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Is There a Solution at Small Forward?

Amid the reports of a possible trade between the Clippers and the Sixers involving Chris Kaman and Andre Iguodala, a thought that has been percolating in my brain has now bubbled to the surface. It's pretty obvious what the Clippers' biggest problem is at the current time - they desperately need a quality small forward, as the collection of second and third tier veterans and one young rookie they had manning the position last season is clearly not sufficient on a contender.

If the problem is obvious, the solution is far less so. Because who exactly qualifies as a quality small forward these days? Taking into consideration the expense associated, there's nary a three in the league that could come to LA issue-free.

Actually, that's not entirely true. There are exactly two small forwards that are great players and clearly worth every penny of their salary: LeBron James and Kevin Durant. Of course, the Clippers made their run (such as it was) at LeBron last season, and neither of these first team All NBA performers are actually available at this point. So one has to look elsewhere for the potential solution for the LAC.

Some might put Carmelo Anthony into the same category as James and Durant in terms of talent level and value; I personally would not, but the point is moot since Carmelo is no more available than his fellow All Stars.

Ah, All Stars. That what the Clippers need, right? An All Star small forward. What's surprising as you look a little deeper is that the league is simply littered with small forwards who have made the All Star team at one time or another. The problem is, either they're no longer at that level, or some cases simply weren't that good to begin with.

By my count, there are fully 16 small forwards currently in the NBA that have made at least one All Star team, a baker's dozen beyond James, Durant and Anthony. Obviously many are way past their prime. It is also true that some on the list are tweeners, but that's the nature of the three to some extent - smack dab in the middle of the basketball lineup, most are either biggish shooting guards or smallish power forwards if you really think about it. But the fact remains, there are a slew of them. Here's the list I came up with of former All Stars who could play the small forward:

Andrei Kirilenko, Shawn Marion, Peja Stojakovic, Grant Hill, Richard Hamilton, Paul Pierce, Gerald Wallace, Rashard Lewis, Antawn Jamison, Danny Granger, Josh Howard, Caron Butler, Ron Artest and Richard Jefferson.

In addition to those high visibility names, there are also a few Team USA members out there, another potential measuring stick of quality; those include a couple of unrestricted free agents in Tayshaun Prince and Shane Battier, as well as Rudy Gay and the current center of attention, Iguodala.

So, amazingly, in a league that often seems devoid of quality small forwards, there are in fact about twenty of them that have been either All Stars or Team USA members. Weird.

And while James and Durant and Anthony are not in any way on the market, many others on the list absolutely are. In addition to Prince and Battier, Howard, Butler, Stojakovic, Kirilenko and Hill are all unrestricted free agents. Meanwhile, Granger, Hamilton and of course Iguodala are all being shopped by teams eager to move on without them, if the rumors are to be believed. So there's no shortage of players the Clippers could conceivably target as their new three.

Neil Olshey has implied that with so many players under 23 already on the roster, he'd like to acquire a veteran at the small forward position. That's all well and good - but then again, Grant Hill will be 39 before the season starts, and one presumes that there is some age cut off when you're considering signing a player to a multi-year contract. Olshey has also spoken of leadership and 'Championship experience' - frankly, he always sounds to me as if he's describing Prince - but there are myriad considerations at play here.

What kind of small forward do the Clippers need for their team? Well, with Blake Griffin and Eric Gordon already in place as cornerstones of the franchise, and theoretically entrenched as scoring options 1 and 1a, it doesn't need to be a volume scorer. In fact, it needs to be a player who is OK being a third option or lower. Ideally it would be someone who can hit a three, spreading the floor for Griffin and benefiting from kick outs. And of course it needs to be a player who does all the little things well - a lock-down defender, a better than average rebounder for the position, a passer and playmaker. So we're not asking for much, right?

So even though there are some talented players theoretically available, not all would necessarily be great fits. One such example would be Josh Smith. Supremely talented (and a guy who probably should have been an All Star although he has not yet had the honor), Smith is more of a four than a three. You don't want him shooting threes, so he wouldn't help spread the floor, and while he's a good playmaker from his position, he's not good enough that you'd want the ball in his hands all the time. Meanwhile, he's not really a great perimeter defender, which is one of the main things the Clippers should be looking for.

Given the players apparently available, it's not surprising that Iguodala has emerged as a person of interest to the team. The talented Mr. Iggy ticks most of the check boxes on the Clippers' wish list. He's a great perimeter defender and a terrific playmaker. With Mo Williams and Randy Foye really shooting guards forced to play the point because of their size, Iguodala is actually good enough to run the team as a point forward for significant stretches. He's not a particularly good shooter, so he's less than ideal in that regard. But he'd be perfectly comfortable doing all the little things, and letting Griffin and Gordon get the bulk of the shots. In the end, he'd be a terrific fit.

But don't forget that there's a reason that Philadelphia is shopping him. The Clippers after all are looking for him to be something of a third banana, but the six year, $80M contract he signed in 2008 pays him like a first banana. The Clippers would be taking on three years and $43M of that deal, which is two more years and also more money than Kaman is making. The Sixers apparently want out of that deal - should that give the Clippers pause as they're considering getting into that deal?

Rumors being rumors, it's hard to know what is real, but if the Sixers truly have a choice between Kaman from the Clippers and Monta Ellis from the Warriors in exchange for Iggy, one would expect that they'd take Ellis, who is both younger and more productive. But if this deal is all about reducing payroll, then Kaman is more attractive since he's only got the one more year, as opposed to three seasons left on Ellis' contract. Marc Stein's reporting on the Sixers-Clippers talks have said that Philly is looking for more sweetener from LA in the deal. Just how much remains to be seen, but I wouldn't think it would take too much more if they are motivated to save the money they owe Iguodala.

In the end, Iguodala's a little too good not to pursue agressively. Pretty much any available small forward has warts of some sort, if only of the contractual variety. But the stated goal has been to acquire a quality starter at the three, and in the wake of a traded lottery pick turning into the first overall, there's certainly urgency to make a high impact move (though of course the proposed trade is not in any way dependent on dealing Baron, but I digress). The fact that Iguodala twit-portedly loves the idea of playing for the Clippers is just the cherry on top. So if it takes some sweetener to get the deal done, then sweeten away. Al-Farouq Aminu? Fine. One or both second round picks this year? Absolutely? Eric Bledsoe? Hopefully it doesn't come to that, but my gut tells me that Olshey would balk at that.

Of course, this could all be nothing. Perhaps this is just a rumor and nothing more. Maybe the Sixers decide to stick with Iguodala one more season. Or maybe they find a different trade they like better. Assuming that Iguodala does not become LA's starting three, what's plan B? Who do you go after at that point? My feeling is that Olshey will target free agents Prince, Battier and Kirilenko, in that order. Oh, and there's a dark horse free agent with a very familiar name that hasn't been discussed much: Mike Dunleavy Jr. Any of them could be good signings - at the right price. But in terms of fit, they're all a big step down from Iguodala.