Anyone can have a blog about an NBA team, but some set themselves apart from the rest with the dedication and valuable insight they bring to their craft. We’ll be sharing some knowledge from these dialed-in writers on Hoops Rumors with a feature called Top Bloggers. As with The Beat, our ongoing series of interviews with NBA beat writers, it’s part of an effort to bring Hoops Rumors readers ever closer to the pulse of the teams they follow. Last time, we spoke about the Rockets with Ethan Rothstein, who is the managing editor of SB Nation’s The Dream Shake. Click here to see the entire Top Bloggers series.
Hoops Rumors: Paul Pierce retirement talk came up again lately. Do you think Pierce will walk away after the season, and if he does, would the Clippers be better off?
Lucas Hann: I think it’s time for Pierce to walk away from the game. Last season, he was able to contribute as a shooter and he had enough of a resurgence to justify running it back — this year there’s been no such contribution. He’s shot just 30% from deep on a high volume of good looks, and the rest of his game continues to suffer as he ages. It would certainly be best for both the player and the team.
Hoops Rumors: While there is no denying his talent, Blake Griffin has seemingly been more of a distraction than a leader this season. Should the Clippers look to trade Griffin this summer? If so, which team would be the best fit?
Lucas Hann: There is no way on Earth that the Clippers should trade Blake Griffin.
Hoops Rumors: LeBron James has said that he hopes to play alongside Chris Paul, Dwyane Wade and Carmelo Anthony at some point in his career. Say Cleveland were to offer Kyrie Irving straight up for Paul this summer. Should the Clippers pull the trigger on this hypothetical swap?
Lucas Hann: I don’t think that an Irving-Paul swap would be advantageous for the Clippers. While Irving is much younger, Paul is still the better player, defender, and leader, and his game certainly seems well-equipped to age gracefully.
Hoops Rumors: Small forward has been the Clippers’ weak spot the past couple of seasons. Whom can they realistically target to shore up the three spot this summer?
Lucas Hann: The reality of the situation is that with three max contract players, the Clippers’ options to fill roster holes have been incredibly limited over the last few years — not just at small forward, but in the search for a third big as well. They’ve had minimum-level players perform relatively well (Wes Johnson, Matt Barnes), but nobody available for the league minimum can really help in the way that the Clippers have needed. In essence, even though he’s less than perfect, Jeff Green has to be the guy at long-term small forward. If the fit is good — and it’s safe to say the jury is still out — his Bird rights will be the best tool they have to acquire any player this offseason. It’s either Jeff Green, or running it back with Wes Johnson and Luc Mbah a Moute (if you can even afford to re-sign those guys).
Hoops Rumors: How would you grade the performance of Doc Rivers as a coach and as an executive?
Lucas Hann: Grading Doc is very hard because it’s a complex situation, and when you’re as close to it as I am, it’s a lot harder to look at the track record and give him an F. The Spencer Hawes signing, Jared Dudley trade, Lance Stephenson acquisition, etc. — they’ve all been flops. Hawes was a waste of the mid-level and became salary dump fodder, and the Clippers had to give up future firsts in trades where they got rid of Dudley and Lance. There have been other, minor mishaps, like the Jordan Farmar signing and the ineffective minimum guys (Antawn Jamison, Byron Mullens, Chris Douglas-Roberts, and a million others). I’m firmly pro-Doc, so let me explain myself: the Hawes/Dudley/Lance moves, while bad in retrospect, seemed anywhere from good to acceptable at the time, not just to me but across the board. We don’t know how the Jeff Green move will pan out yet but hopefully it will be a step in the right direction. The small failures shouldn’t really be considered failures at all, seeing as minimum-salary players can’t have huge expectations. He should also get credit for a few things: creating the J.J. Redick we know today, and finding solid cheap guys like Matt Barnes, Darren Collison, Wes Johnson, and Cole Aldrich. The Reggie Bullock-for-Austin Rivers trade was clearly a good move for the Clippers as well, cries of nepotism be damned.
As far as his draft record, it’s bad but limited. Picks in the 20s have about a 30% chance of turning into NBA players — he’s chosen 2 guys in that range: Reggie Bullock, who is looking like he’s not in that mold, and C.J. Wilcox, who is still a second-year player developing on the Clippers. He also made a move to buy a second round pick and select Branden Dawson, and it makes him look brilliant if Dawson ever becomes something and can’t be held against him if Dawson flares out. I’m of the opinion that it’s too early to label him a “bad drafter,” but he’s running out of leash.
Overall, on the executive side, Rivers has to be given a C. He hasn’t made many indefensible bad moves, and he’s made some minor moves that turned out far better than expected (Rivers/Aldrich). The draft record is bad, but it’s still early. I think that Doc’s concerns lie primarily year-to-year as the coach of this team, and the organization would benefit from a GM with a more long-term, asset management perspective.
On the coaching side, it’s simpler. Rivers remains a very good basketball coach, while probably not top-tier in the NBA. Certain substitution patterns can be frustrating at times (he often refuses to stagger starters with the bench, letting up huge runs) but overall he uses the regular season as an 82-game development course, readying certain players and lineups for postseason minutes. The game-to-game impatience of fans is often a source of valid criticism, but Doc’s playing a different game. I’d give him a B-plus on the coaching front.
Hoops Rumors: Say you were given the ability to alter one decision the Clippers have made the past three seasons, be it a signing, draft pick, trade, hiring or any other move. Which would you change?
Lucas Hann: The easiest redo would be a draft pick — in 2013, Rudy Gobert, Allen Crabbe and a few more serviceable guys went after Reggie Bullock, and in 2014, the story remains true for C.J. Wilcox. That said, I think it would be a cop-out, because every year every team misses on guys. It’s just the nature of the draft. So I’ll be a little more creative and go with the offseason signings of Spencer Hawes and Jordan Farmar in the summer of 2014. The Clippers had two opportunities to add above-minimum level guys to the roster — the mid-level exception and the much smaller biannual exception. They convinced Hawes, a hot commodity who was offered far more and starting roles, to take a pay cut to be a backup on a good team, and brought in Jordan Farmar with the biannual to be a capable backup point guard and provide depth shooting. We know how the story goes — Hawes flares out, shooting poorly and finding himself out of the rotation come playoff time. Jordan Farmar’s fate was worse, exiting the rotation less than halfway through the season before being cut. The Clippers then moved on to win an amazing first-round series against the Spurs before collapsing, fatigued against Houston in the second round. Doc Rivers relied solely upon his starters and three reserves (Rivers, Jamal Crawford, and Glen Davis) in those two series, and the lack of depth was ultimately what did the Clippers in. If they had an opportunity to redo those two signings (or at least the Hawes one, which was more significant salary-wise), they could potentially have had another big-time contributor in those playoff series.
Eddie Scarito contributed to this interview.