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NBA Off-Season 2017: Five Thoughts on the Danilo Gallinari Acquisition

Some things I like, some things I don’t like.

New Orleans Hornets v Denver Nuggets Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

Last night, reports came out indicating that the Clippers would acquire Danilo Gallinari in a three-team sign-and-trade. The Denver Nuggets, Gallinari’s former team, are re-signing and trading Gallinari to the Clippers in exchange for a second-round pick from the Atlanta Hawks. The Hawks will receive Jamal Crawford, Diamond Stone, and Houston’s 2018 first round pick from the Clippers.

And so, the Clippers have landed the big name that they’ve sought on the wings for years. Ironically, it came just a week after the departure of Chris Paul, the superstar point guard who these various wing targets had for years been intended to complement. Still, as the Clippers press forward post-Paul, gaining strength at the wing positions was a necessary part of creating greater offensive balance.

Overall, I’m relatively indifferent regarding this deal. Here are five things that I like or dislike about the acquisition:

Like: Gallinari is awesome

Seriously, this has to count for something. He’s a very good basketball player and, by all accounts, a cool and funny dude. At 6’10”, he’s capable at both forward positions, and he averaged 18 points a game last season while shooting 45% from the field, 39% from deep, and 90% from the free throw line.

Part of the deal with this year’s Clippers team will be that, for the first time in a long time, the pressure will be off. Sure, there are some expectations: especially after this move, they’re expected to at least make the playoffs in a Western Conference that has grown only stronger in the last month. But beyond that, there isn’t the same pressure to compete with the best teams in the league and contend for a championship.

I’m looking forward to the 2017-18 Clippers being fun. For the last few years, L.A. has own a lot of games, but it has been almost brutal—narrowly holding on to leads against inferior teams as, inevitably, they endured 82 games to find themselves in a worse-than-expected playoff seed, followed by a letdown in the post-season. This year, the expectations are simply a playoff berth. Win 40-something games, try to avoid the 8-seed so you don’t have to get swept by the Warriors. When the expectations are lowered, the players will be able to relax. We’ll see Patrick Beverley and Austin Rivers playing exciting, aggressive basketball. Blake Griffin will shine. And Gallinari gives the Clippers a ton of possibilities for small, floor-spacing lineups. Will they be flawed? Sure. But it’ll be fun.

Dislike: Defending wings will be sketchy

This is going to be a rude awakening from the Luc Mbah a Moute era. While the Clippers figure to have one of the better defensive backcourts in the league with Patrick Beverley and Austin Rivers, and DeAndre Jordan provides them with a first-class center, they’ve lost some defensive prowess at the forward positions. We all know that Blake Griffin is solid when engaged, but not much more. With his increased offensive workload, he could have a James Harden-esque season on the defensive end.

Gallinari is probably a similar caliber of defender—average or slightly above average. His size, length, and smarts keep him capable in most match-ups, even though he isn’t a stopper in the vein of Matt Barnes or LRMaM. Following his many injuries, he’s lost a step—both going to the basket, and defending laterally on the perimeter. As a result, Denver utilized him at power forward for over 60% of his minutes last season. While he’s sure to play some small-ball four with the Clippers, he’ll also play a lot at small forward, including late in close games when Griffin and Jordan occupy the PF and C positions.

Like: The contract

So, $65 million over three years is a lot. Like, a lot. But all things considered, this overpay isn’t the worst thing in the world. In exchange for his massive payday, Gallinari gave the Clippers a very team-friendly deal. First of all, three years is much more palatable than four for any player, and the Clippers will have his bird rights at the end of the third season.

Before then, though, the last year of his contract is likely to be non-guaranteed. This means that after playing his first season with the Clippers, he’ll be an expiring contract in year two—and then again in year three. That means that his deal is very movable, and they can even release him after two seasons if things aren’t going well and they can’t find a suitable trade. In that scenario, they’d have room to make a big addition again in the summer of 2019, when Jerry West’s favored wing Klay Thompson will be an unrestricted free agent.

Dislike: Injuries

This is probably the biggest drawback with the Gallinari addition—he doesn’t play very many games. I joked when the news broke that I’m excited to see Sam Dekker start 30 games at small forward next season, and I wish I was joking.

In his last six seasons, Gallo has only averaged 48 games played. He’s only played 70 or more games twice in his career, and after missing the entire 2014 season he’s played 59, 53, and 63 games in the last three years, respectively. There are only so many different ways to put it: the dude gets hurt a lot. It’s part of what’s holding him back from making a whole lot more money this summer.

Like: Staying Relevant

It might not be contending for a championship immediately, but it’s something. The Clippers are still going to win plenty of games and continue building their organization and culture. They might even win a playoff series or two in the Gallinari era.

That’s a helluva lot better than 20 wins, a semi-permanent spot in the league’s cellar, and restoration as the laughingstock of American sports.