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O.J. Mayo to the Clippers? It Doesn't Make Sense

Since the FanShot on Eric Pincus' piece about the O.J. Mayo rumors has gotten so much activity, I thought I'd chime in. I was going to just comment over there, but I figure this may be worth a little front page space on a day without a game.

It's not immediately obvious in the article, but Pincus is specifically suggesting a trade as follows:

  • Chris Kaman and Willie Warren for
  • O.J. Mayo, Hasheem Thabeet and Hamed Haddadi.

The basic trade is Kaman for Mayo; Thabeet has been shopped all season, and then you need Haddadi and Warren to make it work under the cap, as Kaman for Mayo and Thabeet misses by a few hundred thousand. There are plenty of other ways to make the math work (like DeMarre Carroll instead of Haddadi, and Warren doesn't have to be there at all), but Haddadi is probably the most expendable to the Grizz.

I have several questions about this trade. My biggest problem with it is that it doesn't address a need for either team. I mean, that's more than a little strange, right? To propose a trade that isn't of great interest to either party? I just don't see where the driving force to get this trade done might come from.

It's worthwhile to trace the origins of this rumor back a bit. Chris Vernon of Memphis sports radio tweeted Thursday to "keep an eye on" the Clippers for a possible Mayo deal. Pincus points out that Vernon is well-connected and was in fact the first to have the Pau Gasol trade three years ago. So he's got some cred.

The specific deal above is Pincus' creation. Vernon mentioned Eric Bledsoe, Al-Farouq Aminu and Kaman; Pincus dismissed Bledsoe and Aminu as not really being in play from the Clippers' standpoint (a conclusion with which I totally agree) and came up with a Mayo-Kaman swap that would work under the cap. That's the backstory.

But O.J. Mayo is a shooting guard, and the Clippers already have a starting shooting guard in Eric Gordon. Gordon is universally regarded as better than Mayo (though it wasn't always so, given that OJ was drafted 4 spots ahead of EJ), and Mayo has been less than pleased, not to mention less than effective, coming off the bench in Memphis. So right off the bat, that seems like a problem.

Meanwhile, Chris Kaman is a center, and Memphis has a terrific starting center in Marc Gasol. Now, this isn't Mayo-Gordon - Kaman would arguably be an upgrade over Gasol, depending on what you're looking for in a center; but Gasol is really quite good, and among the better starting centers in the NBA. He's also younger than Kaman. Pincus argues that Kaman would significantly improve the Memphis front court rotation now (Gasol, Zach Randolph and Kaman would indeed be formidable) while also providing insurance and leverage for this summer, when both Gasol and Randolph will be free agents. My problem with that thinking is that Kaman only has one more year on his contract - an insurance policy that expires one year later seems of limited value. It would seem to make a lot more sense for the Grizz to simply re-sign their starting bigs. Gasol is restricted, so they have lots of leverage there; ZBo might be harder, but even in the event that they lose him, do they really want Gasol and Kaman next season? Those are two true centers, in an era where true centers are less and less relevant.

So I just don't see how this deal makes much sense.

There's an interesting theoretical question here of how Mayo and Gordon might look in a backcourt together. Both have had the concept of "potential future point guard" dangled over their careers, but neither has really shown a great aptitude for the position. Mayo went to the Summer League in Las Vegas in July to play the one, and the experiment was a resounding failure. Interestingly, Gordon has actually looked much better in emergency point guard duty this season, putting the idea back on the table after it had more or less been shelved by his shakey handles in his first two seasons. But make no mistake - both of these guys are really and truly two guards.

My question though is, could two shooting guards, each of whom have some ability to handle the ball and run the team, split the point guard duties effectively enough to be successful? There's little question that Mayo is talented, and the firepower of an EJ-OJ backcourt would be formidable. Might it be a little like Stephen Curry and Monta Ellis in Golden State - two talented combo guards (though Curry has shown much more promise as a point guard than most people expected, and more than either Gordon or Mayo)?

Even if you're intrigued by that possibility, I question this idea for the Clippers. Mayo only has one more season left on his rookie deal, and Baron Davis is still around two more seasons, and has been effective this season when he's been engaged. The idea of Mayo as a Clippers starter doesn't make any sense until you (a) move Baron or (b) re-sign Mayo; and there's no guarantee that you're going to like the price when it comes time to re-sign Mayo, especially with Gordon due to get a huge payday at the same time.

If Memphis is desperate to move the guy and he can be picked up for cap relief, then great. But there's no indication that that's the case - I expect that they want real value for the runner-up in Rookie of the Year voting a mere 21 months ago. And there's no urgency for the Grizz. If they don't like the offers they get now, they still have him on a cheap rookie deal next year; they can wait.

Odds are this rumor is just that; a rumor. As it happens, I'd be very surprised if it's anything more, because I just don't view it as compelling for either team.