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The Clipperblogger Summit - Part Five

I don't know about you guys, but I can hardly wait to read each new dispatch from Kevin Arnovitz of Clipperblog in the Clipperblogger Summit.  This one is particularly timely, because judging from my last two posts, I must be feeling quite curmudgeonly today.  But Kevin is fixing the Clippers, so now I feel better.  His latest missive is posted on his site, and re-printed below.

The conversation so far:  Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four

To:  Steve Perrin
From: Kevin Arnovitz
Date: June 11, 2009

When it comes to trades and transactions of any sort, my general belief is that, with rare exceptions, if an NBA team isn’t seriously contending, then it’s rebuilding. The franchises that get themselves into trouble are those that suffer from delusions that if they can somehow add a piece here and there, they’ll be right back in the thick of things.

The reason I had such a visceral reaction to the acquisition of Zach Randolph last November wasn’t because I thought he was a completely useless ballplayer (he’s not entirely useless), or that I thought the Clippers had the inside track to the upper echelon free agent talent in 2010. The deal annoyed me because it signaled that the Clippers suffered from managerial myopia. Rather than accept the fact that the Clippers had fallen out of serious playoff contention and take the hit, Mike Dunleavy pushed all in on Randolph. However you feel about Randolph’s talents, his contract wasn’t the sort of liability a team looking to rebuild should have put on its books for 32 months.

Over the past few years, we’ve seen smart franchises like Portland and the Sonics/Thunder see the writing on the wall. They resigned themselves to piling up losses, and drafted and dealt accordingly. They also got a little lucky (as the Clippers have this spring), and both teams are now poised for a bright future. Other than Darius Miles’ expiring deal in Portland, and 2 years/$13 million remaining on Nick Collison’s deal, there isn’t an eyesore anywhere on the spreadsheet. It’s not just the down-and-out, either. Critics killed Joe Dumars for dealing away Chauncey Billups for Allen Iverson’s expiring deal, but Dumars realized that the Pistons’ window had closed and did the most sensible thing for the future.

We share similar views on Marcus Camby’s contract (quite valuable), and the Clippers should be very patient about moving it. We agree that Chris Kaman’s deal isn’t a toxic asset, but that he might be the best candidate to be traded to clear some room in the frontcourt, because the other contract down low – that belonging to Zach Randolph – is a millstone. As much as I’d like for the Clips to move Randolph, I wouldn’t do it for Luol Deng, a player I like a whole lot more than Randolph. Deng has a huge deal that runs through 2014, and my dislike for Randolph isn’t more unyielding than my strong belief that rebuilding requires payroll flexibility. If that means locking Randolph in the boiler room at Playa Vista for the next 22 months, then so be it. At least by dealing Kaman, the Clippers would be shedding years and getting leaner from a contractual standpoint.

My greatest fear about the current regime is that they see the arrival of Blake Griffin as an opportunity to win now. I have little doubt the Clippers are going to best 19 wins next season, but that should be the extent of their goal in 2009-10 so far as wins and losses go. The Clippers’ larger ambition should be to do what’s necessary to surround Eric Gordon and Blake Griffin with the very particular pieces they need. In Eric’s case, that means finding a counterpart on the wing who can cover bigger perimeter players – something Eric is always going to have trouble doing. If the Clippers have every intention of cultivating DeAndre Jordan as their center of the future, they’ll need to sculpt his game to compliment Blake Griffin’s. If the Clips intend to keep Baron Davis around for the next four years, Mike Dunleavy will have to craft an offensive strategy that will keep Davis from sabotaging the team’s success.

With all those considerations and the understanding that Gordon and Griffin are the building blocks of the future, how do you see this team emerging as an on-court product?  What kind of basketball team do you think we will – or should – be watching in the coming years?