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The Return of Yaroslav Korolev

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No, this is not the title of a 19th century Turgenev short story.  The Clippers 2005 lottery pick, who became a free agent when the team declined to exercise the third year option on his rookie contract, was added to their Summer League roster on Thursday and according to Jason Reid of the LA Times, was signed to a minimum contract yesterday.  

At the time they refused his option, the Clippers said that they would like to keep Korolev at a lower price.  I think we all thought that was lip service; I mean, it doesn't cost the Clippers anything to say something nice about the kid as they're tearing up his contract.  But here he is, 20 years old and playing another season in LA.

But the move seems dubious for a couple of reasons.  We counted down the roster spots last week and got up to 10 guaranteed contracts.  Thornton signed on Thursday and now with Korolev we're up to 12.  Steve Francis (or Jason Hart or Brevin Knight or Steve Blake - pick a veteran point) makes it 13.  And it's an open secret that Jared Jordan, Guillermo Diaz and Will Conroy are competing for third string point guard.  MDsr strongly prefers to start the season with 14 contracts, leaving one spot open to provide flexibility.  If that pattern holds true this year, then we're basically done.  The only mysteries left are who the actual veteran point guard is, and who the third string point guard is.  

Examining the lineup more closely, there would seem to be a pretty significant logjam at the three.  With Korolev's signing, no fewer than five players are arguably small forwards (Maggette, Ross, Thomas, Thornton and YK) and the first four all need some playing time.  Happily, most of them can play another position, which is a good thing, since the shooting guard and the power forward depth charts are anything but deep.  So Ross will log a lot of backcourt minutes, as could Maggette, and Thomas will get most if not all of his minutes spelling Kaman and Brand; even Thornton is big enough, and was a good enough rebounder in college, to get some minutes at the four.  So although the small forward position looks ridiculously crowded, hopefully it won't a big problem.  Look at it this way - there will be six 'wings' on the roster.  The fact that Mobley is the only true shooting guard, and the others are all small forwards, is a minor detail.

Still, you have to wonder about bringing Korolev back.  I mean, the competition for the final point guard spot is great and all, but is it such a stretch to imagine that two of those three guys might deserve to stay?  I know that Diaz doesn't really have a two guard body, but he has a two guard game, and as we've pointed out, there aren't really that many of those on the team.  It seems premature to give a roster spot to Korolev before seeing what Diaz and Subway can do (I assume the coaching staff knows what Conroy can do based on last season).  

It's often difficult for coaches and/or general managers to let go of their mistakes.  Or conversely, they simply over value all their picks, both the plums and the lemons.  It's a big reason why the Lakers wouldn't pull the trigger on a Jason Kidd trade last season - Bynum was Jimmy Buss's boy, and he was a great pick, but he shouldn't be untouchable.  On the other end of that spectrum, MDsr obviously saw something in YK two years ago, and he still sees it (or thinks he does).  And of course, if he becomes a solid contributor for the Clippers, then the pick is vindicated, so ego gets involved as well.

I saw Korolev at the Clippers practice on Friday, and I will tell you, he looked bigger.  Not just wider, which is certainly good news - but I think he may have grown some as well.  Not that Brand or Kaman were there, but there were plenty of big bodies around (Davis, Santiago, Abukar, Thornton) and Korolev didn't look scrawny next to them, which is my recollection from last season.  As it happens, they're listing him at 6'10" 244 on the summer league roster - he was listed at 6'9" 205 last season.  If that's true, that's significant.

But he'll have to make shots to play in the NBA.  He was drafted as a shooter - if he can't stretch the defense, and convert a high percentage of open threes, then the Clippers are wasting their money and a roster spot.