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NBA Saturday: Clippers Add Versatility With Offseason Moves

After almost losing DeAndre Jordan and having a ‘F’ offseason, the Clippers now feature a deeper, more versatile roster.

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Clippers Add Versatility With Offseason Moves

The 2015 NBA offseason has been as entertaining as any offseason in recent memory. From the 2015 NBA Draft, to the San Antonio Spurs bolstering their already formidable roster, to teams spending huge money on free agents in anticipation of the rising cap, to the DeAndre Jordan saga, there has been a lot of entertainment and change across the NBA.

Perhaps no team better represents those dynamics than the Los Angeles Clippers. Less than two weeks ago, Clippers shooting guard J.J. Redick joined Nicole Zaloumis and Ric Bucher on Bleacher Report Radio to talk about his team’s offseason. At the time, Redick had less than flattering things to say when asked to grade the Clippers’ offseason up to that point.

“F. Is there an F minus?” Redick told Bleacher Report Radio. “Listen, we had one priority this summer, and that was to re-sign [DeAndre Jordan], and we missed out on that. So barring some miracle, [the] makeup of our team is completely different now.”

Of course, at the time Redick was referring to the fact that Jordan had reportedly committed to signing a four-year, $80 million deal with the Dallas Mavericks. Jordan’s decision left the Clippers without their third best player, defensive anchor and little flexibility to recover from his departure. However, just two days after he gave his harsh assessment, Redick jumped into his car and drove from Austin to Houston to meet with Jordan at his home after it had become clear that Jordan was reconsidering his commitment to sign with Dallas. Redick and other key members of the Clippers discussed lingering issues with Jordan, and the night culminated with the big man signing a new four-year deal to stay in Los Angeles.

With Jordan back in the fold, the Clippers’ offseason quickly went from disaster to surprisingly productive. Let’s remember that before the Jordan drama, Clippers president and head coach Doc Rivers traded Matt Barnes and Spencer Hawes to the Charlotte Hornets in exchange for Lance Stephenson.

Stephenson is coming off a massively disappointing season in Charlotte. He was acquired to help take a budding Hornets team to the next level, but instead struggled with recurring injuries, didn’t fit well next to Kemba Walker and lost the ability to hit any shot with consistency. With his stock at its lowest, Rivers took the opportunity to trade for Stephenson on the hope that he will rediscover his versatile skill-set that made him a borderline All-Star with the Indiana Pacers. Also, Stephenson’s deal is pretty favorable since there is a team option for next season.

This deal set the stage for the Clippers’ offseason strategy. At Stephenson’s introductory press conference, Rivers made it clear what he was looking for in terms of rounding out the roster.

“Well, we need to add players,” Rivers said. “Obviously, we just gave two for one, so that means one more. We still have a lot of work to do. I don’t want to say what positions, I think it’s pretty easy to figure out. But we’re going to look for the best players. We don’t really care about the position as much as others. We feel like we have to get deeper, we have to get more athletic, we have to add toughness, we have to be a better defensive team.

“Offensively, we were not broke last year. Defensively, we were in the middle of the pack, even though in the second half we were really good. But we want to be a consistent defensive rebounding team that can score.”

Last season it was apparent, especially in the postseason, that the Clippers’ lacked depth, as Rivers stated. The starting unit was one of the best in the league, but the reserves would often quickly surrender any leads the first unit generated. In the playoffs, the Clippers suffered inconsistent performances from key players like Matt Barnes and Jamal Crawford, and relied on meaningful contributions from players like Austin Rivers and Glen “Big Baby” Davis.

To address this, with little financial flexibility, Doc Rivers managed to add Stephenson, Wesley Johnson, Paul Pierce, Cole Aldrich and Josh Smith, while retaining Jordan (fortunately) and Austin Rivers.

Pierce, age 37, likely will fill in for Barnes as the starting small forward. While Pierce doesn’t quite fit into the description of players that Coach Rivers mentioned at Stephenson’s press conference, he is a former champion with a ton of playoff experience (as well as experience with Rivers from their time together in Boston). Pierce is not afraid to take big shots in high-pressure situations, and is a strong veteran leader who should help manage the personalities in the locker room. Also, he gives the Clippers something that they desperately needed last year, which is another player besides Paul who can create his own shot. The Clippers’ had a potent offense last year, but when they really needed a basket, opposing teams knew the ball would be in Paul’s hands, even though Crawford is capable of creating his own offense as well. With Pierce, the Clippers now have another starter that teams will have to scheme for in game-deciding plays.

With Stephenson, Pierce and even Johnson now in the fold, the Clippers have more skill, length, defense and versatility on the perimeter. Then factor in the recent addition of Smith, who played for both the Detroit Pistons and Houston Rockets last season, and things get even more interesting for the Clippers. After building a reputation for taking bad shots and washing out in Detroit, Smith’s shortcomings as a player now seem to overshadow his unique skill-set. At his best, Smith is a big, versatile forward who can handle the ball, occasionally knock down a jump-shot, make surprisingly accurate passes, rebound and protect the rim. With Smith, you take the good with the bad. There will certainly be nights where he drives Rivers, Paul and Clippers fans insane with his shot selection, but at the veteran’s minimum, he is an absolute steal. If the Clippers were looking for a power forward who has a similar skill-set to Blake Griffin, they couldn’t have done much better than Smith (though he obviously isn’t as effective as Griffin).

One of the biggest differences between this roster and last season’s is versatility. As Coach Rivers mentioned, choosing players based on positions doesn’t seem to have been the main priority. As a result, the Clippers now have a Swiss-army knife type of roster where the team can throw out various lineups for different situations, mixing and matching shooters, play-makers, athletic bigs or athletic wing-defenders. Versatility, along with shooting, is one of the key elements that made the Golden State Warriors so dominant last year. Their wing-players could switch aggressively, cross-match, wreak havoc on opposing ball-handlers and jump passing lanes for steals. With Paul, Rivers, Johnson, Pierce, Smith, Griffin and even Branden Dawson, who the Clippers acquired 56th overall in this year’s draft, the Clippers now have several players who can chase opponents on the perimeter and switch effectively on pick-and-rolls. The Clippers won’t be the Warriors defensively, but Coach Rivers now has more options to work with.

However, the roster isn’t perfect. With Smith and Jordan, the Clippers now have two players who are prime candidates to be intentionally fouled by opposing teams. The team still doesn’t have a true backup point guard, and will have to figure out how to share reserve play-making duties between Rivers, Stephenson and Crawford (who could be potentially traded later in the season considering the new additions and the fact that his contract is expiring). Pierce is still solid, but at 37 years old he is certainly an injury concern and his minutes will probably be suppressed to keep him fresh for the postseason. But considering where the Clippers were less than two weeks ago, it’s hard to argue with how Doc Rivers has revamped his team.

With little financial flexibility, Rivers had to take some serious gambles by acquiring players with strong personalities and some serious flaws in their games. However, if he can manage to utilize the best traits of his players, make them a cohesive unit on both ends of the floor and keep their personalities in check, the Clippers could be a scary team next season.

Of course, they’ll still have their work cut out for them with teams like the Warriors, Spurs, Rockets and Thunder all primed to be Western Conference contenders next season. But at least now the Clippers will have a legitimate shot at competing with the best teams in the league. Considering that, it seems very likely that if asked to reassess the Clippers’ offseason, Redick would give a much different response than the one he gave less than two weeks ago.

Jesse Blancarte is a Deputy Editor for Basketball Insiders. He is also an Attorney and a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

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