Three games into the Doc Rivers era for the Los Angeles Clippers, the citizens of Clips Nation have apparently seen enough of the second string big men. It was painfully clear on paper during the summer and the pre-season that this would be the single biggest weakness on the roster: it's even more clear -- not to mention more painful -- seeing the early results on the court.
So less than a week into the season, the conversation around these parts has turned toward trades or other means of improving the front court. The team needs to do something -- anything -- to provide an alternative to Ryan Hollins and Byron Mullens. Right?
This weekend, I received several texts from Lucas Hann with trade ideas. And here is the reply I sent him:
Patience young padawan.
Try not to make yourselves crazy citizens. Accept the fact that you will be seeing Ryron Hullens and Bryan Mollins, at least some, for at least the rest of the calendar year. It's going to happen -- so take the proper precautions to keep yourselves and your family and friends safe. Stay current on your blood pressure medicine and keep the firearms under lock and key. Think happy thoughts.
There's a saying about playing poker: if you don't know who the sucker is within five minutes of sitting down at a table, the sucker is you. The NBA GM equivalent of that saying is, if you're the guy placing calls the first week of November, the sucker is you.
If the Clippers are out there dangling Jamal Crawford in early November, they are setting Crawford's value at "33 year old with a partially guaranteed contract next season." Crawford was second in Sixth Man of the Year voting and remains a vital source of offense off the Clippers bench, and that's how they need him to be valued if they're going to consider trading him because that's the value he has to them. They won't get that if they're acting desperate.
There are significant milestones that will change the calculus as the pages come off the NBA calendar. On December 15 a long list of players will become eligible for trades, including half the Clippers' roster. In early January contracts become guaranteed for the rest of the season, so some number of players will be waived by their current teams and become available. Around the same time, 10 day contracts become an option, which will give the Clippers a chance to audition free agents and D-League bigs without tying up the very last of their space under the hard cap.
It makes no sense to make a move before December 15, when six weeks of shake out and the CBA rules will create a real trade market. And if you've waited until then, it's not that much tougher to wait until January to see if anything interesting winds up on the trash heap. Or if by some chance a young big from the D-League can make the leap.
The Clippers clearly need to do something. Or rather, if they don't do something and these are their back up bigs come playoff time, then they will have significant problems in the postseason. But they don't have a lot of trade chips, and they'll only get one or at most two chances to address this problem (once via trade and once via free agency if they're lucky). If a truly useful player is going to become available, it's more likely to be near the trade deadline, when some number of teams that hadn't previously given up on their seasons decide it's time to start thinking about the future. Or when unused veterans on big contracts start negotiating buyouts for the express purpose of catching on with a playoff team in need of a rotation player. It is much more important -- much more important -- that the Clippers make the right move than that they make a quick move. We're really not used to playing for the postseason around these parts, but that's what we're doing. The playoffs matter -- games in November and December don't.
Patience young padawan.
So what happens in the meantime? Well, while we will no doubt continue to argue here as to which one sucks more, there's one thing we can all agree on: Hollins and Mullens both suck. Small sample sizes will always yield outliers, but the fact is that there are 13 NBA players who have played at least 15 minutes this season while compiling a negative PER -- and the Mollins brothers are both on the list. I would personally be in favor of more Mullens and less Hollins, if only because at 24 Mullens would seem to have a better chance of someday sucking less than does Hollins, who is at 29 is only ever going to suck more.
There's also Antawn Jamison to consider. Doc Rivers has implied that he's saving Jamison so far; that he is a known quantity and that it's better to save his 37 year old legs for when they'll be needed. There's some truth to this -- yes, Jamison is a known quantity and yes he's 37. However, it's also pretty clear that Jamison is not the answer; if he were, you could "save him for later" while still playing him 10 minutes a game now, which, let's face it, isn't going to grind him down.
We'll also see more small ball lineups as we did in the first game. Matt Barnes looked plenty rusty in that one, after missing most of the pre-season, which made small ball less effective, but it remains an option to play Barnes or Jared Dudley at the four against some teams. Interestingly, Rivers has seemed reluctant to go small and force the opposition to adjust thus far -- the extended small ball we've seen to this point only came when the Lakers had already put Wesley Johnson in at the four. Monday night against the Rockets will be another chance -- when either Omer Asik or Dwight Howard is out, the Rockets play small with Omri Casspi or Chandler Parsons at power forward.
And we're still going to see Hollins and Mullens. And they won't be very good, because that's who they are. Take a deep breath, do some yoga, have a drink (not you Lucas). The reality is, these are the back up bigs at least for another two months.
Oh, and all of this changes if either Griffin or Jordan gets hurt -- so let's hope that doesn't happen.