For the final installment of the off-season in SBNation's series of themed posts, I get to hop into the DeLorean, rev it up to 88 MPH, and go back to the past to get one former Los Angeles Clippers player in his prime to bring with me back to the future to augment the 2013-14 Clippers.
The more I have thought about this exercise, the more nuanced I find it to be. The Clippers don't have quite the same storied history as other franchises, so there are fewer past mega-stars to choose from. But even so, for a good team like the current edition of the Clippers, you may not necessarily want to simply plop another star onto the court. A role player -- the right role player -- might be more valuable than an additional superstar, who might be demanding the ball or adversely affecting team chemistry. Sure, if you're the Bulls and the current team is starting Kirk Hinrich at shooting guard, you can go ahead and bring back Michael Jordan, the G.O.A.T. But I don't think there's a no-brainer here for the Clippers.
Some ground rules -- I don't know how others in the SBNation NBA group are handling this, but I'm going to impose on myself the requirement that the "prime" of the player is actually their prime while on the Clippers as opposed to their overall career prime. So for instance, I can't add 1988 Dominique Wilkins or MVP-season Bill Walton to the team, since neither of those guys were Clippers in that form (though Wilkins was pretty damn good for his 25 games as a Clipper). Heck, 96-97 Glen Rice, who made 47% of his three-pointers, wouldn't be a bad guy to have around, but the 36 year old Rice that played for the Clippers was a different story.
I'm also going to exclude any active players. For one thing, the fabric of the space-time continuum would get a little frayed if 2006 MVP candidate Elton Brand were playing against current Elton Brand when the Clippers meet the Hawks in December. Moreover, it just seems to go against the grain to grab a better version of a current player. Too bad, because earlier versions of Chris Kaman and even Lamar Odom would be pretty good fits for this team.
I won't however impose any statute of limitations, nor will I exclude the Buffalo or San Diego years from consideration. Of course, I am limited by my knowledge of those teams, but I'll still consider them. Doc Brown has the DeLorean working real nice -- all I have to do is pick a former Clipper player, set the date, and go get him (as a recent GE commercial pointed out, the 1.21 Gigawatts is easier today than it was in 1985, so I don't even need a lightning bolt).
As I mentioned, there are a lot of considerations. Chris Paul and Blake Griffin are the best Clippers ever to play their positions, so it probably doesn't make sense to consider point guards or power forwards -- but then again, the Clippers front court reserves are a little thin and a third quality big is probably the team's biggest single weakness. But am I looking for a starter to upgrade a relatively weak spot in the lineup like center or small forward, or am I looking for a reserve to play a role on a very good team?
I thought about Marques Johnson and Derek Smith and World B. Free and Norm Nixon, all talented players but seemingly with too much overlap with the current roster. I thought about Tom Chambers and Terry Cummings, but neither was a Clipper very long.
Here are some players to whom I gave significant consideration:
Bob McAdoo -- How can I not consider the only player in franchise history to ever be named the league MVP? McAdoo was an elite scorer and had a deadly midrange game, so he'd actually be a very good fit alongside the power game of Blake Griffin. Honestly, I'm only passing on McAdoo because of chemistry concerns -- the Clippers are a very good team as is, and adding an MVP candidate might mess up the team dynamic. Having said that, McAdoo would probably fit in just fine, moving DeAndre Jordan to the bench as a defensive center and creating a very nasty three man rotation in the front court.
Michael Cage -- Cage led the league in rebounding in 87-88 with 13 per game, and he chipped in 14.5 points that year also. He was a hard-worker and tough defender, and he would be willing to play a role on a good team and wouldn't need a lot of shots. On the other hand, he'd be yet another in a series of bigs who can't spread the floor for Griffin, so that wouldn't be a great fit. But believe me, I'm tempted to bring back Cage for the Jheri curls alone.
Ron Harper -- One of my favorite Clippers of all time, the irony is that the 20 point per game scorer from his Clipper days would not be a great fit for the current team, because that guy needed the ball in his hands a lot and posted usage rates in the mid to high 20s. The guy who won three rings with Chicago and two more with the Lakers playing tough defense and deferring to his teammates, that guy the Clippers could really use. Can you assume that "in his prime" Harper would recognize the situation and play like "role player" Harper? If you could, he might be my choice.
Quinton Ross -- I always described Ross as a very good player on a good team, but a very bad player on a bad team. Well this is a good Clippers team, and Ross could be very good on it. Ross HAS to play a role -- he doesn't have the talent to be relied on for scoring of any kind. But as a lock down perimeter defender, it's pretty safe to say that he's the best the Clippers have ever had. Is it worth using my one DeLorean round trip on a defensive specialist? Probably not. But of the roles the Clippers need filled, that's a pretty important one.
Zelko Rebraca -- Don't laugh. OK, you can laugh a little. If I allowed myself to break the "in his prime" rule I set for myself I might be even more tempted. Rebraca was 29 before he made his NBA debut and was 32 by the time he joined the Clippers, but as a younger man he was the best big in Europe and it wasn't even close. If you really wanted a backup center, you could do worse than big Z, who played the role to perfection on the 2006 team when he wasn't hurt. Then again, in the NBA of 2013 nobody has a seven footer backing up a seven footer -- maybe in a different era. I guess I really just want to see Rebraca again -- I should give him a call.
John Williams -- OK, now I'm getting a little weird, I know. I just always loved Williams, even if he never came close to being the player I always wanted him to be. Just watching a dude weighing three bills who could handle and pass the way he could -- man, I used to love to watch him play.
Danny Manning -- Manning is almost too perfect for this task. A great player, but also a great team player, and a versatile player. He could provide front court depth for the Clippers, but could also take over some of the ball-handling duties for the second unit when Paul is out of the game. (By the way, that's one aspect of this year's team we haven't really discussed -- Odom and Hill were playmaking additions to last year's team, and their replacements aren't, though of course Hill barely played so he's not a great loss.) How good would small ball units with Griffin and Manning in the front court be? We also saw how willing he was to be a role player when he went to Phoenix. It's really tough to pass on Manning.
So those are the players I considered. But in the end, I passed them all over to bring back...
Loy Vaught -- Think about it. He makes jumpers. He rebounds. He plays defense. He is a great team player and would be a great locker room presence. He doesn't have to have the ball in his hands. As a third big in the current Clippers rotation, prime Loy would be a perfect fit. For three seasons from 1994 to 1997, Vaught scored between 14.9 and 17.5 points per game and averaged right around 10 rebounds per game, all while shooting better than 50 percent from the field, mostly on baseline jumpers if I recall correctly. He's also one of the longest tenured Clippers of all time, having played eight seasons with the team (only Eric Piatkowski stayed longer during the Clippers era). He actually made back-to-back playoff appearance with the Larry Brown teams at the start of his career, but then suffered through some pretty terrible seasons after that, so adding him to the best team in franchise history would also be a nice reward for his loyalty back in the day.
So what do you think? Which former Clipper would you add to the roster if you could? Honestly, you couldn't go wrong with McAdoo, Cage, Harper, Manning or Vaught, and I changed my mind on Manning versus Vaught several times. Or maybe there's someone I've forgotten? Let me know who you would bring back in the comments.