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When the Music Stops

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Here at ClipsNation, I have compared this summer's free agent point guard situation to dominoes, to Russian Roulette... in fact, not wanting to miss out on any potential metaphor, I have compared it to just about everything at one time or another.

Now that the best prospects are all gone, we need to choose the best analogy.  Unfortunately for the Clippers, we're playing musical chairs, the music has stopped, and Elgin Baylor is still standing and watching.

But looking at the situation, I can't really bring myself to criticize the organization too much for their inaction.  In fact, this may have been like the War Games computer playing Global Geothermal Nuclear War - the only way to win was not to play.  (Whatever happened to Ally Sheedy?)  

By my count, there have been six point guards signed as starters (or at least potential starters) and several more so far as primary backups.  For four of the six 'starters', I use the term loosely, since they probably SHOULDN'T be NBA starters, and they certainly WOULDN'T start ahead of, say, Shaun Livingston.  The Clippers plan from the beginning of July was to target Steve Francis.  Because of Francis' Portland buyout, subsequent sojourn clearing waivers, and the time he spent deciding among his suitors, the other viable point guards were off the market before the team knew they had lost out on Francis.  That's the way it goes.

But even in retrospect, I'm hard-pressed to see another great alternative.  

Chauncey Billups - re-signed with the Pistons for 4/$46M, far above the MLE that the Clippers had available.  The only option would have been a sign and trade, and there's no indication the Pistons or Billups were the least bit interested.  Billups was never an option.

Mo Williams - re-signed with the Bucks for 6/$52M, again above the MLE.  The Heat made a run at Williams with their exception, but Mo eventually opted for the money.  The Clippers could not offer as much.

Derek Fisher - signed with the Lakers for 3/$14M.  After walking away from significantly more money on his Jazz contract, it was fairly obvious that Fish was going to return to the team that drafted him.  Sure, the Clippers are in the same city, and could have met his requirements in terms of medical facilities and specialists to treat his daughter, but realistically Fisher was never going to choose the Clippers over the team with which he won three rings.  Could the Clippers have offered him more money?  Sure - up to the full MLE, in theory.  But I wouldn't want to tie up that much money in a 33 year old point guard anyway.  Fisher was never a realistic option.  (I saw a comment on a blog recently that said the Clippers should have claimed Fisher on waivers and committed to his full salary, just to hack off the Lakers.  I thought that was pretty creative.)

Steve Blake - signed with Portland for a reported 3/$12M (the final year is a team option).  Would I want $4M in cap space tied up in Steve Blake?  Not really, no.  Aren't we all hoping that Jared Jordan is going to be better than Steve Blake by mid-season anyway?

Chucky Atkins - Denver lost Blake, and signed Atkins to replace him, for 2/$6.6M.  Yikes.  No thank you.  

As for Francis, I can't say exactly how ardently the Clippers pursued him, but I do know that after he signed with Houston his agent said that Stevie had other offers for more money.  It seems fairly clear that Francis was going to choose to move back to the city that he has called home for 8 years.

In addition to those six potential starters, several others have so far signed new contracts this summer: Jason Hart (been there, done that), Jacque Vaughn (he wasn't leaving the Spurs), Smush Parker (pass) and Travis Diener.  I was definitely intrigued with Diener, first mentioning him as a potential target back in April ("I'd much rather take a flyer on an unknown quantity like Diener ... than muddle through with Hart."), but he signed with the Pacers the same day that Francis signed with the Rockets.  Besides, after drafting Jared Jordan, Diener is less appealing.  We're not talking about a sure thing here - I'm just as happy hoping that Jordan can handle the job as I would be with Diener, who doesn't have that much more NBA-experience than Jordan.

Still, just because they didn't really mishandle free agency, doesn't mean the team isn't in big trouble at the point guard.  Are the point guards on opening day really going to be a 38 year old veteran with gimpy everythings and a rookie from Marist?  What exactly are the Clippers going to do?

Brevin Knight remains the one legitimate NBA point guard on the market and his agent confirmed his interest in the Clippers and vice versa over a week ago, though one wonders what the hold up is at this point.  I would not want the team to commit too much salary, and in particular too many years, to Knight.  Charlotte waived Knight when he was due to make $4.2M next season.  The buyout on that final season was $1.5M.  In other words, it was worth $2.7M to Charlotte just to be rid of him, which can't help his negotiating power.  I'd guess he could be had for about the same as or possibly a little less than Atkins (2/$6.6M - and for the record, I'd MUCH rather have him than Chucky).

Beyond Knight, the musical chairs game continues.  The Kings lost interest in Ronnie Price, and now are looking at Mike Wilks.  Price signed with Utah, which makes Dee Brown is available.  And of course there is the ongoing saga of Juan Carlos Navarro.  Meanwhile some guards on the fringes have signed with European clubs (including former Clipper Daniel Ewing) and others are being courted (like Jannero Pargo and Keith McLeod, one of whom will like be a teammate of MBFGC at Olympiakos next season).  (Another Euro signee is Allan Ray, meaning that NBA fans will be deprived of the confusion of Ray Allen and Allan Ray playing in the same backcourt.  Too bad.)  

If the Clippers don't sign Knight, I don't expect them to sign a free agent point guard before training camp.  Given the extremely thin pickings already, they'll wait until October and see what happens.  Several teams are carrying more players currently than they can realistically take into the season, so some veterans will end up on the waiver wire, while others will continue to be offered as trade bait.  

So it's still wait and see at the point guard position for ClipsNation, and as many of you have pointed out, the fact that we're discussing Brevin Knight as the major off-season signing does not bode well.  But overpaying for the WRONG point guard would in fact be far worse.