TrueHoop: Chris Wilcox

The Clippers reverse course

December, 8, 2011
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
After Blake Griffin landed in the Los Angeles Clippers' lap in the summer of 2009 after a disastrous 19-63 season, the organization gradually committed itself to a rebuilding blueprint. This later became known to Clippers fans as "the Oklahoma City template," once the Thunder took off during the 2009-10 season.

The Clippers would build around their future superstar (Blake Griffin) and his trusty perimeter sidekick (Eric Gordon), both of whom were on rookie-scale contracts. In the meantime, the team stockpiled intriguing assets, such as DeAndre Jordan, Eric Bledsoe and Al-Farouq Aminu. The Clippers managed to unload Baron Davis for the shorter, less-expensive contract of Mo Williams. Though the front office had meager offers for Chris Kaman, they held onto their All-Star center with the appreciation that he'd fetch more as his contract nudged closer to expiration.

There were a couple of hiccups along the way. The draft pick they sent to Cleveland along with Davis projected to be in the 8-12 range turned into a Kyrie Irving, a stroke of bad luck (the lottery pick had only a 2.8 percent chance of landing at No. 1). But for the most part, general manager Neil Olshey exercised discipline and foresight. Rather than overspend for middling talent in a dash for the No. 8 seed, the Clippers took a waiver on low-cost options such as Gomes and Randy Foye during the summer of 2010. Neither set the world on fire, but the Clippers' primary objective was keeping the balance sheet free of clutter as Griffin and Gordon approached their primes, even if it meant visiting Secaucus for a couple more years.

By agreeing to a three-year with Caron Butler, $24 million deal, the Clippers have taken a detour from their planned route. A franchise that's been protective of its cap flexibility will now pay $8 million to a small forward who is coming off a severe knee injury and has posted a player efficiency rating (PER) of 13.77 and 14.25 each of the past two seasons, respectively. Since the 2005-06, Butler hasn't played more than 67 games in a single season.

D.J. Foster of ClipperBlog took a look at where Butler stands, three months shy of his 32nd birthday:
Here’s the biggest problem with Butler -- [Butler] is a high usage scorer. Butler’s career usage rate (the percentage of offensive possessions used by a player during his time on the floor) is 22.7 percent. Last year in an injury-shortened season on a championship Dallas Mavericks team, it was at 25.1 percent. That ranked him seventh in the NBA for small forwards, ahead of guys like Paul Pierce and Rudy Gay. Short version: Caron Butler uses a lot of possessions.

... With Chris Kaman coming back healthy and demanding a big chunk of the looks (he hasn’t passed up an open 15-footer since, oh, 2005), and Gordon and Griffin demanding more possessions if anything, where are all these shots for Butler supposed to generate from? Who loses all those possessions?

... Let’s say, despite all that, you’re sold on Butler as the scorer the Clippers need. Sixteen points a game at 44 percent shooting is nice. He’s got a nice midrange game and can slash. OK. I’m with you.

But if the priority is placing shooters around Gordon and Griffin — and unless something has changed, it is — then why add Butler? Prior to what can probably be labeled as a statistical outlier (43 percent in 29 games last season), Caron Butler was a 31 percent career 3-point shooter. On his career, he’s attempted less than two 3-pointers a game. He’s not a deep threat or a spot-up shooter by any means, and he doesn’t really stretch the floor because all of his damage is done in iso situations, off his own jab steps. If you want to chase good 3-point shooting numbers in a small sample size, Al-Farouq Aminu’s start to last season works just as well.

The Clippers don't have a legitimate ball-mover on the floor to help jump-start their gummy 23rd-ranked offense. Now they'll have a player at the small forward position whose assist rate ranks below the likes of Kaman, Zach Randolph, Chris Wilcox and Corey Maggette.

Is Butler an upgrade over Ryan Gomes? Yes, so long as he's in uniform -- something he often isn't. The small forward market is dwindling by the hour, so it's likely the Clippers felt the urgency to do something at the 3 spot. But for a team that hopes to add a max player alongside Blake Griffin (who, himself will demand a max contract before the expiration of Butler's deal) and needs to find money to retain Eric Gordon and DeAndre Jordan in the next year, the cap hit for an aging small forward with a high injury risk and ball-stopping tendencies doesn't conform to a model of smart team-building that have made the Clippers relevant and potentially on the cusp of something bigger.
Mike D'Antoni should be thinking draft position. John Paxson should be thinking extension for Ben Gordon. Think Mo Williams and Delonte West will snap out of their slumps? Think long and hard: 

Mike D'AntoniMike Kurylo of Knickerblogger: "[T]he Knicks should concede the rest of the season and use the remaining 15 games to prepare for next year. One way is to allow Nate Robinson to be the starting point guard (which may have already occurred). Another is to give minutes to Wilcox, Curry (if healthy), Samb, and Nichols in order to better understand how they may help the team...

