As we covered in prior posts, such as the Offseason Primer and the Potential Targets, the Clippers had a difficult task all along this off-season: fill out their rotation, and try to improve as much as possible, with a very, very limited set of tools.
Today, they used an option that most thought was unlikely heading into the summer: trading Spencer Hawes' three-year, $17-million dollar contract and Matt Barnes' partially guaranteed one-year deal for Lance Stephenson, a young, athletic wing player who had an awful season in Charlotte after showing All-Star level talent earlier in his career. In the eyes of an optimist, they bought low on a young player with star talent. In the eyes of a pessimist, they traded the guy who has been their only decent SF option for two years for a guy who was one of the worst players in the league last season.
Whether you're the optimist or the pessimist, the deal is done, and Lance is now the newest Clipper, and Doc Rivers has to adjust his off-season plan accordingly. With only 8 players currently under contract, the depth chart is now as follows:
|PG||Chris Paul||---||Lester Hudson|
|SG||J.J. Redick||Jamal Crawford||C.J. Wilcox|
|SF||Lance Stephenson||---||Jordan Hamilton|
The team has several key slots to fill, especially considering that three of the current eight players figure to be either not on the team or not in the rotation come November, as Hudson and Hamilton both have non-guaranteed deals and Wilcox is still a young project player. Essentially, between now and the start of the season, the Clippers need a starting center, and backups at point guard, small forward, power forward, and center. This can still change if Jamal Crawford (and possibly Wilcox) is dealt in another trade, but for now this is where the cards lie.
The most pressing need in the the starting lineup, with the best and easiest solution. DeAndre Jordan is an unrestricted free agent for the first time in his career, and the Clippers sorely need him back, which makes their ability to offer him more money and a longer contract than any other team very advantageous. There's no other options worth talking about here unless the unthinkable occurs.
Backup Point Guard
This position also has an incumbent as the favorite to return, as the coach's son, Austin Rivers, can be offered up to $3.1m in starting salary to return to the team. It's doubtful that any other team offers the 22-year-old guard more due to his low efficiency and lack of attentiveness on off-ball defense. However, his energy on the ball and surprising scoring bursts in the playoffs make him a no-brainer to return. If Crawford is dealt, however, Rivers could also play minutes at SG, opening the door for the taxpayer mid-level exception or a minimum salary to be used on another point guard.
Backup Small Forward
Along with the search for a third big, this has been the Clippers' constant off-season need for years. Even with Barnes overachieving last season, the Clippers never had a reliable backup, often rolling with a three-guard lineup, a d-league call-up(Jordan Hamilton), or an old man with awful shot selection (Hedo Turkoglu). It's clear that none of these options are ideal in a world where the NBA finals is being played between teams that often play three or four wing players at a time. Look at the Warriors, rolling out Steph, Klay, Barnes, Iggy, and Green. Where is the Clippers' legion of 6'6"-6'9" versatile wings? This opening is a chance to add one, either by trading Jamal Crawford or using the taxpayer mid-level exception with a starting salary of $3.4 million. The targets, as discussed in the potential targets post, include names such as Al-Farouq Aminu, Mike Dunleavey Sr., Gerald Green, and Paul Pierce, although the likelihood and fit of certain candidates has changed with the Stephenson addition.
Backup Power Forward
This position features a weak incumbent, Big Baby Davis. While Davis is a serviceable NBA big who plays with heart and has a strong relationship with Coach Doc Rivers, his lack of height and athleticism leave him ultimately limited as a player, and when Spencer Hawes shot his way out of the rotation last season, Davis wasn't always able to pick up the slack as a third big. Fortunately, with Hawes gone, the Clippers can search for a more reliable backup C and limit Davis to the fourth big, a role that he fits perfectly. Due to having his early bird rights after two seasons with the team, the Clippers can offer Davis up to around $5 million this off-season, which will be more than enough to secure his services as well as potentially provide salary filler for a future trade.
With no incumbent, the Hawes trade has left this position tied with backup SF as the Clippers' most wide-open rotation slot. The Clippers need an impact player here just as badly as they do on the wing, if not worse. However, with only the mMLE to use and two players to be signed, it appears to be growing likely that one of these positions will be underwhelming unless another trade is made or a diamond in the rough can be found at the minimum. If the Clippers choose to use the taxpayer mid-level on a backup center, they should target a high-motor big man who has the size to play center as well as the quickness to play power forward. This isn't inclusive and these names aren't all great fits, but some players who will be considered could be Brandon Bass, Amar'e Stoudemire, Ed Davis, Jordan Hill and Amir Johnson. There are also others who are sure to be in the mix when the team looks to replace Hawes.