the Clips need. He duplicates Thornton a fair amount. If they were on the board, I don't think a Casey Jacobson or JJ Redick would solve the problem. I'm trying to think of SGs picked 6-12 who fit the mold. Jason Richardson might have been picked higher, and Mo Peterson a little lower. The SG draft situation needs more study, and the PG situation does too.
I'm a UCLA fan, and there's a number of Bruins I would love to see on the Clips. As an SG, Aron Affalo isn't a bad prototype--he's a tough defender, hard worker, and he has a solid enough shot: he's backing up Richard Hamilton, and would do a good job backing up Mobley. He does things that QRoss can't do for you. Darren Collison isn't having the season that would make him highly prized and he won't come out unless he picks it up and has a great tournament, but his speed is pretty exceptional and could be a good complement to a healthy Livingston. The guy I really like is Russell Westbrook, who would be drafted as an SG, but he seems to be the best of all possible worlds. He's as good or better than Affalo at SG, great jumpshot that he can get on his own, has size, length, and leaps, and is a very solid ballhandler whose penetration is improving. Better than Affalo as an SG, and I think potentially better than Farmar as a PG (although Farmar has really improved and been impressive this year). He's still slightly under the radar because of the Collison hype, even with the playing time he's gotten with Collison's injury, and people say he's going to be the best pro on UCLA's team. They're wrong.
Kevin Love is projected on Draft Express--taking a quick glance--at #17. He'll move up as the season progresses. There might be some challenges for Love in transitioning to the NBA with his athleticism, but he's showing rapid progress and jumps and runs better than it first appears. Basically he's a highly, highly skilled horse. He's undersized as a potential PF, and he's not quite like EB (wingspan/widebody/athleticism/skills) or Barkley (athleticism/widebody/skills), but he's not a Scalabrine, Nick Collison, Raef Lafrentz, Christian Laettner, Paul Davis, Kurt Rambis, Iavaroni either. His package (skills/widebody) means he's going to get his rebounds all day long, even in the pros, he's always going to be in position, always going to block out, and his outlet passes are ridiculous. Just from a rebounding standpoint, he's going to give you the same thing Paul Milsap gives Utah, from day one. Right now, through 17 games in college, he's been playing 90% of the time with his back to the basket on offense and collapsing zones (and a PG injury) have prevented him from getting touches. But we've seen that he can score inside against bigs, much like EB and Barkley, and his post game is pretty much flawless. He'll get touches and face the basket more as the season progresses, he's a superb passer and his perimeter/3pt shot seems sound--he just isn't using it or developing it in games at this point, but he's obviously working at it. My theory is that he's going to be a hybrid SF in the pros, but maybe that's just because I'd like to see him fit on the Clips if he's in the draft and on the board at their spot. I think he's going to grow into an excellent shooter. If you like MDJr or Luke Walton at the 3, you'd be very happy with Kevin Love. Other teams need their anchor PF/Cs like Beasley, Hibbert, Lopez or Hardin, or guards like Rose, Gordon, and Mayo. As much as I can't wait to see Brand and K2 playing side by side, the idea that Love might be available to the Clips and Kaman, Brand, and Love might play together is just too good. The chance to get a slightly undervalued legitimate big man/post player/rebounder with the skills of a highly polished guard makes me take back all my initial comments about the draft. Fix the Clips? Draft Kevin Love.