There are three certainties in life: death, taxes and an NBA team taking a chance on Jeff Green at the trade deadline.
As you know by now, the Clippers sent Lance Stephenson and a lottery-protected 2019 first round pick to the Grizzlies in exchange for Jeff Green on Thursday. You may remember Jeff Green as the guy everyone thinks will be eventually be good but winds up just continuing to be Jeff Green. Is Jeff Green going to do things to make Clipper fans happy while he's here? Or is he going to drive everyone crazy?
There are already a few perceived negatives about this trade. Most notable among those is that the Clips are forfeiting a future first round draft pick yet again. Doc Rivers has repeatedly given up future picks in an effort to improve the current on-court product. This is surely a topic for another day, but the ability to deal draft picks is an inherent issue with a situation like Doc's with the Clippers. As the coach and GM, why should he care about a draft pick that won't even become relevant for another three years? His own contract is up before 2019, and Blake Griffin, Chris Paul and J.J. Redick may all become free agents in the summer of 2017. Doc's primary objective is to win now. As a result, he's doing things that he thinks will make his team better today, not tomorrow. It's never really a positive sign for a team to look like they're punting on the future, but Doc is going for it now. It's tough to blame him for that, considering that's the objective at hand for him.
Green's strange career to this point has garnered him the reputation as a bit of an enigma. Teams see his size (6'9") and skill set and hope against hope that he can finally put everything together. Now in his eighth NBA season, he actually peaked statistically during his second year as a pro. Back in 2008-09 for Oklahoma City, Green averaged 16.5 points and 6.7 rebounds a game while shooting nearly 39% from beyond-the-arc. Since then, though, his rebounding has dipped while his three-point accuracy has been all over the place. Some years he's near 36% from deep, others he's down near 30%. This year, he's at 30.9%. He's now 29-years-old. It's pretty safe to say by now that this is what Jeff Green will always be. More "just a guy" than "potential star." He'll have his moments that'll make you think, "Wow, he's finally getting it!" before disappearing for long stretches. Such is life with him.
Scoring is Green's best attribute as a player, even if he can be wildly inconsistent. He's scoring about 12 points per game on the season, but has seen an uptick in his production of late. Over the last 15 games, Green is averaging nearly 16 points on 47% shooting from the floor and 37% shooting from three. Is that the Jeff Green the Clippers will be getting? Probably not, but we can dream, right?
The question we really should be asking about this trade is: Did Doc Rivers make the team better? Not that it's exactly a high bar, but Green instantly becomes the Clippers' best small forward option. The SF merry-go-round has been spinning since training camp as no apparent solution was ever really able to establish himself.
Luc Mbah a Moute has been entrenched as the default starter since late November, but everyone knows he can't be playing big minutes in the playoffs. Stephenson started the year in the first unit (and fared pretty well!), but Rivers pulled the plug on that experiment after the team struggled to a 5-4 start.
Stephenson was a polarizing figure among fans during his tenure with LAC, due in large part to his perceived lack of opportunities. He was yo-yoed in and out of the rotation throughout the season, and was afforded a chance lately due to injuries to a few rotation players. He had his ups and downs when he was on the floor but it sure felt like he would find his way back out of favor once players like Blake Griffin and Austin Rivers returned from their respective injuries. So, if Lance was not going to be playing once the postseason rolls around, Doc figured he'd try and flip him for what he thought to be a useful part. The Grizzlies will reportedly keep Lance for the rest of the season, so here's hoping he's able to help them. By all accounts, Lance worked hard to earn a spot in the rotation for the Clips and he never publicly whined about his situation.
At the very least, Green gives the Clippers some offensive punch at a position they've been lacking it for years. Opposing teams won't be able to just ignore him on offense like they can with Mbah a Moute, which should give the rest of the starters more space. Now, LMAM can serve as a situational defender rather than a guy tasked with playing 20+ minutes a night. This is a bonus for L.A. The same can be said for Paul Pierce. Once Griffin comes back, Pierce really should be put on ice until the playoffs. If Pierce has anything left once the games really matter, great. If not, Green theoretically helps make up for some of that lost production.
So, did the Clippers get better? There's no way of knowing until we actually see how he's able to contribute, but on the surface this seems like a move that helps them today. Unlike a lot of other guys on the roster, Green isn't afraid to try and attack the basket (via NBA.com):
51.3% shooting at the rim isn't particularly good, but nearly 48% of his shot attempts come from that area, which is a plus. The only other current wing on the club that comes even close to that kind of distribution is Austin Rivers, with 43% of his looks coming from the area around the rim (per NBA.com). LAC is a very midrange/perimeter-oriented team, and adding another guy with the ability to put the ball on the floor shouldn't hurt.
Dumping the future pick will irritate a lot of people (rightfully so), especially considering Green will become an unrestricted free agent this summer. If they fail to win the title and Green subsequently bolts, they'll have likely wasted another pick with little-to-no benefit. The Clips do have his Bird rights, though, so they'll have that in their bag if they decide to try and re-sign him. Rivers has spoken fondly of Green (whom he coached in Boston), which makes it appear as though Jeff will be granted a legitimate opportunity to contribute. That's something Stephenson wasn't afforded, for some reason. Dan Woike of the OC Register says they plan on trying to bring him back during the offseason:
#Clippers expected to try and sign Green this summer. Acquiring his Bird rights was important part of the deal in their eyes.— Dan Woike (@DanWoikeSports) February 19, 2016
Will swapping little-used Lance Stephenson for Jeff Green be the move that catapults the Clippers over the Warriors? Considering LAC's fate lies primarily with its trio of stars, the answer is almost certainly no. Then again, if the Clipper coach didn't trust Lance enough to give him a major role, what's the immediate downside of picking up Green? Instead of a guy that probably wouldn't have factored much into the playoff rotation, the Clips now have a guy that should help facilitate guys like Mbah a Moute and Pierce falling into roles that make more sense for them than the ones they have now.
Most seem to view the rest of this season as a formality given Golden State's dominance. That said, the Clippers to seem to match up against GSW as well or better than any other team in the league, and the hope is that they're able to catch lightning in a bottle and dethrone the champs. Green's ability to play a couple of positions (small forward or small-ball power forward) could come in handy if the Clippers are to face the Warriors and their vaunted "lineup of death" once the playoffs arrive. If Green gives LAC even a slight boost in their quest to win a title, then it's been a worthwhile gamble.