The Los Angeles Clippers have Chris Paul's verbal (and twitteral) commitment to return next season, so it's time to turn the attention to other priorities. After a season of injuries and erratic play from Chauncey Billups and yeoman's work from the solid by far from spectacular Willie Green, the Clippers feel they need an upgrade at the shooting guard, and that is were much of the focus will be in the coming days.
There are essentially two means for the Clippers to achieve that upgrade -- via trade or via free agency using the mid-level exception. It's very early in the process, but so far the rumor mill has churned out two names: Tony Allen and O.J. Mayo.
Mark Heisler says that the Clippers are making Allen a priority:
Adrian Wojnarowski says that Doc Rivers has taken an interest in Mayo:
Once, Doc Rivers was close to coaching O.J. Mayo in Boston. Late last night, he talked to Mayo about possibility of playing for Clippers.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojYahooNBA) July 1, 2013
Of course these two players are closely linked from their days playing in Memphis. Mayo was at one point, along with Rudy Gay, supposed to be a future cornerstone of the Grizzlies franchise. But he was displaced as the starter in Memphis by Allen, a move that not by accident coincided with a significant improvement in the team that saw them make the playoffs for the past three seasons and advance to the Western Conference Finals for the first time in franchise history last season.
Mayo was in Dallas last season where he signed a two-year, $8M contract. He opted out of his second season, indicating that he and his agent believe that he can earn more than $4M this season.
Allen just completed his ninth season in the league and is coming off a 3 year, $9M contract with the Grizzlies. Given his success the last few seasons as arguably the best perimeter defender in the league, he'll probably be looking for an even bigger pay day, but at 31 teams may be hesitant to throw too much money at him. Allen began his NBA career in Boston where he played for Rivers for six seasons; in fact, that's where he first established his credentials as a top perimeter defender.
The Clippers would dearly love to have wings that can stretch the floor by knocking down perimeter jumpers, and the contrast between Mayo and Allen could not be more stark in that regard: Mayo made better than 40% of his three pointers last season, hitting 142 in all; Allen made three. Allen is a truly terrible shooter who does NOT provide any sort of perimeter threat. He may be the worst shooting guard in the NBA.
But man can he play defense. The Clippers were much improved last season defensively, but still did not have anyone of the team that you would consider a defensive stopper on the perimeter. Eric Bledsoe is a very disruptive defender, but he lacks the size to defend bigger guards, and he takes a lot of chances that result in some easy baskets. Allen is as good as perimeter defenders get in the NBA -- he is the equivalent of a lock-down corner in the NFL. No one can take the great perimeter scorers completely out of a game, but Allen comes close.
It's far from clear that the Clippers have much of a chance at either of these players. L.A. would probably prefer not to spend their entire MLE on one player since it's all they have to sign free agents, Allen and Mayo are looking to get paid this summer, and they will have other suitors in a thin shooting guard market. But it's rare that you have such a complete body of evidence for comparison purposes. Your eyes may tell you that Mayo would be a good fit for the Clippers -- he looks like an NBA shooting guard, and he can actually shoot (which is part of the position name, after all), but given the choice, the Clippers should clearly take Allen. There's no doubt that Memphis made the correct choice of Allen over Mayo, and Allen would be a better choice for the Clippers as well.
The comparison of Allen to Clipper free agent Matt Barnes is an interesting one as well. They are similar players in some ways -- they move well off the ball, get their points cutting to the basket, they are both tough competitors. Barnes is a good defender -- but let's face facts, he's no Tony Allen. Happily, he's also not Tony Allen on the other end -- Barnes hit 111 three pointers for the Clippers last season hitting better than 34% from deep. He's not a great three point shooter, but at least he's an option, where Allen would not be. And whereas you would expect Allen to be good filling a wing on the break and finishing at the rim, Barnes is also better at those things. Allen shot just .445 from the field last season, despite the fact that he rarely shoots from the perimeter. In fact, Allen's shooting percentage has dropped for three straight seasons -- a disturbing trend for a guy who wasn't a good shooter to start with.
While we're on the subject of the backcourt, I had an alternative approach while looking at the depth chart on LJ's free agency post the other day.... In many ways, the Clippers are strongest at guard heading into the season. With Paul, Bledsoe, Jamal Crawford and Green all signed, it's a little strange that we're looking at the backcourt as a problem area compared to other spots. There are reasons for this of course -- Crawford has had huge success in his NBA career coming of the bench, Bledsoe is not really a two, Green is still a stop gap, so it's logical to conclude that the team lacks a bona fide starting two. But would the team benefit from thinking outside of the box on this one? Rivers is said to be at least intrigued by the idea of playing Bledsoe more; do the Clippers really need more backcourt minutes than Paul, Bledsoe and Crawford can provide if healthy? Maybe the resources should be spent on upgrades elsewhere, and Rivers should focus on finding a way to have three of his impact players make an optimal impact next season. The shooting guards available in free agencies are all flawed and will be expensive -- if the Clippers had to get by with Paul, Crawford, Bledose and Green, it wouldn't be their biggest problem next season.