Change is needed. That we know. There are no other options. Under no circumstance should this same roster and same coaching staff enter training camp in tact. Something very different has to happen.
The Clippers, as presently constituted, are flawed beyond repair. Contrary to what Coach/GM Mike Dunleavy believes, this team does NOT need more time on the court together. They need NO more time on the court together. We have seen glimpses of what a "healthy" Clippers roster was capable of, and it looked rather unhealthy. Coach Dunleavy, Ralph Lawler, Mike Smith can claim all they want that an 82 game season is needed before an informed decision can be made, but that is just nonsense. No team has a healthy roster for 82 games. I've seen what this team is capable of. I've seen plenty. It's a dysfunctional mess.
This is not necessarily intended to be a discussion of what the Clippers should do (though I certainly have my opinions) nor of what they have done wrong in the past. The point here is to be forward looking and realistic. Since change is clearly needed, what are the possible changes? Let's go down the list:
Players who are guaranteed to be Clippers next year: Eric Gordon and Zach Randolph. Gordon had a very successful rookie season and proved himself to be one of the top young talents in the NBA He showed a nice combination of athleticism, shooting ability and basketball IQ and he played tough d. For a 20 year old he showed outstanding maturity, keeping his head down and his mouth shut as the ship around him sank. He has a bright future ahead. He's not going anywhere.
Nor is Randolph, albeit for entirely different reasons. Zach has 2 years and $33M left on his contract and is a DUI waiting to happen. The New York Knicks chances of unloading him at the beginning of this season were miniscule. Yet they pulled it off. The odds of him being moved again prior to next year are beyond nil. There are simply no takers/suckers. Isaiah's back in college, and unless the Chicago Bulls, still bedeviled by a lack of low post scoring (how many years has this been the case?) decide they don't want to be players in the 2010 free agency bonanza and opt to get a little crazy, Z-Bo goes nowhere. The 2 and the 4 are set.
Players who will be very, very difficult to move and are all but assured to remain Clippers: Baron Davis, Chris Kaman
First is Davis, who signed a 5 year, $65M free agent contract prior to this season and put up the worst numbers and most uninspired performance of his career. From the outset, many "analysts" cautioned that he and Dunleavy were not a good fit. That proved to be the case early on when Baron complained about the rigidly managed offense with the thousand-page playbook (I know, that makes me laugh, too). After they way things went down this season, it is hard to not agree with the early assessment of potential trouble in Clipper paradise. Davis and Dunleavy are like oil and water, and it showed. But was the clash of styles the only reason for the point guard's struggles? If I remember correctly, BD was benched by Coach Don Nelson a few times during the end of the 2007-2008 season for the Warriors, and immediately after, opted out of the $17M he was to earn for the last year of his deal, which is a bit odd. Why did he fall out of favor with Nellie so quickly, just a year after the Dubs shocked the world by knocking the top seeded Mavs out of the playoffs, with Baron being the catalyst of that playoff run, and following a season in which Golden State won 48 games, considering the fact that his style of play and Nellie's style of coaching seem like a perfect fit? Nellie is quirky, and Davis temperamental, but could that really be the reason why things soured so quickly? Or could it be something else? Could it be that Davis had injured himself somewhere along the way and knew that the only shot he had at a long-term deal was to opt out now? Baron Davis sure didn't look like a healthy Baron Davis this season. Was he, and is he, a wounded Baron Davis who is under contract for another four years? Only time will tell, which is likely what we will have a lot of with Baron. GM Dunleavy tried to trade Davis before the deadline this spring, with an inactive Tracy MacGrady rumored to the inbound player. But Houston declined. They'd rather keep their inactive player than bring in the shell of a player with a lot of money yet to come. This offseason, the list of potential suitors for Baron's services will be very small. Chances are high that he will remain a Clipper. We may have to embrace it.
Kaman is next. While he is certainly more moveable than Davis, it is unlikely that in a tough economy teams will want to absorb the remaining three years of his bloated deal, especially considering he's rarely on the court, and when he is, forgets that he is seven feet tall and looks to finesse his way to glory. Perhaps management believes that DeAndre Jordan is the future at the position, which he may well be, and are ready to hand him the keys to the middle now. In that case, the Clippers could consider taking pennies on the dollar from Chicago or Charlotte. We have lamented over Kaman's limitations for six years. He is what he is; a good rebounder, good shot blocker, nifty post player that over thinks things and can't seem to get out of his own way. I don't expect him to change or improve much from where he is now. But I do predict that Kaman will be playing center for the Los Angeles Clippers for at least another few years.
