Berry Tramel

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Oklahoma City Thunder: Thoughts on Clippers & Rockets

by Berry Tramel Modified: November 13, 2013 at 1:45 pm •  Published: November 13, 2013

Jon Hamm, our resident expert on the NBA collective bargaining agreement and frankly, lots of things NBA, chimed in again today. It’s great stuff, as always. I’m not going to sit on stuff this good. Time to share, sprinkled with my own thoughts in bold.

“Hi Berry, I threw together some thoughts this morning. I listened to the most recent Thunder Buddies podcast on the way to work today. I’m ecstatic that such a podcast exists. I love listening to knowledgeable people talk about the NBA and the Thunder. Sure beats driving in silence and thinking about this stuff to myself, as I’ve often done.”

Hey, great plug for the podcast. A.C. Slater and RFD (Darnell Mayberry) do a podcast every week, and I join them on occasion. You can find the latest one right here.

“I had a few thoughts about two teams mentioned in the podcast: the Clippers and Rockets.

“I’ve had concerns about the Clippers all along. More to the point, the guy I trust least in that organization is the owner, Donald T. Sterling, noted discriminator and cheapskate. I still consider it a thousand wonders that Chris Paul didn’t bolt the organization after last season, and a thousand wonders more that Doc Rivers agreed to coach there. Adrian Wojnarowski, who is tapped into the NBA better than the NSA, wrote a revealing piece recently detailing how Sterling likes to meddle with things. The feel-good vibe in the red and blue side of the Staples Center is ripe for destruction at any time as long as Sterling is around.”

I’ve been saying this for years. That’s why I’m perpetually down on the Clips. But I was puzzled as to why both CP3 and Rivers cast their lots with Sterling. Were they given assurances that Sterling would stay out of the way? And what kind of an assurance can an owner give? He answers to no one.

“The Clippers aren’t a bad team, but there are structural issues. J.J. Redick in the starting lineup is one example. He’s a lights-out shooter that has spent most of his career excelling as a one-trick specialist off the bench. He’s also historically a woeful defender (I picked the word woeful because one definition of the word is ‘of wretched quality’). Behind him is fellow defensive matador Jamal Crawford. That kind of non-participation on defense makes it awfully tough on teammates. The Clippers would do well if they could find a way to swap Crawford for a player similar to Thabo Sefoloha or Tony Allen, if such an available player exists. But with few other assets on hand to put into a deal, that’s going to be awfully tough. The Clippers are also in shallow luxury tax waters already and seem much more likely to retreat than swim further into that area.”

The Clippers to me seem to be tailor-made for the regular season. They were ushered out of the playoffs last year by the defensive-minded Grizzlies and beat out Memphis the year before in seven games, only with a single-game comeback for the ages. And the answer to that was to get better on offense? I don’t get it.

“The moment Doc Rivers stepped off the airplane in Los Angeles he immediately started talking up DeAndre Jordan, referring to him, Blake Griffin and Chris Paul as his new ‘big three.’ Funny, since Rivers was trying to get Jordan swapped for Kevin Garnett before he would sign off on taking the Clippers job. I’m not sure if Doc was trying to mend fences with Jordan, or if he’s trying to sell other teams on a future trade. To be fair, Jordan is having a productive season so far, so maybe Doc believes in what he sees. I just don’t think Jordan’s good enough defensively to make up for the lack of defense on the perimeter.”

Frankly, the Jordan/Blake Griffin duo inside is made for highlight tapes, but not success. That’s a shaky defensive duo. Compare that to Ibaka/Perkins, Gasol/Randolph (not that Zach is a defensive whiz), Howard/Asik, Duncan/Diaw/Splitter, even Bogut/Lee (Lee couldn’t guard the statue of Carl Albert). The Clippers are not good defensively inside at all. It’s just that they might be better defensively inside than outside.

“I also think people got a little over-excited about Rivers as a coach. It’s not that I think Rivers is a bad coach. Far from it. But I do believe that having three, and possibly four, Hall of Fame players in Boston made him look a lot better than he really is. There’s no shame in saying that, since great players have made good coaches look like legends since the first basketball was bounced. Perhaps Rivers will prove me wrong, but I’m not quite ready to put him on the Mount Rushmore of NBA coaches.”

I’d disagree to some extent. I think Rivers is a big-time coach. He had great players in Boston, but it wasn’t Heat-like talent. Or even Lakers-in-their-prime type talent. And Rivers found ways to make players with limitations, like Rajon Rondo and Kendrick Perkins, into high-quality players.

“As for the Rockets, I’m glad you mentioned their atrocious perimeter defense. Any basketball fan with an Internet connection has surely seen the clips of James Harden practically taking naps on defense. Like the Clippers, the Rockets have a bunch of pieces that don’t seem to fit properly.”

Harden, Chandler Parsons, Jeremy Lin. Those guys are going to defend Houston to the Western Conference Finals? I don’t think so. And now Kevin McHale seems ready to start playing Omer Asik less and less, which will make the Rockets even more of a liability on defense.

“Here’s why I’m more concerned about the Rockets than the Clippers: Houston has another big trade or two left in them. The Rockets are over the salary cap, but they around $8 million under the luxury tax line. What that means is that they would be able to absorb unwanted money from another team in order to get the guy they want. For example, if they trade away $10 million in salary, they can take back up to $15 million. And while Harden and Dwight Howard are pretty much untouchable, every other Rocket can presumably be had. Much of the potential trade attention is focused on center Omer Asik, but the Rockets have several other assets. Specifically, if the right deal came along I believe the Rockets would part with super-cheap-yet-highly-productive players Chandler Parsons and Patrick Beverley.

“I loathe making trade proposals because most fan-made trade proposals are nonsense. The trades that happen in reality are rarely ones that were drew up on RealGM’s Trade Checker or ESPN’s Trade Machine. However, seems to me that at some point Houston and Boston could do business together. The Celtics have a rehabbing Rajon Rondo, the long-term contract of Gerald Wallace (look beyond the box scores and you’ll find he’s historically a very good defender), a couple other long-term deals, a desire to rebuild and they are teeter-tottering on the edge of the luxury tax. Daryl Morey and Danny Ainge are smarter at this sort of thing than I’ll ever be so I’ll leave it at that, but from the outside it sure looks like the two sides could find a copacetic trade.
 
“Of course, the fact that I typed out such an idea probably means that deal will probably never happen. But my point is that the Rockets are far from a finished product and have the means to go from mediocre to frightening in a hurry. That’s why when it comes to threats in the Western Conference, the Rockets concern me the most.”
 
Well, that’s different. You put Rondo and Gerald Wallace with Harden and Howard, and you’re talking a ballteam. Jon is right. Wallace can guard. Wallace is one of my favorite kind of players, the family of Stephen Jackson/Shawn Marion, Trevor Ariza. That kind of guy. A guy who can guard LeBron and not get decimated. And everyone knows about Rondo’s defense. That would make the Rockets quite the formidable squad.

by Berry Tramel
Columnist
Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The...
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