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Embracing Zach Randolph

It's been a week since the Clippers traded Cat Mobley and Tim Thomas to the Knicks for Zach Randolph and Mardy Collins.  In the interim, while we were waiting out Cat Mobley's heart condiition and wondering if the trade would actually happen, we've had some time to think about his role on the Clippers.

It's not particularly easy to get your head around Z-Bo.  (It's almost as difficult as getting your arms around him.)  Let's go through some of the conventional wisdom about the trade and see where it leads us.

Reasons the trade was good:

  • It gives the Clippers a go to scorer in the post.  This is pretty clearly the reason that MDsr pursued Randolph.  A psychology student could probably write a dissertation on this subject: rejected by the 20-10 player he nurtured (and depended on) for years, the coach fervently pursues another 20-10 player.  His point: 20-10 guys don't grow on trees.  The list of names this season is short and impressive: Howard, Duncan, Bosh, Jefferson... and Zach Randolph (although Z-Bo's 7 point game on Wednesday dropped him below 20 ppg for the time being).  The counter-argument: not all 20-10 guys are created equal.  Zach Randolph is clearly not Tim Duncan.  Nonetheless, while Chris Kaman is a good scorer, he's never been, nor is he likely to become, an offensive force.  And all of his talk of playing a more up tempo or perimeter oriented game turned out to be just that:  talk.  MDsr is an inside-out kind of coach, and without a bona fide low post scorer, he's a little lost.  Randolph arguably fits MDsr's offensive system even better than Brand did:  EB is a good isolation score, where Randolph is great.  We've complained plenty around here about the 'all isos all the time' style of basketball - but if we're stuck with it, let's at least give it a chance to work.  In that regard, Randolph is a good fit.
  • It makes the Clippers younger.  This is a simple fact.  Although this is his 8th season in the NBA, and he long ago wore out his welcome in Portland, Zach Randolph is a mere 27 years old.  His contract runs through 2011, and is gargantuan, but even at the end he'll only be 29, which is still very much prime time for power forwards.  Mobley is 33 and Thomas is 31, and neither figured into the Clippers' long term plans.  And Mobley's departure cleared the way for Eric Gordon, which is clearly a good thing, particularly if the team is destined to miss the playoffs this season.  The net result of the trade gives the Clippers Baron Davis (29), Eric Gordon (19), Al Thornton (24), Chris Kaman (26) and Randolph (27) through 2011.  There's no question that those five have a lot of talent - but there's no guarantee that the pieces fit together.

Reasons the trade was bad:

  • The loss of Mobley makes the Clippers dangerously thin on the wings.  There's good news and bad news since the actual trade on this subject.  Part of the problem before the trade was the simple fact that Ricky Davis had been terrible on the season so far.  With the revelation this week that his knee has been hurting, and that he has been by his own estimate "about 60%", there's now a plausible explanation for RD's dismal performance.  By sitting him down, the hope is that he'll be better upon his return in a week or two.  In the interim of course, the Clippers got even thinner on the wings.  But the unmitigated good news is that Eric Gordon appears more than ready to take over the starting position.  In the first two games without Mobley, with Ricky starting and EJ coming off the bench, the Clippers got almost nothing out of the 2.  In two games with Gordon in the starting lineup, he's led the team in scoring both times with 25 and 24.  And while we already had some level of confidence he could score, his defense has been solid as well.  The Clippers still need Ricky Davis healthy and productive - the post-Mobley options for backing up Al Thornton at the small forward, or for defending big shooting guards, are less than ideal. 
  • There aren't enough minutes up front for Kaman, Randolph and Camby.  In the first game with Randolph in uniform, this didn't prove to be a problem at all.  That's because Kaman played only 12 minutes before shutting it down to rest his sore foot.  The fact that his foot was sore at least in part due to the number of minutes he'd been playing in the first month of the season, argues for limiting his minutes.  And of course Camby, 35, has been on limited minutes all season, and for the last few seasons of his career.  So it would seem that finding minutes for all three of the bigs is not really going to be an issue.  Limiting the minutes of the injury-prone guys is a good thing, and there will be plenty of opportunity to milk the guy with the hot hand.
  • There isn't enough room up front for Kaman, Randolph and Camby.  The jury is definitely out on this one.  Of course, this was already a potential problem for the Clippers, even before the trade.  Most of us in Clips Nation have been convinced Kaman and Camby have co-existed and even thrived - though unfortunately their supposed synergy has not resulted in many wins.  Adding Randolph into that mix is definitely a potential problem.  It certainly didn't work to have Randolph and Curry together in New York. 
  • Randolph's contract takes away cap flexibility for summer 2010.  This is an indisputable fact.  We'll never know what it costs the Clippers - no one can know what would have happened with the cap space.  But barring another move, the Clippers will not have enough cap space to make a play for any of the superstar free agents of summer 2010.
  • Randolph is good at putting up stats, but bad at helping teams win.  This is the big question.  The answer will come on the court.

The first game of the Zach Randolph era in LA didn't do much to settle the questions.  If he's going to go 3 for 11 every game, then it's not going to work out.  But it's safe to say he's not going to go 3 for 11 every game.  (Of course, that's what we said about Ricky Davis, and so far Ricky has proven that thinking wrong.)  Hopefully we'll get more feedback tonight against the Heat.

The simple fact is, the Clippers were 2-9 when they made the trade, so they didn't have much to lose.  And while Randolph's contract pretty clearly falls into the 'bad' category, trading two medium bad contracts for one really bad contract is pretty much a contractual wash, especially when the team gets younger in the process.  That leaves 2010 as the financial downside to this deal, and as I pointed out in an earlier post, the Clippers are gaining a trade chip into 2011 as they lose cap space in 2010, so it may not be as bad as it seems.

Ultimately this trade will be judged on its basketball merits.  Does Randolph make the team more competitive?  Does he make them competitive enough?  Maybe not this season, which is probably already lost (a situation that cannot be blamed on Z-Bo), but next season?  Or is he more trouble than he's worth?  A guy who can put up numbers, but whose liabilities on defense and in the locker room cancel out his assets?

In Woody Allen's Manhattan, Isaac's first wife, played by a very young Meryl Streep, leaves him for another woman.  When someone asks him why he married a lesbian, he says "I thought I could change her."  Can MDsr change Zach Randolph?

I can't get my head around that one.