The Los Angeles Clippers have had a relatively quiet summer thus far. Since the NBA free agency officially started on July 10 and the restriction on signing players to contracts was lifted, the Clippers have addressed two needs by signing point guard Jordan Farmar and backup big man Spencer Hawes.
With regards to his change of address and team, Hawes commented:
“Even taking a little less money, this opportunity was too exciting to pass up. I’ve had a taste of the playoffs before, but being a part of this team will be just incredible. You get to a point where you really realize what’s important, and I was thinking: ‘What would my 12-year-old self have done? What would he prioritize?'”
It was this opportunity and what they’re building with the Clippers.
Although the Clippers possessed the league’s best offense (in efficiency) last season, their work isn’t done. They’re not finished making moves by a long shot; however, a lingering need to fill small holes doesn’t necessarily mean Doc Rivers and company will be hasty and impulsive.
They’re faced with the harsh truth of needing to upgrade the roster to compete in a Western Conference Finals next season, however slow and steady is the key.
Signing Hawes with the mid-level exception pushed the Clippers to the cap, and as a result they don’t have much wiggle room left. Although most of the world’s attention has shifted to LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, there are still a few key free agents the Clippers can zero in on and secure with a veteran’s minimum or through trade.
There’s too much incentive for free agents to move out west. Hollywood, sunshine, warm weather and the major market that L.A. is all makes the Clippers an attractive destination.
Never mind that the future of the franchise itself is currently in the middle of a tug of war in the Los Angeles courts. At the moment, that’s not important.
Devoid ownership status, the Clippers is still a hotbed for free agents, and there are holes remaining that Rivers and his crew will need to address (preferably) before training camp.
First, the Clippers will need a backup big off the bench who’s capable of emulating DeAndre Jordan‘s effort on defense. Long arms are key here, and a love for the defensive end of the floor.
Names like Ed Davis or Epke Udoh come up when you think of big men who are capable of holding down the paint in relatively low minutes. Neither Davis or Udoh roll off the tongue comfortably, and neither has garnered much respect in the league thus far.
However as Blake Griffin and Hawes will fill up the scoring column for the Clippers, the team will need another big whose concentration lies on the defensive end of the floor. The Clippers struggled to get stops late in games (especially the postseason).
A second big man will toughen up the paint, and help the fast gunning team get into transition offense.
Next, the Clippers will need a lock-down defender. There’s two ways to accomplish this upgrade: via trade or direct signing from free agency.
One guy who might be up to the task is Chris Douglas-Roberts, who last played for the Charlotte Hornets (previously known as the Bobcats) and was a thorn in the opposition’s side in every contest. His athleticism, long wing-span, quick feet and ability to get off the floor makes him a great fit for Rivers’ defense.
The Clippers D relies on quick rotations and team work, which makes everyone accountable from point guard to center. His offensive game hasn’t been the juggernaut many believed it would be due to his athleticism, but as a defensive presence to bother the likes of Kevin Durant or Kawhi Leonard, the Clippers would improve drastically with Douglas-Roberts in the lineup.
Another aggressive defender that would be great is Lance Stephenson. In his fourth year, “Born Ready” averaged 13.8 points and 4.6 assists.
The 23-year-old 6-foot-5, 230 pound guard brings a lot to the table. Although he’s been labeled the “head-case” in Indiana, he’s still a triple double machine. As a Doc Rivers project, Stephenson could mature into the role that nets him his first All-Star appearance and wills the Clippers past teams that have strong wing play.
Acquiring Stephenson would require a sign and trade with the Pacers, being that the Clippers have already eaten the majority of their cap space.
A trade for Stephenson would likely require Jamal Crawford, young guard Reggie Bullock and some combination of Matt Barnes or Jared Dudley. A small price to pay for the hard-working stat-stuffer that is Stephenson.
Regardless of the direction the Clippers move in, they’ll need to address these issues to claim what most feel is their destiny — a Western Conference Finals berth. Adding these core elements are key to moving in a positive direction and propelling the team into title contention.