First things first: thanks to Citizen Zhiv for getting the news up on the front page of Clips Nation. I had just finished posting earlier in the afternoon when Mark Heisler of the LA Times broke the story. I'm not sure what this one says about my legendary reverse-mojo - yes, I had just written that the Clippers were likely to have a quiet July. But in the same post, I surmised that Randolph for Richardson was still a possibility if the Grizz were interested. So was I exactly wrong or exactly right? Hard to say.
But what's important at this point is the trade, and frankly it's about as good as the Clippers could have hoped for. It's being reported as Zach Randolph for Quentin Richardson, straight up. Of course Richardson doesn't make nearly as much as Randolph, but the Grizzlies are under the salary cap, so they are allowed to take on the extra salary. Because Zach had two seasons at $16M and $17.3M left on his deal compared to Richardson's $8.7M this season, the Clippers will save about $24.6M overall because of this trade. More importantly, they'll clear cap space for the 2010 off season when some huge names are going to become free agents.
There are several positive aspects of this trade that are worth examining.
- 2010 cap space - By my math, the Clippers now have about $37M committed to seven players during the crucial off-season of 2010. The salary cap is a little under $59M right now, and is not expected to go up this year - it may even go down a little. If the economy bounces back, the cap could go up some more for the 2010-2011 season. So figure maybe $60M, but it could be more or less. So the immediate reaction is 'Sweet! $23M to spend on free agents!' But not so fast. The mega-names like LeBron and DWade will of course expect maximum contracts - for eight year vets, that's 30% of the cap - $18M per. So yes, in theory the Clippers will have enough money to make a maximum offer. But with a few roster spots to fill yet this year, the team will have to resist any contracts longer than one year to preserve all of that space. That means they have to think long and hard before agreeing to a three year deal for Steve Novak or Fred Jones. Not that it's a huge issue, but it's something to consider.
- Trade chips now - Examples of the "Law of unintended consequences" are rampant in the NBA Collective Bargaining Agreement. The 'Trade Exception' is one of the best. The Clippers are of course thrilled to take back less salary in this deal than they sent out. That's a gift in and of itself. But as if that weren't enough, they also get a $7.3M trade exception to use within the next year. This allows them to trade for a player without sending anyone out. In addition, the Clippers now have Richardson's expiring contract to add to their already impressive collection that includes those of Marcus Camby, Ricky Davis and Mardy Collins. Basically, the Clippers have almost unlimited freedom to match salaries for any team looking to dump salary this season. It goes without saying that "Preserving 2010 cap space" and "Trading exceptions and expiring contracts" are mutually exclusive - you can't do both. But if the opportunity to get that special player presents itself via trade sooner rather than later (think Pau Gasol to the Lakers) then the Clippers are in a position to act.
- Addition by subtraction - This is always a theoretical discussion - there's no way to prove addition by subtraction - but Zach Randolph has never been considered the best locker room influence. With a solid young core suddenly in place in LA, and with Randolph unlikely to figure into the team's plans beyond two seasons even in the best case scenario, it was far more likely that he would do long term damage than long term good. In that sense, moving forward without him now is the smart move.
- Playing time for Griffin - The Clippers won the lottery in May, and drafted the consensus number one pick a week ago - and that number one pick's natural position happens to be power forward, the same position Zach Randolph plays. For all of the talk of Griffin being able to play small forward, he's pretty much a prototypical power forward - where that extra quickness he has will create matchup nightmares for opponents. If ever there was a guy who was ready to contribute right away, it's Blake Griffin - yes, he has to work on his shooting, but I expect him to be a terror on the boards immediately. So it's clearly a good thing to free up playing time for him.
- Style of play - The Clippers have been talking about becoming more of a running team since the lottery. Several players penciled into the starting lineup would theoretically thrive in an uptempo attack, most notably Baron Davis and Griffin. But Zach Randolph was clearly not going to be filling a lane on the fast break. It remains to be seen if MDsr can actually implement a faster system, or if he'll revert to more familiar ways. But removing Zach from the equation takes away a major temptation for the iso loving Dunleavy.
- Depth on the wing - It's far from clear whether Quentin Richardson can contribute a lot. His back has been gimpy for several years now and it has diminished his effectiveness. But before the trade the Clippers were overloaded at the 4 and 5, and very thin at the 2 and 3 - and Richardson plays the 2 and 3, so he provides some depth even if it's not of the highest quality. He has become something of a three point specialist in recent years - about half of his field goal attempts last season were from beyond the arc, and he made 36.5% of them, which was a tick better than his career percentage. As a counter point to Al Thornton (who doesn't shoot well from distance) it's a nice weapon to have on offense. But he's certainly not the 'glue guy' we were hoping for.
I've said all along that the Mobley and Thomas for Randolph trade was incomplete until we knew more. Many pundits declared it a bad deal last season, and that was clearly pre-mature. The Clippers gave up nothing long term other than cap space when Mobley and Thomas left - and now they have that cap space back. Could the team have done better in a trade with Mobley and Thomas? Well, given that most of us probably want the Clippers to just let Q and Camby and Ricky expire rather than trying to trade them now, it doesn't seem so. So in the end it cost the team nothing to conduct a temporaty Zach Randolph experiment - he played well for the Clippers, but he became completely expendable when the ping pong balls aligned.
As for Zach, I hope he does well in Memphis. He has gotten a bad reputation in the NBA, and I'm not convinced it's entirely deserved. He's wildly overpaid - but that's not actually his fault. He can certainly provide the Grizz with some low post scoring, which they desperately need.
Other than the obvious need in the post, I must say I find this a dubious trade for Memphis. Not that it's terrible - they're getting a very productive low post player for Darko Milicic, after all. But they seemed content to build through the draft, and they had some nice pieces in O.J. Mayo, Rudy Gay and Marc Gasol. I also wonder why they didn't look more closely at the free agent market. It seems possible that once Charlie Villanueva landed in Detroit, they decided to go the trade route. David Lee and Paul Millsap (the only other logical choices) are both restricted free agents, and maybe they felt that their teams would match. At any rate, it's a strange move for Chris Wallace - why do you dump Pau Gasol's big contract in Feb. 2007 only to add an even bigger contract in July 2009?
In a recent draft preview, I wrote that winning the lottery changed the Clippers from a team with a roster full of problems into a team with a roster full of opportunities. It's amazing what those four ping pong balls did. If you don't win the lottery, you don't get Blake Griffin. If you don't get Blake Griffin, you don't trade Zach Randolph. If you don't trade Zach Randolph, you don't have 2010 cap space. Suddenly the Clippers look like an up and coming team.