When I first saw Steve Perrin's post regarding the "best LA Clipper trade ever", I, like Steve immediately thought of the 2005 Marko Jaric/Sam Cassell trade. Not only did it bring the remarkable Sam Cassell to the Clips, it also led to the memorable 2005-06 playoff run, it brought the term swagger to the Clipsnation lexicon, and it brought the famous "Minny pick", which we were to study and debate for the next six years.
But is it really the "Best. Trade. Ever" for the Clips? Was it better for the Clips than the Elton Brand for Tyson Chandler trade? Chandler was a new draft pick who would take a few years to establish himself, and though his career accomplishments include a championship, he is nowhere near the long-running all-star franchise player that Elton Brand was for the Clippers. Let's not forget what Elton Brand represented for the Clips. He was the team's leading scorer for five years (and he often led the team in rebounding as well). His offensive prowess, as un-athletic and often homely as it was, carried the Clips (in concert with Sam Cassell) to that 2005-06 playoff appearance. Was it better than the Gordon/Kaman/1st round pick/Chris Paul trade in 2011?
With all due respect, Elton Brand and Sam Cassell are not Chris Paul. Chris Paul is one of the top five players in the NBA. Brand and Cassell (at least the 36-year old version) were and are not anything close to that. Chris Paul impact on the Clippers has been extraordinary and immediate. The Clippers went from winning 32 games in 2010 to winning 50 in 2010 (adjusted for the lockout-shortened season). They're winning percentage went from .390 to .606. In comparison the 2004-5 team won 37 games, the 05-06 team won 47. They went from a rate of .451 to .573. Even by the finite measure of a single-season results, the Paul trade was superior.
Of course the trades are vastly different and if your criteria for the best trade is that it should be the most lopsided, then that trade is the best. Sam Cassell and the Minny pick came to the Clippers for a small pile of parts. The Paul trade of course, cost the Clippers heavily, a number one pick (the same, dearly-loved Minny pick), the somewhat uneven services of Chris Kaman, the previous years eighth pick, Al Farouq Aminu, and most regrettably Eric Gordon. Gordon, of course, was and is a valuable player. He could ultimately be one of the two or three best two-guards in the league. But he isn't yet... and may never be. The argument that the Minnesota first round pick should be evaluated as Austin Rivers is specious. The Clippers traded a draft pick with which they may or may not have picked Rivers. They might have picked a better player... or a lesser player. We don't know.
The argument that we can't measure the trade until we see more long distance results might be true, but it contains too many shifting values that have nothing to do with the trades themselves. Will Chris Paul leave the Clippers after this year? If he does it won't be probably be because the Clippers failed to keep him. Should we evaluate the trade as Gordon, Kaman, Aminu, and the pick for eighteen months of Chris Paul. Maybe. But isn't two (hopefully successful) seasons of Chris Paul better than one season of Sam Cassell and a future first rounder? Conversely, if Austin Rivers, or Eric Gordon (or both) become all-stars, those issues have to be separated from the value exchanged on the day of the trade. And on the day of the trade, the value exchanged between the two teams was heavily in the Clipper's favor.
I was, of course, at the time of the trade, publicly negative about the swap. I thought the pick and Eric Gordon were too expensive a price for Chris Paul. Well.. after a season of watching him first hand, I have to admit I was completely and utterly wrong. Not only is Chris Paul measurably one of the best players in the league, he brought with him a layer of "intangibles" that immediately made the Clipper team something more than the sum of its parts. His confidence, and his will-to-win are extraordinary. He completely embodies the concept of "making his teammates better".
Now it's interesting to obverse that the last player to join the Clippers with a similar layer of intangibles was Sam Cassell. But Cassell was 35-years-old when he arrived at Staples Center, and sadly, his influence over the Clipper's ability to win only lasted that one (wonderful) season. Chris Paul is 26 years old, and by all measures has a decade left in the tank. He's ALREADY done more than any player to improve the Clippers in a single season... and who knows how high he might lift them from here on in.
But Paul's impact on the franchise is also tangible. Despite that 2005-6 playoff run, before Paul's arrival the Clippers were still the butt of the joke... victims of cheap, short-sghted ownership, a team with a despicable, sad history, an emblem of failure. Chris Paul (and Blake Griffin) changed all that. Unlike Griffin, who arrived by chance, Paul chose the Clippers. He's here (for the moment anyway) because he wants to be here. If he was half the player he is, you'd still want him on your team because of the positive spin he brings to your franchise. Paul has turned the Clippers around, and not just on the court.
The trade that brought Chris Paul to the Clips: Best. Trade. Ever.