Currently, the Chris Paul-led Clippers have the second-best record in the NBA, trailing only the seemingly unbeatable Oklahoma City Thunder. But while such success would normally dictate that a team not do a damn thing to disrupt their chemistry in any way, Los Angeles may not be prepared to abide by such a notion.
According to Sam Amick of USA Today the Clippers remain a viable landing spot for the aggressively shopped Rudy Gay of the Memphis Grizzlies:
While it remains unclear how determined the Memphis Grizzlies and their new management group are to move their star small forward before the Feb. 21 deadline, a package involving Clippers backup point guard Eric Bledsoe and veteran small forward Caron Butler, picks and other players to make the money work could be just what the Grizzlies are looking for (three teams may need to be involved). It’s clear they are on the lookout for an upgrade over reserve point guard Jerryd Bayless, and Butler would fill Gay’s small forward spot – albeit not nearly as well. The Clippers, I’m told, would consider Gay but are also justifiably wary of doing anything to affect the chemistry that has played such a big part in their season.
You shouldn’t be.
This isn’t the same Clippers team that willingly heaved a pile of money at Elton Brand or Baron Davis. Instead, this is a Clippers team, backed by a suddenly frivolous owner in Donald Sterling, that is prepared to do whatever it takes to win and retain the free-agent-to-be in Paul this summer.
At this point, it’s hard to imagine Paul spurning Los Angeles’ red-jerseyed stepchild in favor of anyone else, yet that hasn’t stopped the Clippers from exploring every possible scenario that could better their current convocation, including the pursuit of Gay.
Yes, Gay is expensive—he’s owed more than $53 million over the next three seasons—but he’s a borderline star. I mean his 17.8 points per game are no joke. Albeit, neither is his career-worst 41.4 percent shooting.
As such, color Los Angeles confused.
On the one hand, this team doesn’t want to mess with a good thing. The Clippers are one of two teams (San Antonio Spurs) that sit in the top five of both defensive and offensive efficiency. Why on earth would they want to screw that up?
They don’t, and they won’t. Yet acquiring Gay may not screw that up.
Los Angeles’ weakest point is obviously the small forward spot. This team is set in the post with Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, and even Ronny Turiaf. The Clippers are also more than set in the backcourt with Paul, Jamal Crawford, Willie Green, Eric Bledsoe and Chauncey Billups upon his return. Toss in the ever versatile Matt Barnes, Grant Hill, Caron Butler and Lamar Odom, and this team has it made.
That said, while guys like Barnes, Hill and Butler are all capable small forwards, neither provides the athletic punch Los Angeles boasts at every other position. Hill is constantly injured and Barnes—while improving—remains inconsistent. Knowing that the Clippers have a surplus of depth in the backcourt and could put together a package around guys like Bledsoe and Butler, only heightens the intrigue around a potential Gay deal.
Moreover, the 32-year-old Butler is scoring just 9.9 points on 41.7 percent shooting, production that pales in comparison to the 26-year-old Gay’s 17.8 and 41.6, respectively. So while the Clippers may be worried about Gay’s efficiency, Butler shoots nearly the exact same percentage from the field.
Which means this is a deal, provided the price is right, that Los Angeles has to pull the trigger on, even though its already winning at an incredible piece.
Butler isn’t doing much of anything on either side of the ball anymore and, in Bledsoe, the Clippers have a young asset who they will never utilize to the fullest extent of his potential. Not only are these guys thus expendable, but Memphis might actually be able to provide them with more important roles. Plus, the Grizzlies are contenders themselves.
Normally, I’m against tinkering with a winning formula. Truth be told, however, this team hasn’t proven it can win in the postseason either. I mean, it’s not as if they’d be breaking up a long time winner like the Spurs here.
Simply put, sometimes you have to take risks. The current Clippers are living proof of that.
They took in risk in latching onto Paul without any long term guarantees and that, by all accounts, is going well. They took a risk signing Odom and Crawford over the offseason, and both have started to exceed expectations. And they took a risk by bidding adieu to Mo Williams and Randy Foye, two key cogs in their machine from last year. Again, look how that’s turned out.
No, Gay isn’t guaranteed to thrive in Los Angeles, but he’s far from a lock to fail either. He’s never had the luxury of playing alongside a point guard like Paul so, if anything, he stands to make an already borderline unbeatable Clippers team even better.
And that’s the type of tinkering a winning faction should never be opposed to.
Dan Favale is a firm believer in the three-pointer as well as the notion that defense doesn’t always win championships. His musings can be found at Bleacherreport.com in addition to TheHoopDoctors.com. Follow @danfavale on Twitter for his latest posts and all things NBA.