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Point Guard Deja Vu

Last off-season, I wrote seemingly countless posts about the Clippers' desperate need for help at the point guard.  When all was said and done, they drafted and traded Jared Jordon, added Brevin Knight and Dan Dickau (and Andre Barrett and Smush Parker) via free agency, and here we are a year later in an equally desperate situation.

To be fair, it's hard to imagine what they could have done differently.  They made a better offer to Steve Francis than Stevie accepted to play in Houston, but the Franchise barely played due to injuries and general suckitude.  In the end, the Clippers got Brevin Knight for less than other teams paid for their non-solutions at the point, so at least they didn't squander too much money.  Looking around the league, there is nary an impact point guard to be found changing teams last summer.  The closest is Beno Udrih who (a) wasn't even on anyone's radar last June, (b) is a free agent again already, and (c) MDsr tried to acquire before being denied by Sterling.  As for the others from the free agent class of 2007:

  • Steve Blake was so unimpressive in Portland that the Blazers went into this summer convinced that all they need is a point guard.
  • Chucky Atkins was hurt most of the season in Denver, and when he was healthy he couldn't supplant Anthony Carter as the starter.  And now the Nuggets are again looking for a point guard.
  • Smush Parker lasted less than two weeks in Miami, despite signing for 2/$6M.
  • Jason Hart went to Utah to be the backup to Deron Williams, and ended up being the backup to Ronnie Price.

One pattern that should be immediately obvious - all the teams that needed a point guard last summer (Clippers, Blazers, Nuggets, Heat, Cavs) still need a point guard this summer.  So we can rail against the incompetent Clippers management, but they're not the only ones who have this particular problem.  And exacerbating the problem is the fact that several teams are chasing a handful of mediocre point guards.

Still - what to do this summer?  There are no easy answers.  Here's the world of possibilities:

The Big Two

  • Gilbert Arenas
  • Baron Davis

Unrestricted Free Agents

  • Beno Udrih
  • Jason Williams
  • Carlos Arroyo
  • Chris Duhon
  • Jannero Pargo
  • Damon Stoudamire
  • Sam Cassell
  • Keyon Dooling
  • Anthony Johnson
  • Tyronn Lue
  • Sebastian Telfair

Restricted Free Agents

  • Jose Calderon
  • Louis Williams
  • Daniel Gibson

Trade targets

  • Javaris Crittendon, Kyle Lowry, Mike Conley, Marko Jaric
  • Sergio Rodriguez, Steve Blake
  • Kirk Hinrich
  • Jamaal Tinsley
  • Marcus Williams
  • UPDATE Raymond Felton (hat tip Citizen clipschamps)

I hate these lists.  I mean, I made them, and I still hate them. 

Forget Arenas and Davis.  Yes, Arenas is an unrestricted free agent, and Davis could be one by the end of the day.  But as it happens, their free agent status is not particularly relevant, as the Clippers would not have the money under the cap to offer them what they want unless LA renounces their rights to both Corey Maggette and Elton Brand.  Since that is extremely unlikely, Arenas and Davis should only be viewed as available (because they may be less than 100% happy with their current teams) via sign and trade.  Even so, it's unlikely that the Clippers would be able or willing to put together the deal necessary to land either of these two.  Moving on.

The interesting thing about the unrestricted guys is that none of them will sign for more than the MLE, so the Clippers can make a run at any one of them.  But are any of them actually starter material?  I wouldn't give a roster spot, let alone the MLE, to anyone on that list other than Udrih, Arroyo, Jason Williams or Duhon.  It's clear that Udrih is near the top of the Clippers list, so don't be surprised if they put that offer out there tonight.  I'd probably prefer Arroyo, who is incredibly inconsistent, but knows how to run a team and can stick an open shot.  The rumor is that D'Antoni and the Knicks like Duhon - good luck to them.  And Williams has been almost as injury prone as Shaun Livingston, so I'd be hesitant to sign him.

The restricted guys are barely worth talking about.  The Raptors are going to match any offer for Calderon, not to mention that he'll command more than the MLE, so he's just not an option.  Not with TJ Ford in Indiana.  Lou Williams is an interesting possibility, but it's clear that the Clippers would have to overpay for him since the Sixers have plenty of money to spend right now, and they like the guy and need a replacement for Andre Miller next year.  The MLE would be seriously overpaying for Lou Williams, and even then I'm not sure you'd get him.  As for Gibson, he's not really the answer at point guard, or the Cavs wouldn't be having the same problem the Clippers have.

So now we're down to trades.  In theory, every player in the NBA is a trade possibility.  Maybe the Hornets will trade Chris Paul to us!  In the real world, I tried to limit this list to players on teams with a glut at the position (Memphis and Portland) or players that are known to be on the trading block already.

Tinsley is an interesting possibility, and certainly has NBA starter talent, but he comes with lots of baggage.  The rumor is that the Pacers will buy him out if they can't find a trade to their liking, so it may behoove the Clippers to try to wait them out and pick him up on the cheap.  Still, if you take that approach and miss on Tinsley, you could end up with nothing.  As it happens, one player on the Clippers roster who could be traded for Tinsley straight up is Tim Thomas.  Tinsley's deal runs a year longer, which would hurt bad, but I think I'd do a Thomas for Tinsley trade.  (Also in the buyout rumor category is Stephon Marbury.  It's not really worth thinking about at this point.)

