This is the first feature by Citizen LJ Hann. LJ has been a valued citizen of Clips Nation since May of 2009 - when he was just 12 years old. An astute student of the game and an author well beyond his years, LJ will be contributing to Clips Nation to continue to develop his writing skills as he prepares to study journalism in college. Join me in welcoming LJ to the front page. Steve
It's likely that the most discussed issue among Clipper fans is the small forward position. In recent history, fans have dealt with Corey Maggette (never meshed with Dunleavy), Quinton Ross (an offensive liability), and other dysfunctional pieces. The team needs, now, a complementary piece that accents the two big stars, fits the run and gun play style, and isn't a player who would restrict cap in retaining Blake Griffin and Eric Gordon.
The club has a few almosts at the position. Jamario Moon, Al-Farouq Aminu, and Ryan Gomes are the current players who are small forwards, but are any of them starters? Most would agree that none of the above are starter quality (yet, at least), but if General Manager Neil Olshey acquires another SF, how would Coach Vinny Del Negro balance Aminu, the second year prospect, Gomes, and a new player? Would Sterling be willing to watch Gomes' contract rot on the bench or in a suit? Does Gomes deserve playing time, even if he does not start?
And if the Clippers decide to look outside, where to look? Sure, there are free agents available at the position, but most are past their prime. The few young small forwards available are comparable to Aminu and Gomes in skill level - not an upgrade at all. Through trade, while the Clippers have multiple assets to package, there doesn't seem to be a good solution. An Andre Iguodala trade seems almost too drastic, acquiring a player who would take a large salary and a good chunk of shots. Also, it seems like it wouldn't be worth trading some valuable, young assets for an appropriate, "gluey" small forward. This fork in the road brings us to the Battier Scenario.
First of all, two facts need to be faced: Gomes is not sufficient as a starter, and Aminu will not be ready this year. The solution to the small forward position has to come from outside.
So, let's look at some numbers. Last year after the All Star Break (more importantly, after the Baron/Mo trade), the Clippers averaged 80.3 shots attempted per game. A large portion of these came from Gordon and Griffin, averaging 15.8 and 16.2, respectively. Gomes and Aminu each averaged just over 4 shots a game, and Moon shot 3 times per contest. If the team lets Moon walk, and reduces Gomes' role, they are looking at an incoming wingman who would take between 6-9 shots a game. For some reference, Iguodala shot 11.3 shots a game last year. Bringing in someone of that caliber would take 2 shots each from Gordon and Griffin. While that might not sound so extreme, imagine that this is a time when the Clippers need each of the two young stars to expand their game, and therefore, shots. Iggy also makes a colossal salary. That is not the direction the young Clippers are looking towards.
Well, how about looking for a young free agent to add? There could be options present in this scenario, too. Unfortunately, amongst unrestricted free agents, Al Thornton seems to be it. If the best option is to re-acquire the shot jacking former Clipper, it would be better to just start Aminu. Looking into restricted free agents, a couple options emerge. Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, for example. Luc, however, is likely to be heavily pursued by his current team, the Bucks, and a mid-level type of offer sheet would probably get matched. Remember, one major goal in this search is to find a solution that is cost-effective, allowing for the extending of Gordon, Griffin, and Jordan. Players such as Jonas Jerebko, and Jeff Green are in similar situations with their current teams, while Wilson Chandler has signed with a Chinese team and won't be in the NBA this season.
There's one possibility we haven't covered. The Battier Scenario. It's a simple idea. Sign a veteran small forward, and develop Aminu under him. This obviously could refer to multiple players, but Battier is who I had in mind when I thought of it. Give said veteran small forward a 2-3 year mid level contract, and hopefully by the time that contract expires, Aminu is ready to be our full time starter. Shane Battier attempted 4.4 shots a game last year, in compliance with our ideal numbers. Grant Hill shot 10 shots a game last year, but I think he would be willing to bring that down. I'm more concerned with his age; Battier at 33 can last to 35/36, can Hill at 38 last to 40/41? Andrei Kirilenko shot 8.4 times a night, still within the target range, and he is only 30. However, even though he is younger, Andrei has already shown a more severe decline in skill and athleticism than the 33 year old Battier or the 38 year old Hill.
If the Clippers sign Battier to a 2 year, 5 million a year contract, that contract will expire at the same time as Gomes' and Aminu's, allowing the club flexibility to either retain Aminu, or look elsewhere with the funds. In the meantime, Battier is a renowned defender and a savvy veteran without a history of injuries. He is a solid shooter, 38.5% on three pointers in his ten years in the league, allowing floor spacing for Griffin. A mid level contract in no way restricts the team in keeping its key assets. Battier doesn't take shots from the young stars, and he doesn't make mistakes, averaging 0.7 turnovers and 1.3 fouls a game last year.
Why not allow the young Aminu to develop? Al-Farouq is athletic, but he seems lost on the floor. That is something that a few years of maturity can help. So the obvious solution is to not make a rash trade for an overpaid wingman, to not splurge on a younger RFA, and to absolutely not stay with Gomes at the small forward. Sign a veteran to the MLE, and watch the young Aminu develop over the next couple of years.