And in the interim, playing the reserves would increase New York's standings in the June draft. While the only team that they might realistically pass is Indiana ... it's just as important for New York to not allow any of the teams ahead of them to improve their draft day position ... From any perspective the worst scenario would be New York passing all those teams in the standings without making the playoffs. If D'Antoni shifts his main focus from winning individual games to developing the end of his bench, New York would probably avoid such a undesirable fate."

Ben GordonMatt McHale of By the Horns: "Ben Gordon has been the Bulls' leading scorer for the past five seasons. That also happens to be the same number of seasons that Gordon's been in the league. But despite that fact, nobody knows yet whether he's even going to be in Chicago next season … and opinion is pretty firmly divided on whether or not John Paxson should spend any more of the team's precious salary cap space on him. That's too bad. I know BG is streaky and woefully undersized, but he brings it every night, and has been since his rookie campaign."

Mo WilliamsJohn Krolik of Cavs the Blog: "Mo appears to have hit some sort of a wall, because every other game it seems like his shot's not there, which suggests tired legs more than it suggests something mental keeping him out of his rhythm. Delonte, on the other hand, is in a major, major funk. He played gritty defense and got to the rim a few times, but his shot is off to the point he just can't buy one from outside the paint and he's not moving the ball right now. There's no option here -- we just have to wait for him to snap out of it, because we don't win in the playoffs without him. He's our Lamar Odom -- he's the difference between good and great for us."

Raptors Republic: Toronto fans are thinking draft.
Hoopinion: The Hawks brutalize Dirk Nowitzki.
48 Minutes of Hell: Some competing thoughts on the Spurs bench. 

(Photos by David Sherman, Larry W. Smith, Ronald Martinez/NBAE via Getty Images)

The Shootaround

February, 20, 2009

Chicago and New York were big players at the deadline.  The Spurs and Suns were non-players.  Who got played?  Read the tea leaves at the TrueHoop Network.

Brad MillerMatt McHale of By the Horns: "Are the Bulls a better team today? Yes.

Look, Rome wasn't built in a day. In fact, that McDonald's down the street? It wasn't built in a day, either. This wasn't a dramatic 'Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen to the Celtics' uber-makeover. (And how often do those even happen – let alone work out - anyway?) No, we didn't bring in a superstar. Or even a regular star, for that matter. What John Paxson did was address a few of the team's glaring needs while clearing future cap space for a strong run at a bona fide superduperstar in the [insert dramatic music here] Summer of 2010. That's win-win, right?

We needed more size up front, some interior defense and a center who can score. We got all that. Miller is hardly a defensive wiz, but he's at least got the bulk and veteran wiles to body up to opposing big men. He's not much of a post player, but he can shoot and pass as well as or better than most centers. And he seems genuinely psyched up about returning for a second stint with the Bulls...Miller's not a long-term answer. But he's a decent stop-gap. Especially if he's motivated, and it seems like he is."

Allen Iverson

Dan Feldman of Piston Powered: "Pistons president Joe Dumars did Chauncey Billups the favor of sending him home to Denver, and Iverson was the only Nugget who had a big enough expiring contract to make the deal work?

Well, Detroit has Iverson, and last night's game showed the upside of the move - at least until Dumars can parlay Iverson's expiring contract into somebody more valuable.

The game was the type of slow-paced, grind-it-out contest you see in the playoffs. And how many times have the Pistons lost a playoff game because they didn't have a player who could create his own shot?

From 1:30 left in the third quarter until the end of the game, Iverson scored 16 points. None of his baskets in that stretch were assisted.

Iverson, who finished with 31 points and seven assists, drove for layups, found pull-up jumpers and got to the free throw line. He didn't look 25. But he definitely didn't look all of 33, which he has for most of the season.

So even though Detroit lost to the Spurs, one the NBA's top teams, Iverson performance tonight is encouraging for the Pistons in playoff games.

That is, if they make the playoffs."

Mike D'AntoniMike Kurylo of Knickerblogger: "As for the Knicks' other deal, it's not necessarily who they got that makes them better. Larry Hughes is an aging slasher/defender who perhaps was never a great defender despite his reputation. Kevin Broom and I used to discuss Hughes' defense, and Broom thought that Hughes' gambles on the defensive end hurt the team. As for the slasher aspect, Hughes averaged 6.9 FT/36 in 2005 and that number has decreased in every full year since (5.4 in 2006, 4.3 in 2007, 3.4 in 2008). That means he's either not able or not willing to get to the hole more, which would explain his tumbling shooting numbers. This year has been a small rebound year for Hughes, as his TS% has increased nearly 60 points from last year (TS% 52.5%) But at this point it's possible due to the small sample size instead of a real improvement.

