MEMPHIS, TN - APRIL 29: Nick Young #11 of the Los Angeles Clippers celebrates after making a three point shot against the Memphis Grizzlies in Game One of the Western Conference Quarterfinals in the 2012 NBA Playoffs at FedExForum on April 29, 2012 in Memphis, Tennessee. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
I've watched the play where Caron Butler of the Los Angeles Clippers apparently broke his hand about 30 times now and I have no idea how it happened. The hand doesn't appear to get caught, or hit hard, or anything really -- but from Butler's reaction, you know that it hurt. And from the X-ray, we know it's broken.
You have to feel for Caron. Last year he watched from the bench in street clothes as his teammates in Dallas won the NBA Title. He was almost 100% recovered from knee surgery in May and there was even talk that he might return in time for the Finals, but he didn't quite make it back to the court.
Now he'll be out for an estimated 4-6 weeks. Once again, he might be able to play before the end of the playoffs. But in order for that to happen not only will his recovery have to go well, but the Clippers will also have to go on a deep playoff run, at least to the Western Conference Finals. And they'll have to do it without the starting small forward who was their second most important acquisition heading into this season.
What will coach Vinny Del Negro do in Game 2 without Butler?
One possibility is to start Nick Young at small forward. With Butler's injury, the trade deadline acquisition of Young is looking like a stroke of brilliance, not least because of Young's nine-points-in-sixty-seconds heroics in Game 1. Funnily enough, Young was originally acquired mostly to provide some size in the backcourt, but with Eric Bledsoe emerging and earning more and more minutes, Young has really gotten all of his burn at the three at the end of the season. Bear in mind that Young was also defending Rudy Gay through the entirety of the 26-1 run in the fourth quarter, so his defense was terrific, at least Sunday night.
However, there's a vogue in the NBA lately to try to keep the team's rotation as unaffected as possible in the wake of an injury. So instead of moving the first player off the bench into the starting lineup when a starter goes down, some coaches prefer to move a non-rotation player into the lineup and keep the bench rotation in tact. Del Negro did more or less this when Chauncey Billups was injured, starting Mo Williams for one game before moving Williams back into his sixth man role and starting Randy Foye.
If VDN decides to go this route, he could make Bobby Simmons the starter and continue bringing Young off the bench.
To me, that seems like you're outsmarting yourself. Simmons is clearly a step down from the other nine healthy players Del Negro currently has in his rotation. Young is smaller than Simmons, and smaller than Rudy Gay, but we've already established that he defended Gay well, at least on Sunday. Del Negro has also shown a fondness for playing three guard lineups, and he could steal some time with Foye playing small forward, particularly when Quincy Pondexter is in the game. Foye would be giving away plenty of size to Pondexter, that much is true, but should the Clippers really dread a steady diet of Quincy Pondexter post ups? Lionel Hollins will also play Mike Conley, O.J. Mayo and Tony Allen together at times, and the Clippers could certainly go with Chris Paul, Bledsoe and Foye against that lineup.
On the other hand, Kenyon Martin drew the defensive assignment on Gay on the final possession last night and is probably the best defensive three on the team. So KMart is another option at small forward -- though the lack of perimeter shooting in a lineup with Martin, Blake Griffin and either DeAndre Jordan or Reggie Evans on the floor together is something that Del Negro has tried to avoid this season, which is why we only see Martin defending threes at the end of a game or when the opponent goes small.
As of practice on Monday, Del Negro had not yet decided how he would go. But even if he decides to start Simmons, you can probably expect the lion's share of minutes at the three to go to Young.