Okay, hindsight is always fifty-fifty and all that, but, with training camp winding down and the season still a week away I find myself musing about what might have been.
In watching these preseason games I'm continually struck by the Clips lack of a go-to scorer. And, of course, there's also been a lot of recent talk about acquiring Carmelo Anthony... though it would certainly require us trading away at least two valuable pieces: one of our good older vets in Chris Kaman or Baron Davis along with one of our valued younger players (Griffin, Gordon, Aminu) or one of our valuable draft picks.
But... would any of this be necessary if the Clips hadn't traded away the one reliable go-to scorer they had just fifteen months ago? What would have happened, where would the team be, if they hadn't traded Zach Randolph? Let's look at it:
Before the 2009 lottery the Clips sat with a team composed of Eric Gordon, Randolph, Kaman, Baron Davis, Al Thornton, Marcus Camby, and a few less important pieces. There was, as there is now, a lot of lamenting and hand-wringing over the lack of a high quality, defensive-minded gluey small forward. Then the lottery happens and the Clips get the brass ring in Blake Griffin... a drop dead beautiful power forward. Do nothing but add him to the team above and you've got a pretty glittery roster with some holes and not much bench depth. The worst thing is... you've got no real help at that three spot. So Mike Dunleavy makes a decision and trades Zach Randolph who's making 15+ million a year... ultimately turning Zach into Craig Smith, a serviceable power forward, Sebastian Telfair, an okay point guard who can't shoot, and Rasual Butler, a small forward who can play defense and shoot. He needs Smith to replace Randolph and the other two to bolster the bench and the Clips stay snugly under the cap. Not bad, right? Well, it seemed like it at the time.
Then the season happens, Griffin doesn't play a game, Butler is good, streaky shooter, okay defender, Telfair doesn't do much, and Smith is decent, likeable, a poor man's Zach Randolph. But Al Thornton and Butler fail to adequately fill the number 3 spot and the Clips are a bad team. In the middle of the season Camby and Thornton are traded away, clearing space for a big acquisition that never happens. Yecch.
I'm sure you're all aware what Zach did last year in Memphis... averaging 21 and 11 in 81 games, making the all star team. For the advanced stat guys he has a PER of 21.2, an eFG% of .494, and a WS of 9.7. By way of comparison Carmelo Anthony scored 26.6 with 6 rebounds had a per of 22.2, eFG% of .478, and a WS of 7.9. Yeah, I know, they play different positions but they're the same in more ways than they're different: Neither's much of a three point shooter, neither focuses on defense much, both like the ball, both can fill it up.
What about salaries? I suppose it's crazy talk but if the Clips had kept Randolph and made no other moves they would have still have come in under the salary cap last year even with the addition of Griffin and some low level bench players. They might have even been able to acquire Rasual Butler... cap-wise he would probably have fit at his 3.9 million salary but they wouldn't have had Randolph's trade exception to deal to Charlotte in the swing. (Of course it might have been viewed as heresy at the time but the Clips could have just kept Zach around and dumped Camby's salary. Clips shedded him at the trade deadline anyway... and wound up with nothing back on the deal.)
But forget that for the moment, let's say the Clips managed to pick up another small forward somewhere and let's say it's Rasual Butler. Charlotte needed to get rid of him, the Clips had the money, let's leave him on the team. Now you've got Davis, Gordon, Kaman, Camby, Griffin, Randolph, Thornton, and Butler in your top rotation. Whoops, down goes Griffin... but you've still got Kaman, Camby and Randolph up front and Thornton can play some four as well.
How many games do the Clips win with this lineup? More than 29 I think. Maybe 35? Maybe they don't make the dumb Camby trade and they go five hundred? It's not at all far-fetched is it? Butler has a better year because he's only shooting threes. Gordon plays with less pressure and gets more opportunities with Zach and Kaman filling the middle. (Randolph and Marc Gasol were explosive together last year.) Clips are short a guard and that hurts but it wasn't Telfair was it? There's no Rhino but hell you've got Zach Randolph.
So what happens this year? Griffin's back and Camby's probably gone (but maybe not). Thornton might get traded for a piece or a pick but let's say he stays. You don't get Aminu in the draft.
Right now, today, you've got a rotation of Kaman, Davis, Gordon, Thornton, Griffin, Randolph, Butler, Jordan and... I don't know, your first round pick? Somewhere around 12 to 20... Xavier Henry, Luke Babbit, Eric Bledsoe? You can flip-flop Randolph and Griffin and play one of them at the 3 or the 5 on occasion. Or you bring one in off the bench. Most importantly you've got an undeniable go-to guy in Randolph and you haven't given up anything to get him. You don't have Aminu but you didn't spend the future pick to get Bledsoe and you've still got your number one this year, next year, and you've got the Minny pick. Most importantly, this alternate universe Clipper team is going to the playoffs. They're big and deep and have a ton of firepower. I can see into the second round from here.
Randolph's huge contract is gone at the end of the year, you can resign him for less or let him go because (god-willing) Blake is ready to step up... you've got to make some decisions about DJ and plan for the future signings of Gordon and Griffin. If Camby's still around you might have another year to worry about him.
Does Mike Dunleavy survive? If the Clips go .500, maybe, but maybe he moves up to GM anyway, after the season. Right now I'm thinking he was probably done anyway. Doesn't matter, at this point, we really don't know if Vinny Del Negro is any improvement.
I'm just musing... at the time, the Randolph trade looked like a wise move... and maybe it would have been if the Clips had brought in the player they seemed to need... a defense first small forward. Of course that wouldn't give you the other thing they need... a guy who can fill it up with the clock ticking: a guy like Zach Randolph... who they already had.