Marcus Williams is more than a little intriguing.  He's always looked great against the Clippers, which makes me worry that I'm overvaluing him.  But the Nets now have Devin Harris (25) as their starter and they're actively shopping Williams, not to mention that he's only making $1.2M with a couple seasons left on his rookie deal.  And he can probably be had very inexpensively - say, a lottery protected first rounder and some meaningless bodies to make the salaries match.  Maybe we could sign small forward Marcus Williams and trade him for point guard Marcus Williams!  That would be cool.

UPDATE - Felton seemingly became expendable when the Bobcats drafted DJ Augustin in the first round last week, 9th overall.  As a rule, you don't spend a top ten pick on a point guard when you've already got a 24 year old former top five pick already on your roster.  (As it happens, last Thursday was Felton's 24th birthday - Happy Birthday, Ray!  We just drafted your replacement!  Oh, and how would like to be the Bobcats in this situation?  The Jazz got Deron Williams at 3, the Hornets got Chris Paul at 4, and they got Felton at 5.  As Agent 86 might say, "Missed it by that much.")  Hard to say what Felton's trade value is.  As a former number 5 pick, he's already making over $4M this coming season, which is pretty much in a no man's land as far as matching Clipper salaries are concerned.  And I think we can safely assume that Charlotte does not want former starter Brevin Knight back, after they waived him 12 months ago.

The Memphis guys are a mixed bag.  I'll assume we don't want Jaric (don't be surprised if he gets bought out if the Grizz can't figure out a way to pass him through to another team).  Conley, Lowry and Crittedon are all recent first round picks from the top (Conley at 4 in 2007), middle (Crittendon at 19 in 2007) and bottom of the round (Lowry at 24 in 2006).   They'd be stupid to keep all three, but then again this is Chris Wallace we're talking about.  The asking price for Conley will be high.  Conley and Lowry are both small, which is potentially a problem with the Clippers already lacking size at the position.  It's not clear that any of them are ready to start in the NBA.  But in a world of imperfect solutions, one of these guys may be the best choice.  By the way, you can probably forget about any big trades with Memphis featuring Maggette as the signed and traded centerpiece.  Memphis has more room under the cap than any other team - if they are enamored of Maggette, they can offer him the money he wants outright.

The Blazers remain fairly deep at the point, assuming rookie Jerryd Bayless can make the transition.  One would assume that they would like to keep last season's starter, the veteran Blake, to help Bayless learn the ropes.  They also have Petteri Koponen in Finland warming up in the point guard bullpen.  Rodriguez would seem to be completely expendable and very cheap, unless they plan to keep him around to make Rudy Fernandez more comfortable.  Sergio's likely to be even cheaper than Marcus Williams.

Hinrich is the biggest name, and biggest salary, on this list.  In many ways, he'd be a great fit for the Clippers.  A solid if unspectacular point guard; he can run an offense and make an entry pass; he can stick an open three; he plays good defense.  MDsr would no doubt love the guy, who's skinny and white enough to be his own son.  He would cost nothing less than a signed and traded Maggette.  But in terms of putting together a competitive roster for the coming season, it's the type of deal the Clippers need to make.  Of course, it's far from clear that the Bulls would be interested in taking on Maggette for the long term.

There are a couple of names worth mentioning in a post script.  Monta Ellis (restricted free agent) and Leandro Barbosa (on the trading block) are both shooting guards in the bodies of point guards.  They're terrific scorers, capable of playing some point, but neither is a true point guard.  I bring up Ellis simply because he's out there - but the Clippers have nothing more than the MLE to offer, and they can forget about Monta.  Barbosa on the other hand may be a real option in trade for Maggette.  The Suns would like an alternative to Grant HIll at small forward, and there have been whispers of a Barbosa for Maggette swap for a couple of weeks.  It's a less than perfect solution for the Clippers, but then again it's a less than perfect world.

That's the current point guard situation as I see it.  The next step is to try to avoid being overwhelmed by the possibilities, and to avoid 'analysis paralysis'.  Things will start happening VERY quickly at 9:01 PM tonight.  Calderon will be locked away, Udrih and Duhon may be off the market before tomorrow, the dominoes will start falling and pretty soon you're stuck with no chair when the music stops.  (Wow, what a crazy mixed metaphor that was!)  So you have to have a plan.  Of course, Maggette is a linchpin here.  After he opts out, it remains to be seen if he'll work with the Clippers in a sign and trade.  So first things first -

  1. talk to Maggette and Rob Pelinka about getting Corey more money than the MLE on a decent team like Chicago or Phoenix
  2. make an offer to Udrih (if he's gone, move to Arroyo) - don't make an offer to a restricted free agent like Lou Williams until you've exhausted other options, as that offer can tie your hands to do anything else while the other team decides whether or not to match
  3. get on the phones to discuss offers for Marcus Williams, Rodriguez, Crittendon and Tinsley

Whatever you do, don't get caught napping.  There may not be any saviors out there, but the guys who are there will be gone before you know it.