The Los Angeles Clippers have been one of the strongest teams in the NBA this season, never dropping from the upper echelon of the Western Conference.
Lately, however, the team has been in a minor funk and for the first time all season, looking mortal. Part of this can likely be attributed to Chris Paul being in and out of the lineup recently. Even with a capable backup like Eric Bledsoe, it’s never easy to lose a player of Paul’s caliber and it’s never easy to adjust to different lineups on a night-to-night basis. With that said, this might not be only reason for the Clippers recent struggles; in fact, one of their biggest strengths could actually be more of a weakness that one might think.
I speak of the Clippers’ excellent depth. They are one of the deepest teams in the league, with a second unit that could their own against many of the weaker starting fives. Indeed, the presence of backups like Bledsoe, Jamal Crawford, Matt Barnes and even Lamar Odom is undeniably a great luxury. Unfortunately, as the season progresses, the Clippers will have to ask themselves a tough question: Do they have too many players?
When the season started it didn’t take long for the second unit to develop a lot of chemistry. Unfortunately, they’ve recently had to adjust to the reintroduction of key players into the lineup, which is making things a bit muddled. Grant Hill and Chauncey Billups have missed most of the season due to injury and in that time, the team has largely learned to function without them. This creates a clear conundrum; Hill and Billups are valuable players who deserve to get minutes, but the team is already working so well. How do you integrate them into the lineup without ruining the excellent chemistry and creating resentment among the players whose minutes get cut?
That’s the problem coach Vinny Del Negro will have to face in the coming weeks. The thing is, while the Clippers have many useful players, they probably don’t need all of them.
Take the small forward spot; do you really need Barnes, Hill and Caron Butler? Those are all capable players who all play the same position. It will be very difficult to successfully divide up the minutes between them.
The same can also be said of the two-guard spot, where Billups, Crawford and Willie Green all play. Crawford’s place as the sixth man is practically assured. He plays it too well for Del Negro to think of trying him out anywhere else. As for Billups and Green, that’s were some dissent could occur. The team has played well with Green as the starting two-guard, but he’s a decidedly limited player and a veteran like Billups might make more sense in the long run. So far, this has not been a problem due to Billups’ frequent injury problems. What to do when everyone is healthy, though? Once again, the Clippers find themselves with more players than they really need.
In general, this is a nice problem to have, but it could cause a considerable lack of cohesion playoff time. The presence of a definitive playoff lineup can be the difference between success and failure in the postseason and the Clippers may find themselves on the wrong side of that coin.
It would not be surprising to see them make some moves at the trade deadline. They have an overabundance of two-guards and wings, but could use a little more up front, where they lack any quality shooting big man. It wouldn’t be shocking to see Butler or Green get shopped for a power forward or center who’s a bit more accurate than DeAndre Jordan.
The Clippers are a great team, but in some areas they might be a little too stacked, to the point where some players are going to be unhappy when they don’t get the playing time they’re accustomed to. Maybe Del Negro will be able to convince those players to accept a reduced role, but it’s likely that the Clippers will be making some deals at the deadline, if only to clear out some space in their crowded locker room.
When they have a defined, logical rotation come playoff time, they’ll be glad they did.