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The Clippers trade for Chris Paul: The Other Shoe and Unnecessary Risk

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The Chris Paul trade saga is over – with Paul being traded for Eric Gordon, Minnesota’s 2012 1st unprotected, Al-Farouq Aminu and Chris Kaman. In other words, David Stern got everything he wanted from the Clippers.

Including Eric Gordon in this trade was a failure by the Clippers. Not because Paul isn’t worth assets like that. But because the Clippers were largely bidding against themselves. Where did the Hornets have to turn to as leverage? Unlike the Magic, they almost surely couldn’t make Paul play this season – the cord between the player and the franchise had already been all but severed. Paul didn’t appear interested in resigning in either Boston or Golden State. Only the Lakers/Houston deal and their Kevin Martin and Luis Scola package was sitting out there

And it was incredibly obvious that taking the Minnesota draft pick over those players was the direction Stern wanted the Hornets to go. Teams that trade a star in this fashion commonly want to start over and draft young future stars on rookie contracts – which the Hornets are now in a great position to do.

Here’s the problem with this trade now: If Gordon was kept, not a lot would be put on the table by the Clippers. Their future was in fine shape as long as a superstar Griffin and the best under 25 SG and possible superstar Gordon remained on the team, and Deandre Jordan at center nice to have too. The Minnesota pick was a luxury, but not a necessity long term. Trading it for Paul was a relatively low risk, high reward move – the right move.

But with this move the Clippers are legitimately risking that sure bet for long term prosperity – and it certainly is a risk. Paul’s health concerns are real. You have two menisci in your knees, which provide an essential cushion in a run and jump sport. Paul has one removed and faces much less protection in his knee than most players. More than Brandon Roy did after he had to remove his at around the same time as Paul’s, but “Brandon Roy’s knee condition, but less extreme” is not a good phrase for the Clippers. Furthermore, if Paul can play 70 or 80 a games a year despite the knee, there’s still a reasonable chance that it’s the Paul we saw last year who’s driving to the basket virtually was cut in half – I’d argue that was more of a top 15 player and 3rd team All-NBA player than a superstar. And that’s not mentioning Paul’s free agency in 2 years. For the record, I’d be surprised if he left.

Since the Blake Griffin lottery win has made the Clippers appear headed for relevance, all of us have been asking “When’s the other shoe going to drop?” Can you imagine anything more Clippers than emptying the bank for Chris Paul and then seeing his career collapse to injury? It’s tempting the beast. It’s the one way the franchise could open themselves for the dark road downward, again. The possibility is there – and it’s scary. And it was completley unnecessary because with patience and negotiating strength, the Hornets would have had no choice but to accept the offered Minnesota pick, Aminu, Bledsoe, Kaman as a package – which was on its own, perfect for a team looking to start over. This is not about whether acquiring Paul was the right move for the Clippers, it surely was – It’s about a complete failure in negotiating against David Stern and the NBA by a franchise that can’t help but make failures. The “Ok we’ll throw in all these extra pieces-yestakethistoo-Just make the trade-all-I-want-is-the-best-player” type philosophy that this trade appears to be made with reminds me of Isiah Thomas’ method.

Finally, I wanted to add one more side reason why the Clippers stunk up the joint here. One of the reasons I liked the Clippers this season even without the Paul trade was the Deandre Jordan-Chris Kaman combination. With the rarity of productive 7 foot Cs in the league, having two is a big advantage that they lost with this trade. At the same time, the Clippers have a completely expendable 3rd starting PG in Mo Williams, paid about the same as Kaman. It’s easy to connect the dots – How nice would it have been for the Clippers to trade Mo Williams to the Hornets instead while keeping Kaman and their twin tower C rotation? Surely if they were competent, they could’ve received that concession from the NBA in return for throwing in Eric Gordon to the trade, if they even considered the extra value of a starting C in Kaman in comparison to a dime a dozen starting PG in Mo at all. It’s a small move, but if the Clippers hope to contend for an NBA title – They have to be succesful making these small moves. What smart teams realize is that if you hit a home run with no-one on base, it’s all fine and well and puts a run on the board – But if you hit a home run with 1 or 2 drawn walks or singles beforehand – That’s what blows open the game. Nobody will talk about the Clippers trading Kaman instead of Mo Williams, but if the Clippers end up 1 or 2 metaphorical runs away from a title run, it’s something to remember.

As for the Hornets, it’s impossible to understate how swell they made out here. When trading a superstar who is a free agent in a year and wants out – and whom you essentially  have to trade due to a botched trade – anything other than “rip-off” deals should be surprising. This should’ve been a Charles Barkley out of Philadelphia, Vince Carter out of Toronto situation where the team just got lit on fire by the brutality of the rest of the league smelling blood. To get the best under 25 SG in the league in Gordon, a valuable starting center in Kaman (giving them 2), a 2009 top 8 pick in Aminu and a probable top 5-7 pick next year? That’s outstanding. Dwight Howard, who is a better player and completley healthy – is probably getting traded for Brook Lopez (who’s headed for a Kaman like career), a few 25-30 draft picks, and um… that’s about it. The Paul return will blow Howard’s out of the water if he goes to the Nets – against all logic and odds.

The Clippers may have finally arrived. I’m glad to see Paul on this team. But I can’t help but feel a much, much greater victory was right there in front of them – teaming up Paul, Gordon and Griffin. May lady luck finally be on their side this time.

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Written by jr.

December 15, 2011 at 12:21 pm

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