Players who management feels still has enough of an upside to keep around unless a really good deal comes along, and whose return, therefore, is likely: Al Thornton is this category. Though he certainly regressed overall following a promising rookie season, I'm not sure management is ready to give up on the guy. He is a determined scorer who did show subtle improvement in this area, and his play in the Rookie/Sophomore game showed how skilled he is in the open court, where one is not given a whole lot of time to think but must react. He has a long way to go in the areas of team defense and team offense...and team play, period, for that matter. He is still raw, but talented and athletic. Unless a good deal comes along involving one of the aforementioned untradables, in which AT could also be packaged, I do see him as part of next year's Clippers.
Players it would make little sense to get rid of: DeAndre Jordan, Mike Taylor. Jordan and Taylor are young and raw. Both have a huge upside, cost very little, and were able to get some in game experience this year. Both looked really good at times. They may well be part of the future of this franchise. They stay.
Players who may or may not be back and it really doesn't matter much anyway: Mardy Collins, Fred Jones, Brian Skinner, Alex Acker. Collins, a mere throw-in to make the Randolph trade work financially, surprised many with his versatility, most notably during the stretch when he handled the point guard duties covering for the injured Baron Davis and Mike Taylor. Collins was everything John Hollinger said he wasn't, and not much of what Hollinger said he was. Considered to be a terrible offensive player whose survival in the league was due solely to his defensive hustle, Collins was actually adequately efficient on the offensive end and pretty marginal defensively, save for the terrific performance vs. Paul Pierce in the improbable win over the Celtics. In any event, he and Fred Jones were useful utility players (as one would hope). Collins is still under contract, and unless packaged as a filler in a trade, will probably be around next year, which really will make little difference to the bottom line one way or the other.
The other three are goners.
Players the Clippers would like to have back but likely won't: Steve Novak. The deadly 3-point specialist whose game offers little else was nevertheless a positive factor for the Clippers. His shooting numbers in late February and early March were otherworldly. He is
an unrestricted a restricted free-agent, so I would imagine that a contender or team on the brink will look to bring him in, and I imagine he would welcome the change. The only way Novak returns is if the Clippers outbid everyone decide to match a likely sizable offer. I say he's a goner.
Players who will NOT be on the roster at some point next year: Marcus Camby, Ricky Davis. Ricky is self-explanatory. The former 20ppg scorer was completely useless this year. He has a player option for $2M, but the Clippers are better off just eating it and getting him out of town. I'm sure they realize this. He's a goner.
The big fish is Camby. From a purely business standpoint, moving Camby makes some sense. His expiring contract is extremely desirable, and he can still be useful for a team on the brink. He will have value in the offseason as teams assess why they made early exits from the playoffs, and perhaps even more value at the deadline as disappointing teams look to shuffle the deck. The Clippers may be able to get a nice player and a pick in exchange for Marcus, unless they decide they want to keep the expiring deal for themselves (which I favor, barring a can't miss deal). Given that the Clippers are stuck with Kaman and Randolph, they will likely entertain potential offers for Camby from Miami, New York, New Jersey, or whoever else comes knocking. Whether this happens before or during the season remains unclear.
These are the facts as I see them. So then, where are these changes? By my math, barring miraculous stupidity by some of the league's more questionable GMs, there will be eight players returning to this dreadful team (with the potential for Camby to be around for opening day), plus a lottery pick. The most likely starting lineup involves Davis, Gordon, Thornton, Randolph and Kaman. A quick glance reveals that this is pretty much the same mess that finished off the season in such uninspiring fashion.
Given that the roster is unlikely to change much, and changes are certainly in order, the only reasonable course of action is a coaching change. It is certainly easier to replace one coaching staff than a roster of nine, three of which are virtually unmovable. There are a number of current assistants and out of work coaches to choose from, but the Clippers would be wise to find one suited to the roster. Perhaps somebody who likes to play up-tempo. Eddie Jordan comes to mind. He had some success in Washington before being forced to fall on the sword as the result of ownerships mistakes. Or, since defense was clearly a problem, they could go for a defensive genius like the Celtics Tom Thibodeau. Maurice Cheeks is a good coach and, surprisingly, still unemployed. There are many more choices, but I will leave that for others to decide.
If there is to be change, it will likely have to occur at the coaching level. This is not intended to be the position of ClipsNation, but, rather, an answer to the question of how this team can be changed.
UPDATE: Many readers are reporting that Steve Novak is a restricted free agent, meaning that any offer can be matched by the Clippers. I'm unsure at this point, but if it is true, it just means that yet another player from current team returns, making a coaching change all the more necessary.