For years, the Clippers struggled to find a fit at small forward. Jared Dudley certainly wasn't it, and after Matt Barnes was applied as a short-term band-aid, no subsequent experiment was close to as effective as the journeyman energizer. While the Clippers certainly could have used an upgrade, they didn't need to go in a different direction. Barnes was an athletic defender who slashed to the basket and made spot-up threes at a decent rate. What are the Clippers looking for besides that? All they ever really wanted was someone a little more athletic, a little better at defense, and a little better at shooting threes.
So, when it comes to finding the correct replacement in free agency, isn't the answer obvious? Find the next Matt Barnes. Players of his type aren't necessarily coveted around the league--when the Clippers originally signed him, it was months past teams rounding out their rosters in free agency, and he came for the league minimum. Even after being successful, he signed a three-year deal worth only about $10 million, which is surprisingly low for a solid, starting-caliber veteran.
Hoopshype has 41 free agents who are listed as small forwards on their top free agent rankings. Of those, many are out of the Clippers' price range, either due to their star caliber or restricted free agency. Several free agents that remain targets include Paul Pierce, Mike Dunleavy Jr., and others, but let's focus on players in the Matt Barnes mold: undervalued small forwards who could potentially be a fit on a minimum contract.
Here are 5 Barnes-esque names in free agency that could likely be had for the minimum: Tayshaun Prince, Francisco Garcia, Alonzo Gee, Landry Fields, and Mickael Pietrus. Here are the career per 36 numbers for each of these 5 players contrasted with Barnes:
Tayshaun Prince, a veteran who used to be one of the most renowned defenders in the league with Detroit, will turn 36 next season, adding to the Clippers' age on the wing. However, small sample sizes have made his three-point shooting questionable in recent years: he shot 29% in 2014 and 46% in 2015, both on under 70 attempts per season. Furthermore, his spot-up shooting has always been in a much smaller quantity than Barnes' last season--Prince hasn't shot even a third as many triples per minute in over 5 years. What Prince does bring is veteran leadership, Championship experience, and the length and size to play both forward positions. But, with his best years behind him, he may or may not have something left to bring to the table as a starting small forward.
Garcia, the second-eldest player on the list, only played 14 games last season buried on the bench of the Houston Rockets, and hasn't played 60 games since 2009 due to being relatively injury-prone. However, he's always been a decent three-point shooter while shooting at a high rate (almost 5 attempts per 36 for his career at 35.7%), and in his mid-20's he was a reliable 3-and-D wing option. If he can be reclaimed to his level of production from 2008-2010, where he was consistently above 39% from deep, he could be a huge addition at the minimum.
Pietrus, who was a memorable contributor in Orlando, where he made the finals with Dwight Howard (and current Clipper Hedo Turkoglu), has been out of the league for two seasons after bouncing around after a couple of deep playoff runs in Orlando. According to Hoopshype, he recently resurfaced in Puerto Rico, and could get an opportunity from an NBA team. It makes sense, as the former 11th overall pick could still have life as a low-mileage 33-year-old who hasn't played 1,000 minutes since 2011. Slightly undersized at SF, he's a 6'6" wing who defends well and has been a solid three-point shooter, with a career average of 35.5% (though he has shot as high as 39% from deep in a season).
Landry Fields is an example of a young reclamation project. After a breakout rookie season in New York as a subplot to Linsanity, he began to struggle in his sophomore campaign, and then was signed away from the Knicks on a 3-year deal worth over $18,000,000 that the Raptors would almost immediately regret. He was already overpaid as Toronto attempted to lure him as a restricted free agent, and an ensuing elbow injury furthered the disaster. All in all, in three years and for $18.75 million, Fields played only 107 games for the Raptors, making only 3-21 shots from deep and playing only 500 minutes the last two seasons combined. Can the promise he showed as a young 3-and-D wing in his rookie season be capitalized upon? Forgetting the small sample size in Toronto, he's still a respectable 33% from deep in his career, and his rookie season he shot 39%. It's likely that his rookie year was just a blip on the radar, but if Doc Rivers believes that there's a chance that the Stanford product can be that player again, Fields could be a minimum-salary target.
Lastly, Alonzo Gee, who has had the least NBA success of any on this list, but may have the best upside. At 28 years old, only Fields is younger in this comparison, and Gee hasn't had the same troubles recently. A journeyman already, Gee has played for 5 teams in 6 seasons after going undrafted, but he's a defensive-minded wing who is a career 33% from deep. His per 36 numbers of 11.8 points and 5.4 rebounds are incredibly similar to Barnes' 12.1 points and 4.8 rebounds last season, and Barnes is only six tenths of a percent better from deep over their careers (although Barnes of course had a unexpectedly good year shooting the ball last season at a clip above 36%). After bouncing around with D-League teams, and being traded multiple times, Gee could find himself in a similar position as Barnes did in 2012: without suitors, and ready to excel as a minimum-salary player on the Clippers.