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Breaking Down the Roster of the 09-10 Clippers

I've resisted doing one of these roster break downs to this point, tempting as they are.  After all, the things I wrote about the roster last spring were so ludicrously irrelevant by the time the season rolled around as to be laughable in retrospect.  But with the draft finally in our rear view mirror, and with 'stability' seemingly a watchword of the Clippers braintrust at this point, it appears that we're relatively safe assuming that a large portion of the roster is set.

In fact, assuming Brian Skinner exercises his option (and frankly, I can't imagine why he wouldn't), the Clippers already have twelve players under contract (that's counting Blake Griffin's impending rookie deal).  That's a roster right there.  MDsr has shown a strong and consistent preference for entering the regular season with no more than 14 players under contract, so there are likely only two open spots at this point - that's barring trades, though of course at least trade is in truth pretty likely.  But ignoring trades, let's see what we've got, from big to small.

Center - Chris Kaman, Marcus Camby, DeAndre Jordan.  Kaman is signed for 3/$34M, Camby for one more season for about $9M (if you include his incentives) and Jordan for 2/$1.6M. 

Power Forward - Zach Randolph, Blake Griffin, Brian Skinner.  Randolph has 2/$33M left, Griffin will soon be signed to a 4 year rookie deal, and Skinner will likely exercise his option for the second year of his veteran's minimum deal.

These two positions are of course where most of the discussion has focused lately, given the amount of salary tied up there, with the number one draft pick joining the stable.  Now, I won't disagree with Citizen Zhiv regarding the Myth of Too Many Bigs - but could we also agree that we exit mythology and enter reality when we talk about TOO MUCH SALARY tied up in bigs?  The good news there is that given the fact that it's almost impossible to shed contracts immediately, the key salary number is really NEXT summer's.  By then, all other things being equal, Camby's contract will have expired, and Randolph will be a one year contract that will become easier to move.  So while the Clippers certainly have a lot of salary tied up at the four and five positions, it's really not TOO MUCH when you take the longer view.

Of course, there are still questions of who starts, and how much do guys play.  I see the four big bigs in pairs.  As of now, Randolph and Kaman are the more potent offensive players, each capable of forcing a double team in MDsr's post centric sets, while Camby and Griffin are more defensive and rebounding presences (Griffin's offense will come, but as a rookie he may not be a go to guy.)  I think you have to start a scorer with a defender in order to balance the line.  I see Randolph and Camby as the starters, with Griffin and Kaman coming off the bench, but it could as easily be Griffin and Kaman starting.  Playing time (and egos) will no doubt be an issue if no one is moved and no trades are made - but I think Zhiv is saying "Yes, by all means let's have too many healthy bigs this season - that's a problem we'd love to have."  DeAndre Jordan also needs some playing time to continue his development, though he may only see spot duty if everyone else is healthy.  Hopefully Skinner is reduced to spot duty and emergency backup status, if indeed he is on the team.

Small Forward - Al Thornton, Mardy Collins, Ricky Davis.  Thornton has 2/$6.7M left on his rookie deal, Collins has one year left at $1.8M, and Ricky Davis recently exercised his one year option for almost $2.5.

At small forward, let's first recognize that Ricky Davis is likely only good as $2.5M worth of trade filler.  His knee tendinitis rendered him completely useless last season, even when it allowed him on the floor, and it turns out he didn't get any younger over the summer.  That leaves Thornton and Collins.  Thornton was the starter last season before he got hurt near the end, and while his all around game leaves much to be desired, he is a more than adequate scorer.  One can only hope that he'll start 'getting' a few more things (like rebounding and defensive rotations) in his third NBA season.  Collins on the other hand is an enigma.  A throw in for the Randolph trade, he had some great games as a Clipper, including a memorable performance in the team's biggest win of the season against the Celtics.  But he's a pretty dreadful shooter, and not a great defender either.  He is quite useful to have on a roster certainly, since he can play anywhere from the one to the three.

Shooting Guard - Eric Gordon.  EJ has three more seasons on his rookie contract.

Point Guard - Baron Davis and Mike Taylor.  Baron has the longest contract on the team, 4/$54M.  Taylor has 2/$1.5M (not guaranteed, though it would be very surprising if he wasn't asked to stick around at least one more season).

Notice anything about the Shooting Guard spot?  That's right, there's only one name on the list.  Fortunately, it's a really good name, arguably the team's best player.  But as of this instant, there's no clear back up for Eric Gordon.  Ricky Davis is still around, but I'd rather imagine that he's not.  That leaves the Clippers making due with Davis or Taylor or Collins playing out of position at the two when Gordon is on the bench (Collins is one of those rare players who is adequate at the one or the three, but a pretty big disaster at shooting guard since, well, he can't shoot). 

So now we begin to see some of the real-politick of Too Many Bigs - it often leads directly to 'too few smalls', especially when the artist formerly known as Ricky Buckets is squatting on a roster spot.

The Clippers also have three free agents this off-season - Steve Novak, Fred Jones and Alex Acker.  We've already counted 12 contracts on the roster, and we know that MDsr is likely going to enter the season with 14 players under contract.  So there's not room for all of them.  Acker is a long shot at best, although in many ways he's what they need - a versatile guard with some size and the ability to defend.  Jones played very well for the Clippers and is a logical choice to join the backcourt.  And Novak is arguably the best pure shooter in the league - he may be one-dimensional, but it's an important dimension, and he is unbelievable good at it.  But if indeed the Clippers re-sign Jones and Novak and call it a roster, the team remains dangerously thin at the guard positions (even with Jones) and not much better off at the small forward.  For what it's worth, Novak and Acker are restricted, while Jones is unrestricted.

A big man trade is still a pretty good possibility before training camp, even if the team is trying to be patient on that front.  The right deal would go a long way toward balancing the roster.  As we've said many times, a 'glue guy' on the wing would be ideal.  Someone who can play the two or the three, and has the size to step in for Eric Gordon against the Kobe Bryants of the NBA.  Someone who is first and foremost a solid perimeter defender.  It remains to be seen if the Clippers can find that person, either via a trade or via free agency.  Of course, barring a trade, signing an outside free agent would likely banish either Jones or Novak from the team.

There are a couple of other options for creating some roster flexibility.  Neither Skinner nor Ricky Davis really fits on this team at this point so both are candidates to be waived.  However, they each have value as inclusions in trades at this point, so it is not to be undertaken lightly.