Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Instant Trade Analysis: Chris Paul to the Los Angeles Clippers

I've always heard that the emotional, initial snap judgment that any person ever has is usually the most rational and sound reaction possible. That all being said, let's get on with the tradition of MAMBINO's instant analysis. Chris Paul has just been traded to the Los Angeles Clippers of Anaheim. Wow.

Clippers get: G Chris Paul
New Orleans gets: G Eric Gordon, F Al-Farouq Aminu, C Chris Kaman, Minnesota's unprotected 2012 1st round draft pick

As a condition to the trade, Chris Paul has to opt-in to his 2012-2013 player option that will pay him roughly $18 million dollars. With the re-upping of DeAndre Jordan and the contract of Caron Butler, the Clippers are up chafing against the salary cap and no doubt making owner Donald Sterling sweat blood.

I see a couple ramifications of this trade, many of which make my heart sad. Let's get on with them:

1) First and foremost, this makes David Stern right to block the Lakers-Houston-New Orleans deal last week as "owner" of the Hornets. I was so disgusted with myself for typing that that I just became one of the 99% and pepper-sprayed my own face.

The haul of Gordon and the first rounder alone is better than a Luis Scola/Lamar Odom/Goran Dragic/Kevin Martin package. I've watched Eric Gordon for years as a part of my hopeless NBA addiction (thus leading me to watch Clips games whenever the Lakers weren't on) and I could see the guy morphing into a Brandon Roy type of two-guard. He loves playing defense, cutting to the rim, getting physical and has an almost unreasonable amount of confidence. However, even more versatile than Roy, Gordon is a reliable sharp shooter with a quick release.

With an expected starting lineup of Jarrett Jack - Eric Gordon - Trevor Ariza - Emeka Okafor - Chris Kaman, New Orleans will no doubt be one of the worst teams in the league. But with two lottery picks and a bunch of young guys with upside, I'd expect this team to be at least decent in 3 or 4 years, when they'll probably be relocated to Seattle or Kansas City. Unlike the Lakers' deal, this gives the team great assets going forward, as opposed to two front court players in their thirties and Kevin Martin, who has already proven he's not a player to build around. David Stern knew there was a better deal to be had, stayed patient and he definitely got it. More pepper spray, please.

2) Clippers: This represents a huge gamble for the Clips. They raided their depth and gambled their future on a guard with a bad knee supporting a front court star with equally bad knees (is this just word for word the same post as last week?). In giving up Gordon, Aminu and what is sure to be a top 10 pick in a loaded draft, the Clippers are in ultimate "win-now" mode. They have two years to convince Chris Paul and Griffin to stay (Paul will be an unrestricted free agent and Blake will have the right to sign a long term extension), and every single move they make has to be of the right now kind. The margin for error is slim, and I'm sure Paul and Blake are thinking that anything other than a playoff series win (or maybe two) is not acceptable.

Their starting lineup on Christmas Day will most likely look something like this:

PG Chris Paul
SG Chauncey Billups
SF Caron Butler
PF Blake Show
C DeAndre Jordan
Bench: G Mo Williams, G Randy Foye, G Eric Bledsoe, F Ryan Gomes, F Brian Cook

This leaves the Clips razor thin upfront, with their next best front court options being Ryan Gomes (who's 6'7") and Brian Cook, who hasn't had a rebound since 2003. Their backcourt looks conversely pretty healthy, with a young Eric Bledsoe, Foye and Mo being able to take up minutes from Chris Paul (bad knee), Chauncey (35 years old) and Caron (coming off major knee surgery). The Clippers are going to have to make some shrewd veteran signings, seeing as they have 5 spaces to fill and virtually no cap space. The thought here would be to maybe trade Bledsoe or Mo for a big man, so they'll do better than guys like Jamal Magloire and Joe Smith.

Even as a gamble, the Clippers had to make this deal. They had a deal for the best point guard in the league staring right at them, a guy whose skills would make DeAndre Jordan's contract look worthwhile and could make Blake Griffin into a top 10 MVP candidate. The front office has such a long history with bungled draft picks and terrible trades that in a moment of irony, they traded their three of their four best first round choices from the last 10 years (or maybe ever!). Just making this deal shows Blake that the team is serious about being proactive and building around him, rather than doing the usual Clippers business of sitting in the lab and waiting for the stars to align. In that case, the Clippers have had Stephen Hawking's theories down, but have actually had Stephen Hawking setting up the lab. It was never going to happen.

Without this trade, we would have all looked at this Clippers team and thought (as we did here at MAMBINO) that this is a nice low-seed playoff squad, but nothing more than first round fodder for the Lakers, Mavericks or Thunder. With this trade, and the proper accompanying moves to bolster the Clips front court, this should be at least a 5 or 6 seed in the West, even as high as a 3 or 4. Chris Paul instantly becomes the best player ever to grace the Clippers' easily forgettable history, and gives the Lakers' ugly younger brother a relevance not had since 2006. I just got finished typing a post about how Albert Pujols, Arturo Moreno and the Angels are swinging the balance of power in what has been a traditional Dodgers marketplace in Los Angeles. Barring the deadly specter of the Clippers Curse (not something easily dismissed), I could be typing the same post about the Clips in a few months time. Fascinating times we're in. GOOD GOD WHY IS THERE NO MORE PEPPER SPRAY.

Now for an aside: how does this affect the Lakers?

With both Chris Paul and Dwight Howard off the market (in Howard's case, off the market for now), the Lakers are stuck having made a nonsensical Lamar Odom deal in exchange for assets that would only be good in a mega-trade scenario. The team depleted its front court and took a key member of their championship puzzle off the team, and exacerbated the problem by trading him to one of their biggest competitors (see my Dallas Mavs Burning Question from earlier today for further thoughts on the Lamar trade).

Now, the strategy has to be to wait for Dwight Howard to ask for a trade in March. D12 tabled any request to move, saying that he wanted to win in Orlando, and was willing to see what the Magic will do to improve the team. Looking at the Magic's roster as currently constituted, their best trade assets are Jameer Nelson, Daniel Orton and JJ Redick and have almost no cap room to make free agent improvements to the team. To get Dwight to stay would take a stroke of unforseen trading genius by GM Otis Smith, with a boneheaded fellow GM to help facilitate the trade. The changes to Orlando's roster will be cosmetic at best, and I can see a distracted Magic team hovering around .500 in the dead of winter. Hopefully (for me and Laker Nation), this could lead to a panic trade featuring Dwight and another high salaried Magician for Bynum, Barnes and two picks.

Whether it was the plan or not, the Lakers are going to have to wait this one out. Patience is going to have to have to do for Lakers fans for now. Clipper Nation understands this, and were just rewarded after years and years. Hopefully the Lakers will soon follow suit.

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