The Clippers finished last season with Brevin Knight, Dan Dickau and Smush Parker as the only healthy point guards on their roster. Meanwhile, Shawn Livingston hasn't played competitive basketball, or even practiced 5-on-5, in 15 months, and was disappointing and injury-prone before that. So it's pretty much a given that the Clippers need some help at the point.
In next month's draft, the only point guard who figures to be able to help an NBA team right away will be long gone by the seventh pick. There are other possibilities - but they're either combo guards (Jerryd Bayless, OJ Mayo, Russell Westbrook) who would have to learn the point, or otherwise flawed and would be a stretch at seven (DJ Augustin is under 6'0", Ty Lawson is erratic, etc.)
Next stop: free agency. The Clippers, assuming Brand does not opt out of his contract, have no more than the mid-level exception to spend. That's not enough to lure Jose Calderon away from Toronto, and probably not enough to entice Beno Udrih (although don't be surprised if the Clippers float that offer). From there, the problem isn't that the Clippers don't have enough money to offer - there just aren't any free agent point guards worth the money. Jason Williams? Carlos Arroyo?
So we move on to trades. Ignoring the big fish with the Early Termination Options (Gilbert Arenas and Baron Davis), there are two veteran point guards who are being shopped by their current clubs: TJ Ford of the Raptors and Kirk Hinrich of the Bulls. Ford appears to be the odd man out in Toronto, where restricted free agent Calderon will likely be re-signed. Since Calderon is tired of splitting time with Ford, part of the process may be for the Raptors to move Ford. Likewise in Chicago, it's looking more and more probable that the Bulls will draft native son Derrick Rose to be the face of the franchise. And no one wants a backup who is owed $37.5M. So they'll try to deal Hinrich to make room for Rose.
I think we can all agree that Calderon is the player we'd most like to have for the Clippers. Unfortunately, that seems unlikely, for several reasons. First of all, the scuttlebutt is the Raptors plan to keep the guy. In addition to that practical problem, he would only be available in a sign and trade, and base year compensation rules would make that transaction incredibly complex, as I've pointed out before .
So the question is, if the Clippers are set on a veteran point, and Calderon isn't an option, who would you rather have, Ford or Hinrich?
I've said it before, but TJ Ford seems like a bad fit for MDsr and the Clippers. His strengths (pushing the tempo, penetrate and kick) are things that LA has shown absolutely no interest in doing during the MDsr era. Meanwhile, he's small (6'0"), while the 5'11" Knight is already under contract. And he has no range on his jump shot (31% for his career on three pointers, 29% last season) meaning he can't spread the floor for the Clippers low post duo of Elton Brand and Chris Kaman. Ford is terrific in some systems - but it would seem that either the Clippers would have to significantly revamp their offense to take advantage of him, which seems highly unlikely.
In addition to fit problems, there are other issues. He's not particularly cheap - he has three years and $25M left on his current contract. He also has a disconcerting injury history, having missed the entire 04-05 season and large portions of two others with spinal cord injuries, stemming in part from a congenital condition. The bottom line is he's played in only 253 of the 410 games of his pro career. Yikes. If the team is planning to hand the keys to the car to a young point guard with a troubling injury history, they don't have to make any trades to do that. And they can do it for a lot less money.
Kirk Hinrich had the best year of his pro career in 06-07, when he averaged 16.6 points, and shot 45% from the field and 41.5% from the arc, all career highs. Then his 5 year contract extension kicked in for close to $50M, and proceeded to have the worst year of his pro career. Ouch.
Basically, he did the opposite of Clipper Chris Kaman, who was taken one spot ahead of Hinrich in the 2003 draft. They each showed promise in their first three seasons. They were each rewarded with nice extensions in late October of 2006. Kaman proceeded to play terribly in the final year of his rookie deal only to rebound when the extension kicked in. Hinrich played great after signing the extension and then went in the tank when the money started coming in. In each case, the player looks like a relative bargain if you take the 'good' season as the norm, and a complete disaster if you take the 'bad' season. We think (hope?) the team will get the right version of Kaman. So which Hinrich are we talking about?
No one can know for sure. He actually shot better after the all star break last year, but his minutes were way down as interim coach Jim Boylan experimented with Thabo Sefolosha and Chris Duhon. At any rate, committing $37M to a guy who essentially played like a backup last season doesn't make me feel warm and fuzzy inside. For what it's worth, his contract is not significantly worse than Ford's from a cap standpoint - Hinrich's salary decreases over time, so by the final season of his contract, he'll make less than Ford. However, it does run one year longer than Ford's.
To an outside observer, Hinrich does appear to be a better fit than Ford. He has decent size. He's a solid on ball defender (at one time he was considered to be among the best). He has three point range (639 total threes and 38% for his career compared to 76 and 31% for Ford). And he can run an offense. If the Clippers are looking for a point guard to make an entry pass to Brand, and then stick a three on the kick out, Hinrich is better suited to those things than Ford.
Point guard is perhaps the most difficult position to fill in the NBA. And for a Western Conference team, trying to keep pace with Chris Paul and Steve Nash and Deron Williams and Tony Parker is daunting to say the least. There will be other suitors for these players - I'm not the only one who has noticed that they're available and that they are (or were in Hinrich's case) capable.
What will the price be? Toronto is in desperate need of an athletic, scoring wing. It's seems like Maggette for Ford would be a great trade for the Raptors. But would the Clippers be giving up too much? As for Hinrich, how much will his dismal 07-08 season depress his trade value? How much will Ford's injury history impact his? Would either of them be available for Cuttino Mobley's (shorter) contract? Are the Bulls willing to move Hinrich simply for the sake of moving him, or are they hopeful of getting something significant in return?
Finally, there's also the complicating factor of Livingston. At some level, I'd rather have him than either one of these veterans. But how is his rehab coming? Will he ever be healthy? When? Will the team get to see him in full contact workouts and summer league games before deals for Hinrich and Ford are consummated? Both Ford and Hinrich are flawed, and I'm not enamored of committing a lot of salary to either of them. But desperate times call for desperate measures - I'm just not sure how desperate the Clippers are.