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Tracking Back Through Randolph to the Clippers

When the Clippers first acquired Zach Randolph in November 2008, most of the Citizens of Clips Nation were initially aghast.  After all, there are few players in the NBA with worse reputations, deserved or not.  As irrational fans of a traditionally terrible team, some of us of course tried to warm up to the idea, or at least to the idea of Zach's scoring and rebounding.  But injuries, followed by a punch and a DUI stop (the charges were later lowered) pushed the majority of the Citizens back over the edge on Z-Bo.  The general consensus was that it was a bad idea to acquire him - that it was a bad trade.

I've tried to remind everyone all along that there are two sides to every trade.  The simple fact is, the Clippers didn't give up much to get the guy.  Here's a comment from March:

The main issue I have with those that dismiss the acquisition of Z-bo is that you have to look at the other side of the equation. Tim Thomas and a now retired Cat Mobley. On the basketball court, that’s a complete no-brainer, especially when you consider that Thomas is no less of a screw up than Z-bo. The issue of course being that extra year in Zach’s deal, but here’s the thing people – WE’RE NOT THERE YET. It may be a monumentally bad trade when we get to 2011....  It’s not a bad trade – not yet.

With Tim Thomas having recently been bought out by Bulls (and before that, traded for Larry Hughes in a swap of bad contracts) and Mobley retired, it's time to make a near-final assessment of this deal.

In the final analysis:

  • the Clippers lost Mobley (33) and Thomas (32) - and $2.7M of cap space in 2010 (Telfair's option);
  • the Clippers gained Mardy Collins (24), Craig Smith (25), Sebastian Telfair (24) and Mark Madsen (33) - and about $6.4M this year.

Now, we don't know how Collins, Smith and Telfair are going to do as Clippers - but they're young, and they could contribute nicely to the team's new youth movement.  And we have a pretty definitive idea that there is no place for either Thomas or Mobley on this roster - not in the final year of their contracts. 

I should point out that the $6.4M being saved this season doesn't do us, the Citizens of ClipsNation, any good if the Clippers sit on the money.  Those savings almost never get passed on to the fans in the form of rebates, for instance.  It would actually pay nicely for an MLE player - this year.  But of course that money would be right back on the cap for 2010 in anything other than a one year deal, so we really don't want that either. So I'll admit that the $6.4M savings appears for the time being to be mostly a benefit to Donald T. Sterling.

There was also of course the question of opportunity cost.  Expiring contracts are valuable - what could Mobley plus Thomas have fetched had they not been traded for Randolph?

Well, after shopping him around, the Bulls simply bought out Thomas, so apparently, he wasn't fetching much to Chicago.  And of course Mobley is a medical retirement at this point - not that anyone knew about the severity of his heart condition back in November.  Of course, given that the Clippers got Quentin Richardson for Randolph, and then flipped his expiring contract for the ClipperWolves, we don't have to speculate on what might have been done had they kept Mobley - Richardson's deal was almost as much.  And on the court, as Citizen Zhiv has pointed out so many times, moving Mobley allowed Eric Gordon to thrive as the starting shooting guard, and moving Thomas was also beneficial - because it moved Thomas.

You can certainly go overboard revising history and re-examining stuff this way.  The Kwame Brown for Caron Butler trade looked like an unmitigated disaster for the Lakers for two and a half seasons, as Butler matured into an All Star and Brown was dropping perfect passes.  And of course that trade eventually led to the 2009 NBA Championship, since Brown's expiring contract enabled the Lakers to steal Pau Gasol.  But clearly that was unforeseeable.

Was it foreseeable that the Grizzlies would help out the other LA team by taking on Z-Bo's deal?  I'd argue that it was.  Love him or (mostly) hate him, Zach Randolph averaged 20 points and 10 rebounds on the season - and out of 29 other teams, there were going to be some who wanted that production, despite the baggage. 

This is not an apology for MDsr.  You can't really say 'Look at the brilliant way he parlayed the dead wood of Tim Thomas and Cuttino Mobley into younger assets' without also acknowledging that he signed Thomas and Mobley as free agents in the first place.  But given where the Clippers were last year compared to where they are now as regards those particular assets, I think they've done well, and I'm not sure they could have done a lot better.  Of course, Smith, Telfair and Collins may yet have a major impact on this story, so stay tuned.

A few fun Tim Thomas footnotes for this story -

  • I think this may be a record - Thomas was bought out by Chicago TWICE in a little over three seasons.  I have the amount that Chicago paid Thomas at something like $20M since 2006 - and he played 18 games for them.
  • When Thomas was traded for Hughes back in February, it was a trade of two players who were at one time supposed to be Robin to Allen Iverson's Batman in Philadelphia.  Thomas was a lottery pick in 1997 (who wound up in Philly in a draft day trade); Hughes came from the 1998 lottery.  But like all the other sidekick applicant's, it just didn't work out with AI.  Artistic differences - they saw themselves getting the ball from time to time, and Iverson didn't see it that way.
  • Thomas is now rumored to be about to sign with Dallas - where they appear to just love Clipper forwards (James Singleton, Quinton Ross and now Thomas).