It happened quietly and without much fanfare. It seems like an accident almost. The Los Angeles Clippers turned over about half their roster this summer, and amid all of the discussion of additional perimeter shooting and better fitting pieces, a potentially important factor has been little mentioned: the Clippers got younger this summer -- quite a bit younger.
Here are the ages of the departed Clippers from last year's opening day roster, compared to the guaranteed contracts that are new to the team this season:
|Name||Age ('12)||Name||Age ('13)|
|Grant Hill||40||Antawn Jamison||37|
|Chauncey Billups||36||J.J. Redick||29|
|Lamar Odom||33||Jared Dudley||28|
|Caron Butler||32||Darren Collison||26|
|Ronny Turiaf||30||Byron Mullens||24|
|Eric Bledsoe||23||Reggie Bullock||22|
The 14th roster spot (if the Clippers decide to fill it) could go to another 22 year old (Maalik Wayns or Brandon Davies) or to the 30 year old Lou Amundson -- but even if they do opt for the veteran there, the overall roster will be much youthful.
Of course every roster move will always be presented as having purpose and significance. When the Clippers added the likes of Hill and Odom and Turiaf last summer while re-signing Billups, it was all about leadership and experience, and very specifically about championship experience -- or at least that was the story at the time. Billups, Odom, Butler and Turiaf all had won NBA titles in their career -- and none of the newcomers can say the same, leaving the team with only Redick in possession of Finals experience, and zero rings on the active roster.
But you take the good with the bad, and the obvious flaw with adding a bunch of 30 and overs is the potential for injury, so it wasn't just bad luck that saw Billups and Hill miss most of last season. It's difficult to remember, but this time last year a lot of the talk coming from Clippers training camp was of Billups and Hill -- Matt Barnes was a very late addition to the roster and Willie Green was an afterthought. Yet it was Green who started most of the season at shooting guard and Barnes who played the lion's share of the minutes at small forward.
When you consider how useless Billups and Butler were during the playoff series against the Grizzlies, you understand immediately why the Clippers felt compelled to upgrade the starting wings. When you factor in that the upgrade came along with a decrease in the average age on the wings from 34 to 28, the moves look that much better.
The changes that eventually happened stand in stark contrast not just to last season's moves, but also to this summer's rumors involving the Boston Celtics. Had the Clippers traded DeAndre Jordan (25) for Kevin Garnett (37) and/or made room for Paul Pierce (35) they would once again have been adding talented players who are clearly nearing the end of their great careers.
Yes, the Clippers lost something in experience during the off-season -- but it's not as if Redick and Dudley are rookies. Redick is entering his eighth season, Dudley his seventh -- and they both know their roles on an NBA court exceedingly well. As for playoff experience, Dudley went to the WC Finals in 2010 with Phoenix, while Redick played a key role on Orlando teams that advanced to the EC Finals twice and one time continued on to the NBA Finals. Obviously neither has "Finals MVP" on his resume like Billups -- but Chris Paul is Mr. Big Shot on this team, and it seems to me that having a player who knows his role and plays it well is even more valuable.
The Clippers' roster last season included eight players who were 30 or older -- that number this season is down to four. Moreover, given that three of those 30 year olds all had very productive seasons with the team last year it seems reasonable to hope that Barnes (33), Green (32) and Jamal Crawford (33) can all avoid an age-related decline this season. That leaves the 37 year-old Jamison as the lone "wishful-thinking" graybeard on the roster. But as opposed to last season with Billups or Hill, expectations are pretty low for Jamison (who signed for the NBA minimum) so if he enjoys a rejuvenation playing for the Clippers, it will be mostly gravy.
As for that championship experience, the Clippers may have lost the players who have been there, but they added something arguably more important -- a coach who has been there. Let's face it, on the court, youth vs. experience is a trade-off; young legs are a very good thing, and it's simply inevitable that as players add experience they are losing athleticism. There's no such downside on the sidelines, where the Clippers are assuming that Doc Rivers' championship coaching experience trumps the loss of a Billups or an Odom. (Not to be cruel, but Billups' playoff experience didn't seem to help much against the Grizzlies, as he missed 25 of 36 field goal attempts and watched Tony Allen -- Tony freakin' Allen! -- average 12 points per game.)
It remains to be seen what happens on the court, but on paper this looks like a win-win as the Clippers got simultaneously better and younger during the off-season. Most importantly, if things fall into place with Redick and Dudley as the starting wings, the Clippers' starting lineup now features five players between the ages of 24 and 29. If it turns out to be a good starting lineup, it's also a group that can stay together and grow together for the foreseeable future.