Nobody's perfect. Not you, not me. Nobody. And, since Neil Olshey took the Clippers' front office reins two years ago he hasn't been perfect either, though if you look at the moves he's made as GM, he certainly acts like he has. In the summer of 2010 he brought in free agents Randy Foye and Brian Cook on two year contracts and Ryan Gomes on a three. He drafted Al Farouq Aminu and traded a future pick for the rights to Eric Bledsoe. Later that year, he exchanged Baron Davis and a number one pick for Mo Williams. Last summer he had two second round picks and he chose Trey Thompkins and Travis Leslie. This offseason, he acquired Chauncey Billups out of the new Amnesty program, and he signed Caron Butler as a free agent. More recently, he's brought in Reggie Evans, and now, probably, Kenyon Martin.
Notice anything? Other than Aminu, who was made part of the Chris Paul trade, all of these guys, good, bad, or indifferent, are still with the team.
The Clippers this year have an inelegantly designed roster. The Paul trade (a trade that looks more and more like its working in the Clipper's favor) left them with four point guards (Paul, Billups, Williams, Bledsoe), a combo guard (Foye), no pure two-guards (other than the rookie, Leslie, who has barely seen the floor), and a thin front court. There are only two players on the roster who can play small forward in Billups and Gomes (and Gomes seems more comfortable at the four). Until a few weeks ago there was no adequate backup for Blake Griffin at the four or Deandre Jordan at the five other than Brian Cook, who, at six-ten can't rebound, or defend, or Gomes, who fills stat sheets with strings of goose eggs. Fortunately, those two players recent minutes have been absorbed by newly acquired Reggie Evans who's hard-working and scoops up rebounds like the Easter Bunny, but has absolutely no offensive game whatsoever. Another recent acquisition, the unguaranteed, minimum-salaried Solomon Jones, while seven-foot tall, has provided, uh, nothing. Of course, the Clips are about to sign Kenyon Martin, a thirty-
five four year old power forward who will hopefully help bolster the front court in a very real way.
Chauncey Billups is undeniably doing a lot of good things, but it's clear he's playing out of position at two guard. He shoots often and his production is down. Worse, he's small for a two guard, no longer has a quick step, and often gets caught in the paint with nowhere to go. His defense against bigger players is clever but lacking.
Mo Williams who has been relegated unhappily to the bench has been remarkably effective, though he often plays in the worst lineups imaginable. But he's small, and not much of a defender. When Vinny Del Negro tries to keep his scoring on the floor in place of or alongside Billups, opponents often put longer wing players against him, forcing the very small Clipper backcourt into woeful mismatches.
Randy Foye is a bigger, better solution defensively, but he's not close to the offensive player Billups and Williams are. While it seems like Foye should be an effective two guard off the bench, his play is uneven, streaky.
Eric Bledsoe is almost back, and one wonders how he will fit in this ill-matched drama. At his best, Bledsoe is a lightning-quick ballhandler with a great first step and a nose for the ball. He's also small, though with his long arms, and athletic ability he plays bigger than the slight Williams. But he also evidenced great gaps in his game year, he's not much of a shooter, he doesn't have much court awareness, he's a turnover machine, and he's almost always in the wrong place on defense.
I know what you're thinking: the problem will be solved if the Clippers work their newfound magic and bring in J.R. Smith. But can they? As far as free agents go, they've only the minimum to work with, will Smith play for that? More importantly, is he really the guy you want? His off-the-court issues are well documented, but he has on-court issues as well. Sure, he's a nice offensive player, but he's also a
relentlessly inefficient, high-usage type guy, who only very reluctantly plays any defense at all. (Check out his DraftExpress profile, which is much worse than I ever imagined.) It seems to me, the Clippers really need is a defensive wing who can slow down big twos and threes and fit inside the Clippers already potent offense. That might be who you want J.R. Smith to be, but that's not who he is.
But all is not lost. The Clippers have some interesting ancillary pieces that might make a trade a possibility. But will they do that? Here's the dilemma: Other than Al Farouq Aminu (darn close to a draft-day bust) Neil Olshey has yet to trade or waive a single player not on a minimum deal whom he brought in. Whether it's his own limitation or one forced on him by the penurious ownership, Olshey has refused, or not been allowed to admit a mistake.
But isn't it time for Olshey to look over this roster, package some of his extraneous assets, and find the last puzzle piece that might make this team among the most powerful in the league?
So, what assets might be tradeable? The Clippers have two trade exceptions acquired in the Chris Paul trade, one for
3.5 3.7 million, one for 2.8 million (that's according to the LA Times). Mo Williams, while he's an awkward fit, is probably untouchable, at this point, he's the only player on the bench who can score. While Ryan Gomes has been terrible this year, he has another year on his deal, and is probably not worth much. Brian Cook, even though his deal is expiring, has little value. The two rookies, Trey Thompkins, and Travis Leslie are probably not worth much.
That leaves Randy Foye and Eric Bledsoe. Foye's been uneven on the court but his contract expires this year and he might be attractive to another team. Then there's Bledsoe. He has or is about to return from injury which devalues him somewhat but he also doesn't have a spot on the team as it's currently structured. While Bledsoe has some striking upside, it seems unlikely he's going to find a role this year. Not with Paul, Billups, Williams, (and Foye) in front of him. He might be the most valuable trade option the Clippers have. Can he
combined or one of the trade exceptions bring anything positive back from the trade market?
We know Neil Olshey paid a lot to draft Eric Bledsoe but what's his value to them now? When the Clippers acquired him, they didn't see that the future included Chris Paul or Chauncey Billups, or that it didn't include Eric Gordon.
But no longer are the Clippers a team that's building for the future, it's a team building for the now. And wouldn't a bench of Mo Williams, Kenyon Martin, Reggie Evans, and Swing Man X provide them with enough backup power to go up against deep teams like Denver or Portland or Oklahoma City? And wouldn't that be better than hanging on to a guy who might fit sometime in the not-so-near future, or might not ever fit at all?
Isn't it time for Neil Olshey and the Clippers to do everything they can to bring this roster up to the highest standard possible, even if it means that some of the deals they made in the past are no longer part of the plan? Isn't it a time for Neil Olshey to admit his mistakes and move on?