What's more important about the Bulls trade is that the Knicks unloaded three players for one. [T]he team has been playing shorthanded nearly the entire year. With two new roster spots freed, the Knicks can grab two players from the D-League to fit specific roles (shot blocker?, point guard?) that the team needs.

In both of these deals New York has given up only one player who was in their rotation: Tim Thomas. The Knicks will be able to replace his role on the team with two players. The first is Wilcox who will give New York a big body to defend the post. The second is Gallinari who will provide scoring from the perimeter. Giving the rookie more playing time is the icing on the cake for the Knicks."

48 Minutes of Hell: Did the Spurs blow an opportunity?
Roundball Mining Company: How about Denver?
Valley of the Suns: Did Phoenix do well by doing nothing?

(Photos by Jonathan Daniel, Joe Murphy, Mike Stobe/NBAE via Getty Images)

The Untrading of Tyson Chandler

February, 18, 2009

Strangers were high-fiving each other in the streets in Oklahoma City. All was swell.

And then ... Tyson Chandler fails a physical and the fun's over.

Royce Young of the Daily Thunder:

Everything we were just getting so psyched about is gone. The "fearsome foursome" talk. The new nicknames. The optimism. Zapped. Gone. See ya. Well, the optimism isn't entirely gone because we're still on track with KD, Uncle Jeff and Russell, but the immediate optimism took a hit.

I have no idea what could be the reason this thing was ripped, but it's got to be something with Chandler's ankle. Maybe there's long term damage in there. Who knows. And who knows if Sam Presti will be back on the horn tonight trying to swing another deal at the deadline. All I know is that my head's spinning.

I think I speak for everyone when I say, this sucks. And I mean that in the nicest way possible Joe Smith and Chris Wilcox.

Tyson ChandlerIn New Orleans, the Tyson Chandler mourning period was just winding to a close. Ryan Schwan of Hornets247 had been pointing out that, despite his bitterness at seeing Chandler go, there was no arguing the center was having a bad year.

I think I've wallowed enough now. I'm not going to rip Shinn or Bower in this post. I'm not happy with what happened, but I don't have anything to say about it that hasn't been said in a dozen other places. It's time to move on and get to what we received and how it impacts the team. In other words, it's time to take refuge in numbers.

The first thing you have to remember is that Chandler, when he wasn't missing games, was actually playing fairly poorly. Chandler has only been in double figures in rebounding 13 times all season, he's missed 18 games, and his offense has been down and he's only been in double digit scoring 16 times this season. His rebounds per 40 minutes have been the worst he's ever averaged -- even worse than his rookie year. There have been a lot of reasons given for this -- his baby being born, his family being in California, his earlier knee injury -- but the fact remains, he's been having a terrible, terrible year.

Now Niall Doherty of Hornets247 writes:

I'm not sure. I'd like to throw a party to celebrate this, but OKC aren't sending Tyson back for no reason. Remember, they're not playing for anything this season, so they must feel that the injury is something that will affect Chandler's play beyond the next few months.

Best case scenario, the Thunder are being overly cautious and Tyson will be healthy and ready to help the Hornets make a good playoff run this season. Then we can worry about shedding salary in the summer, or perhaps put together a more fan-friendly trade before tomorrow's 2pm Central deadline.

Worst case scenario, Tyson has some serious health issues, meaning he can't help us on the floor and we're stuck with his contract. Then we might have to settle for a real ugly trade to avoid paying the luxury tax next season.

Now we learn a few things. For one, that it might be a tad awkward for Smith, Wilcox and Chandler to head home -- their teams just celebrated their departures!

And don't you think the Hornets wish, now, that they would have admitted the trade was about money? Instead, they told everyone they really wanted Joe Smith and Chris Wilcox. But hey, Tyson, buddy ... we didn't really mean that.

I wonder if perhaps we also learn a little something about why the Hornets may have been willing to make a lopsided trade. Not that they were trying to dupe the Thunder, but if the medical staff has long-term worries about Chandler, then that might be one more reason to make a move.

And while Thunder fans are the ones hanging their heads tonight, I wonder whether it isn't Hornets fans who find themselves in the bigger pickle. Now we know the Hornets -- a team on delicate financial footing -- are likely to be spending more than they think they should, and a lot of that will be going to a big man who has some kind of long-term health concerns. And even with a healthy Chandler, the Hornets needed another quality big man. The future was annoying after the cost-cutting trade that would cost the team a year of contention. But now, with money and health problems, the joy of Chandler's return has to be laced with a couple of profound new worries.

Peja Stojakovic, anyone?

(Photo: Glenn James, NBAE/Getty Images)