Point guards are so June. Power forward is the new point guard.
The Clippers suddenly find themselves as the only player in the free agency market. (A quick aside here: How 'bout them Grizzlies? They were so desperate to get rid of Pau Gasol to get some cap space, that they jumped at the Lakers' offer of Kwame Brown and some Universal Studios Hollywood annual passes. And here they sit, the team with the most money to spend, and no one even discusses them. The Grizzlies are the new Clippers.) As much fun as it would be to make a run at Andre Iguodala, the Clippers clearly need someone to play power forward. Thornton can get some minutes there, but he can't be the starter. And we know what it's like to have Tim Thomas be your starting power forward. So it would seem that something needs to be done.
The good news is that cap space gives the team a lot of options. Obviously they can try to sign a free agent. But they can also use their cap space to make unbalanced trades. Any team looking to shed money might be willing to send a promising power forward to the Clippers (provided the Clippers also take an ugly contract).
So what are the options:
The big name RFAs
Josh Smith - Not a true power forward, so if we're looking for someone to guard Amare Stoudemire and LaMarcus Aldridge, this is probably not the guy. On the other hand, a running Clippers team, with Baron Davis leading the break and Thornton and Smith finishing lobs, could be a lot of fun and pretty dangerous. And Smith and Kaman were second and third in the league in blocked shots per game last season, so these Clippers could certainly defend the rim. The biggest problem is that Atlanta is likely to match any reasonable offer. So the offer will have to be unreasonable.
Emeka Okafor - He's an almost immediate replacement of Brand's rebounding and shot blocking, and probably a better on-the-ball defender. After a season of watching the Generic Clippers get outrebounded (badly) every night, I think I would be willing to put up with Okafor's limited offensive skills. But Charlotte offered him $12M per last summer. How much would it take to get him to LA? And is he worth a huge contract, when he's not a good scorer, and he's injury-prone?
Andris Biedrins - Another terrific rebounder and defender, I tend to think he duplicates Kaman a little too much. If Smith is going to have trouble guarding the big PFs in the West, wouldn't a Biedrins / Kaman front line have trouble guarding the quick ones? Or the shooters? Which guy do you want chasing Okur off the three point line? Which one guards David West?
Lesser Free Agents
Craig Smith - Does this guy remind anyone else of Elton Brand? Undersized, no neck. He still seems to find a way to score. Maybe he's a stretch as a starter, but I kind of like the guy, and he could probably be had on the cheap. The Wolves have Kevin Love now.
Kurt Thomas - Thomas would be fine to hold down the fort for a season. But he's certainly not a long term solution, or an exciting addition. It's also highly doubtful that Thomas would want to join a longshot like the Clippers at this point in his career. He'll likely sign with a team with championship aspirations.
PJ Brown - Ditto.
Big name Trade targets
Shawn Marion - Marion probably doesn't figure in Miami's Wade / Beasley future. The Clippers need a power forward now. It could work. Marion is clearly undersized as a power forward, but of course they said that for years in Phoenix and he just continued to put up numbers. He would struggle against big 4s, but he'd also make them work on the other end. He can certainly rebound and defend, and if the Baron Davis era Clippers are a running team, well he's got some experience with that also. He's got a huge final year on his contract, but the Clippers could fit it by sending back Tim Thomas and generating a big trade exception for the Heat. The Heat would save some money this season, still have an $11M trade exception to work with now, and Thomas' $6M expiring deal to work with next season. The Heat will probably want a future first rounder to make this happen. The good news about a Marion deal is that it's a rent to own. If it doesn't work out, you let him walk next summer and you're right back in the free agency market next summer.
Zach Randolph - Randolph's contract is grotesque. He is owed $48M over the next three seasons. But he can score, he can rebound, and he is available. Really, really available. The Knicks want nothing more than to clear cap space for 2010, and Randolph's contract looks almost immovable right now. If the Clippers were willing to take him, the Knicks would probably include tickets to a couple of Broadway shows. His contract is a little to big to fit into the Clippers current cap space without sending a little something back, as long as the contract expired by 2010. That means it could be Cat Mobley, or Thomas, or Brevin Knight, or maybe someone they sign and trade. Randolph would be a huge mistake for the Clippers, in my opinion. His contract is too big, it runs too long, he doesn't play defense, and he's a head case. This would be a panic move.
Lesser Trade Targets
David Lee - While we're on the Knicks, we'll discuss Lee. Why would the Knicks consider trading Lee, who looks like one of their only decent building blocks? As the incentive to get a team to take one of their ugly contracts. If the Clippers were willing to take Jared Jeffries, freeing up almost $7M for New York to throw at LeBron in 2010, I think the Knicks would include Lee to get it done. Bear in mind that Lee is entering the final season of his rookie contract. If the Knicks really like him, they'll have to pay to keep him, which means they'll have to find even more salary to shed elsewhere. I think it's easier for them to just package Lee with some deadweight and ship him out. I would be loathe to take back Jeffries - but maybe the Knicks are motivated enough to make a better deal with the Clippers. I'd jump at Lee and Jamal Crawford for Cat Mobley.
Udonis Haslem - Somewhere between the rookie contract of Lee and the max contracts of Marion and Randolph is Haslem at 2 years and just under $14M. He's a solid if unspectacular player, who would seem to be in the way a bit with the arrival of Michael Beasley in South Florida. He's got enough range on that little jumper to keep the Kaman double-teamers a little bit honest, and he's a good rebounder and defender. I don't have much of a feel for what it would take to get this deal done, but there's little downside to it for the Clippers if they don't have to give up too much. The best case is that he comes in and does a good job. The worst case is that he doesn't fit, and he becomes a $7M expiring contract (along with those of Mobley and Thomas) next year.
There are of course other options, but the above list gives you an idea of the spectrum. If nothing is done, the Clippers will have a lot of problems this season. Tim Thomas, Josh Powell, Al Thornton, Paul Davis. None of these guys are legitimate NBA starting power forwards. Remember that the Clippers went from one of the best rebounding teams in the league to one of the worst when they first became generic. Not that they are permanently generic, they have to address this issue. If not, it will be a long and unsuccessful season.
Sofoklis Schortsianitis, MBFGC, is still out there, and frankly, if this isn't the time to bring him over to the US, I'm not sure when is. His struggles with his weight reached melodramatic heights last year, with his Greek team eventually shipping him off to a fat farm health spa. But he went, he lost at least 50 pounds (more according to some reports) and he's back playing with the Greek national team again. Why not sign him?
And then there's DeAndre Jordan. He's only 19, but if we're talking about putting guys like Biedrins or Okafor next to Kaman, then I suppose it's possible that Jordan could be the answer. I don't think anyone thinks he's ready now. But he has an NBA body, and he's certainly got something to prove after dropping from the lottery to the second round in the draft. We'll start finding out a little in summer league, but is it possible that Kaman and Jordan are a twin towers pair for the future?
As for the potential acquisitions, I would be happy to have either Smith or Okafor, but I'm not optimistic that they can be had. Just say no to Randolph. That would be a big mistake. Marion is a nice band aid if you don't have to give up too much, and the same could be said for Haslem.
But my top choice, surprisingly, is David Lee. He's a GREAT rebounder, plays with incredible energy, and does nothing to hurt you. He'd have to be re-signed next year, but he'd be an RFA, and I doubt teams are going to offer more than the MLE to him, which means he'd end up costing less than Haslem the next season, and then only if the Clippers like him and want to keep him.
And there's always Boozer and Lamar next summer.