1) Melo for Blake Griffin, do you make that deal? A crazy rumor I recently discussed with my colleague Jeff Morton. That leads to ... What's up with the Clippers chemistry? Is the team close? Overblown media stuff?
Steve Perrin: I'm really glad you asked me about the Griffin-Melo rumors -- which aren't rumors so much as idle speculation from the likes of Stephen A. Smith and Skip Bayless, guys that like to hear themselves talk. I've made a couple of comments along the way, but never felt compelled to do a full blown post on it, so you've given me that opportunity.
The Clippers would never consider trading Blake Griffin for Carmelo Anthony, nor should they. Carmelo does exactly one thing better than Griffin -- score. And even there, you sort of have to define your terms, since Griffin is a more efficient scorer than Anthony (Anthony's TSP of .560 last season was very near his career high, but it was still less than Griffin's .572). So actually the one thing Carmelo does better is shoot free throws. Griffin's a better rebounder, passer and defender, plus he's younger, still improving, less expensive, signed for longer, more likeable, better looking, a better actor, and nicer to animals (I'm just assuming on the animals part, but it stands to reason). Griffin is wildly popular among Clipper fans and the front office would think twice about trading him for a player who is actually better than he is (say Kevin Love) for fear of alienating the fan base. They would scoff at the idea of doing it for Anthony. Why would they? For Carmelo's star power? As if the Clippers and Griffin are lacking in that department.
The funny thing is, I actually think Carmelo might respond really well to playing alongside Chris Paul. Melo has always been "the man" in Denver and New York, but I've never been more impressed with him than I was when he was a designated scorer on Team USA. Without the responsibility of being the team's "best player", Melo was free to do what he does best, score unapologetically. But the Clippers wouldn't touch Melo for Griffin with a ten foot pole.
Based on your question, I can only assume that you've read something recently that implies that Paul and Griffin somehow don't get along -- no doubt also coming from guys like Stephen A and Skip, offered up to support their trade idea. If so, I've successfully tuned it out. I saw some of those issues reported last season -- but never bought the stories. I've never seen any indication of issues between the two, and I've yet to see any such tension reported by a source I trusted. The chemistry on the team is terrific as far as I can tell, but as with every team, it's better when they're winning, worse when they're losing.
2) Who has been the best addition from the off season?
Perrin: Without a question it's been J.J. Redick, which is why his injury has hit the team pretty hard. When the Clippers acquired Redick, I felt like it was a great pickup, but I also wondered if I was being unrealistic. After all -- how great could Redick be if he'd never been a full time starter in seven NBA seasons? Why was I so excited about this new starting two, who'd never actually been a starting two?
It just felt like J.J. was the perfect complement to his old ACC adversary CP3, and in fact the early results of their pairing indicated that it was indeed true. Redick is obviously an elite shooter, but he's also a tireless worker off the ball, a la Ray Allen or Richard Hamilton. With the ball in Paul's hands so much of the time in the Clippers offense, a two guard who gets his opportunities by working off the ball is ideal. Redick not only spread the floor to allow Paul to drive and provide additional space for Griffin in the post, but he also made the Clippers half court offense go by providing the engine that kept everything moving. It's no coincidence that the team's offensive efficiency has dropped off significantly since Redick was hurt.
3) What's your biggest area of concern?
Perrin: You keep asking me questions that have one very clear answer! Without question, the biggest area of concern is front court depth. Griffin is Griffin, and DeAndre Jordan is having by far his best season as a pro, second in rebounds per game, fourth in blocked shots, first in field goal percentage. But the Clippers third big is... Antawn Jamison? Ryan Hollins? Byron Mullens? Jamison is in fact third right now, more or less by default, but none of those three should really be more than a fifth option on a good team. The Clippers pretty desperately need an upgrade to the big man depth, but their options are limited. Lamar Odom has been linked to the team again, but there are obvious concerns as to how ready he is for NBA basketball, mentally and physically (and chemically).
By the postseason, if the Clippers are relying on Antawn Jamison to play a significant role off the bench, or God forbid if Griffin or Jordan gets hurt, then they're going to have a big problem. I don't know if Odom is the answer or if the Clippers can come up with a better solution, but that's the concern.
4) What does Doc Rivers bring that you've really noticed?
Perrin: It's impossible not to notice what a terrific communicator he is. If he handles his players half as well as he handles the press, that alone would make him a terrific coach. The impact Rivers, the motivator and communicator, has had on Jordan is the best example. From his first press conference, Rivers gushed about Jordan's defensive potential, openly discussing him as a some day "Defensive Player of the Year". Knowing Jordan's history as a defender, it was a ridiculous thing to say, but Rivers has Jordan embracing the defensive role and really believing in himself. Vinny Del Negro seemed to tear down Jordan's confidence at every turn when he was the Clippers' coach, but Rivers has done everything he can to build up Jordan's confidence. The difference has been pretty amazing.
5) What's something people should be focusing on or talking more about with this team?
Perrin: The Clippers began the season scoring points in bunches, but giving up points almost as quickly. Several weeks into the season, their defensive efficiency was ranked 28th in the NBA, and the conventional wisdom held that they couldn't possibly be a serious contender in the Western Conference with such a porous defense. Well, in the last four weeks, the Clippers have had the highest rated defense in the NBA -- and no one seems to know that.
Why the turnaround? I have several possible explanations, and at the end of the day it may just be random stuff. With their improved defense lately, the Clippers have gone from 28th overall to eighth, and they are still climbing. If the situation had been reversed and the Clippers had had the top ranked defense a month into the season, it would be a massive story. The Clippers' need to sustain this improvement for me to be really convinced, but it's definitely something that is going under the radar.
Big big thanks to Clippers Steve for joining us! If you have questions for him, post them in the comments and I'll try to get him to come by and answer 'em!
- Suns vs. Nuggets Recap: Phoenix rises, Nuggets wilt in epic home collapse
- Suns vs Nuggets Preview: Nugs look to squelch Eric Bledsoe, Suns
- Difficult close to 2013 gives road victories even greater importance
- Podcast: Tim Connelly talks scouting, growing up in Baltimore and analytics
- Thunder vs. Nuggets recap: Odd shooting night, execution doom Denver