What does the signing of Nate Robinson to a 10-day contract tell us about the Los Angeles Clippers? Potentially a lot.
You can quibble with the Clippers "strategy" for improving the roster, but the simple fact is they didn't have a lot of options. So the strategy, such as it was, was to hope that a useful player would become available at the veteran's minimum after a buyout. The Clippers position of need is, was and continues to be small forward -- but with apologies to Dahntay Jones and Jordan Hamilton, no wing of significant use ever hit the market.
The Boston Celtics were somehow able to convince the Detroit Pistons to actually trade for Tayshaun Prince (much to Prince's dismay and potentially misleading him) while Andrei Kirilenko's heart was no longer in the NBA and he returned to his native Russia to play for CSKA Moscow. It's far from clear that either Prince or Kirilenko would have provided much help on the wing for the Clippers, but obviously those were the kinds of names Doc Rivers was expecting to sift through. Even Ray Allen, though not a small forward, could have provided a decent fit on the wing for the Clippers, but he opted to stay retired. In the end the players that matched the profile of what Doc dreamed he could get -- former All Star wings with something left and a desire to chase a ring with a contender -- never materialized. Prince and Kirilenko and Allen were always out there as possibilities, which only adds to the frustration as the Clippers might have been counting on one of them as a fall back strategy.
So instead a team that has a major weakness in defending high scoring wings has now signed a 5'9 instant offense player who can't defend anybody.
It's only a 10 day contract, and it may wind up being about that short term of a solution. With Jamal Crawford currently out of action with a bruised shin, the Clippers actually need his former Rainier Beach teammate right now. However, when Crawford returns, Robinson -- essentially a much shorter version of Crawford himself -- will have little or no role on this team.
With Hamilton just beginning his second 10 day contract as well, the real question is what will the Clippers do when it comes time to make these guys permanent. NBA rules don't allow more than two consecutive 10 day contracts, so in a little over a week, the Clippers will have to offer Hamilton a real contract for the remainder of the season or say goodbye to him, and that same decision will come up for Robinson another week after that. With 13 players already under contract and the trade deadline long passed, those two last roster spots are the Clippers only recourse for improving before the postseason.
As it happens, tomorrow (March 8) is the next deadline, the date by which a player must be released in order to sign with another team and be playoff eligible. In other words, the inventory of available upgrades becomes carved in stone in about 24 hours. So the Clippers will know more or less whether they can do better before they have to make a decision on Hamilton and Robinson. But the question is: does either Jordan Hamilton or, for instance, John Salmons, really move the needle? And sadly the answer is no.
While Crawford is sidelined (and we don't really know how long that will be), Nate Robinson is very useful as a bench scorer. While Matt Barnes is out (hopefully not much longer), Hamilton is necessary and has played relatively well all things considered.
But it all underscores this reality for the Clippers -- this is the more or less the team they're taking into the postseason. At this point it's a matter of hoping that Blake Griffin, Barnes and Crawford are all back and 100 percent (and that no one else gets hurt) before the playoffs start. When they're back the rotation will not include Hamilton or Robinson or even Dahntay Jones for that matter. With the lone exception of Austin Rivers (a deal which was in large part an admission that Jordan Farmar was a disastrous signing), the Clippers will enter the postseason with the same rotation that began the season.
Contrast that with last season when Hedo Turkoglu, Glen Davis and Danny Granger were all added via veteran's min deals mid-season. Clearly none of those three were world beaters, but they all made contributions as rotation players in the playoffs last year. I'm certain that Doc Rivers' felt he could find similar resources this season, but counting on the buyout market to solve your roster problems is an inherently risky strategy, one that did not work this time around.