Wednesday, July 1, 2009
The Clippers Find A Willing Taker
Posted by Kevin Arnovitz
The last time Quentin Richardson was a member of the Los Angeles Clippers, the Clips were a promising, young squad that included Elton Brand, Corey Maggette, Bobby Simmons and Chris Wilcox. Next week, Richardson will be shipped back to Los Angeles as nothing more than filler in a deal that will send Zach Randolph from the Clippers to Memphis. It's a seemingly inequitable trade -- the 20/10 in Randolph for gimpy, marginal Richardson -- until you look beneath the surface:
The NBA's salary cap structure is usually unforgiving of teams that made the kind of miscalculation the Clippers did on Randolph last season. But the Clippers have been leading a charmed existence over the past six weeks. First Blake Griffin lands in their lap, and now they find a willing sucker for Zach Randolph.
Two Clips passing in the night.
(Ray Amati via NBAE/Getty Images)
- The player that matters most in this trade is neither Randolph nor Richardson, but the Clippers' No. 1 pick, Blake Griffin. Randolph is a single-minded post scorer who likes to work on the right block -- precisely where Blake Griffin is slated to build his NBA career as a monstrous big man. For the Clippers, moving Randolph clears the way for Griffin, where he'll play alongside Marcus Camby, Chris Kaman and Griffin's pal, the intriguing DeAndre Jordan.
- For the Clippers, moving Randolph isn't just about clearing minutes -- it allows the franchise to press rewind on what was a disastrous cultural acquisition in Randolph. Although Randolph's selfishness, disinterest on defense, and questionable off-court character were no secret, Mike Dunleavy felt he had to find a frontcourt scorer after the Clippers lost Brand to Philadelphia. He pushed all in on Randolph, absorbing three years and approximately $45 million in exchange for a couple of 2010 expiring contracts (Tim Thomas and Cuttino Mobley). Randolph put up his usual solid offensive numbers, but the Clippers still finished the season with a horrendous 19-63 record.
Worse, the team descended into a lazy funk. Though the blame can't be attributed solely to Randolph, the Clippers had to endure Randolph's sucker punch to Louis Amundson (resulting in suspension) and a drunk driving arrest (also resulting in suspension). For an organization that did an admirable job reshaping its image the preceding half-dozen years or so, 2008-09 was a disheartening setback -- and Randolph was at the crime scene.
- By shipping Z-Bo out of town, the Clippers move the remaining two years and $33.3 million of his contract. Richardson stands to earn only $9.35 million in 2009-10, and his contract expires at the end of the season. He might get some burn on the wing. With his bad back, he might not. For the Clips, it's of little import. The move gives them significant cap room for the summer of 2010, when both Marcus Camby and Ricky Davis will also come off the books -- nearly $20 million.
- That brings us to the obvious question: If Randolph is so inimical to an NBA team's rebuilding effort -- as determined by the Clippers, and New York and Portland before them -- why does Memphis want him? The answer, as it was for the Clippers in November of last year, is that there aren't a lot of available power forwards who can score and rebound the way Randolph can, and the Grizz need some production down low.
If you want to take a glass-half-full approach, you can look at a couple of mitigating factors in Memphis. Randolph's worst qualities on the court are his ineffectual interior defense and his tendency to become a black hole in the offense. With Hasheem Thabeet, Memphis has a big man who can protect the rim and compensate for Randolph. And in Marc Gasol, they have a complementary big who knows how to move the ball out of the high post. In addition, if there's one team in the NBA without cap concerns, it's Memphis, which has only $17 million committed in salaries after next season.