Thursday, July 06, 2006

Radmanovic or Thomas?

Apparently both Cassell and Radmanovic indicated to the Clippers that they would accept the 12:01 AM July 1 offers, only to reneg the next day when other teams starting calling.

A quick aside - obviously, I don't know EXACTLY what was said, but how do you 'accept' the offer on Friday night, and then change your mind on Saturday morning, based solely on the existence of other offers that you KNEW (or at the very least hoped) would be there? In Vlade's case, I could have told him back in April (if he had called me) that come July he would be choosing between

(a) the mid-level exception from the Clippers where he would come off the bench,
(b) the mid-level exception from a lower level playoff team where he could start or
(c) more money from a really bad team.

So what happens? He initially accepts (a), only to accept (b) about 12 hours later. I'm not at all surprised that he took the same money for a chance to start for a poorer team. This is the same guy, remember, who turned down 6/$42M (i.e. more money and more years) from Seattle last year because the Sonics would NOT guarantee him a starting role. But why tell the Clippers you'll take their offer before hearing the other offers? I don't get it.

This is where the NEW Clippers approach really kicked in. It was not so long ago that the Clippers would go into the off-season with a good core of players, a TON of cap room and some pretty obvious needs, and come out of it with Mikki Moore and Rick Brunson, or Bobby Simmons and Eddie House. Don't get me wrong - I actually like all of those guys, and Simmons in particular was a real find, as evidenced by his MIP award in 2005. But the point is, the OLD Clippers signed guys that were bouncing around the league, and they signed guys in August and September and October, after the 'big boys' had landed on the 'big teams'. The turnaround has been gradual - from actually MATCHING offers for Brand and Maggette (and don't forget that they let Odom, Miller, Pike and Kandi go at the same time) in 2003, to actually MAKING a serious offer to Kobe in 2004, to FINALLY paying NBA coin for an NBA starter in free agency (Mobley) in 2005.

Here we are in 2006, and the Clippers actually made immediate, competitive offers to their ONLY TWO free agents, and ended up paying out $24M and $13M to two guys to come off the BENCH! And they did it in the FIRST WEEKEND of free agency. I'm just saying - it's a BIG difference!

So, what about this signing? Would you rather have VladRad or TT? The fact is, these guys are ASTOUNDINGLY similar. Eerily similar. I could crunch all the numbers for you, but suffice it to say that they are both 6'10", about 235 or 240, both excellent three-point shooters (two of the best at their size), both capable of going to the hoop (though it is not their prefence), both limited on the defensive end (more by disposition than by talent) and both have reps as malcontents. TT's rep is worse, but that may be simply because he's been in the league longer and had more chances to get into doghouses, and in bigger places (like NYC and Chicago). But if you watched any of the 2004 Athens Olympics hoops, you might have noticed that Vlade spent a LOT of his time in street clothes in the stands (not even on the bench), and very little of his time on the court. He blamed that on his coach (who is, by pretty much any definition, insane), but it takes two.

Given my choice at the beginning of the off-season, I would have taken VladRad. This is based on three things: (1) he's younger; (2) he has more upside since he's younger and he's never played huge minutes and (3) he was already a Clipper, and seemed to fit well.

BUT... I remember when my girlfriend broke up with me in college. I didn't want her to break up with me, but what I really WANTED was something I couldn't have - I wanted her NOT to WANT to break up with me. But you have no control over that part. The very fact that VladRad decided he'd RATHER take the same money from a poorer team because he would get more minutes tells you that the Clippers are better off without him. Face facts - Dunleavy's asking Maggette (who was the LEADING SCORER on the team in 04-05) to come off the bench. The last thing he needs is someone else carping about minutes. If Thomas is more willing to accept the bench role, then he is a better fit. Period.

The indisputably bad news is the age thing. Thomas is 29, while VladRad is 25. The Clippers saved one year signing Thomas (4 year deal versus 5 they offered to Vlad), but still that leaves them paying $6M+ to Tim Thomas at the age of 33. It is also interesting to note that the Suns apparently were willing to spend the full exception on Vlad (they were among the teams offering him the same 5 year deal), but were not willing to do so for Thomas, offering only $3.5M per year. The guy absolutely SAVED their playoffs, and they weren't willing to pay him more than $3.5M. What do they know that we don't know? I guess there are plenty of people out there 'doubting Thomas.'

Calico Jack points out that Cassell is probably the Clippers trump card in this signing. Cassell and Thomas played together 4+ seasons in Milwaukee, going to game 7 of the conference finals together, and those 4 seasons just happen to be the most productive of Thomas' career. Cassell will help keep Thomas in line. However, Thomas is NOTORIOUS for being a poor practice player. That will not fly on a Mike Dunleavy team. For one thing, he's going to have to practice to learn Dunleavy's defensive schemes, which are among the most complex in the league. And if he isn't rotating on defense, he will NOT stay on the floor. But most importantly, if he doesn't work hard in practice, he won't even get a chance to be on the floor (see Wilcox, Chris). So let's hope he understands his role AND is willing to put in some hard work.

The Clippers NEED Tim Thomas to play and play well. They absolutely must have effective three point shooting to open up the floor for Brand and Kaman inside. Mobley had an off year from distance last year, but certainly can't be the only guy even if he has a great year. Also, bear in mind that Livingston will be taking more and more of Cassell's minutes (by design) and Livingston is a non-threat from distance (I'm talking beyond 12 feet). If Thomas (or someone else, Comrade Korolev?), for whatever reason, is incapable of providing that consistent perimeter threat, it will be a huge step backward from the second half of last season.

As for VladRad on the Lakers, I wish him luck. Watching the guy on offense, you sometimes wonder why he isn't Dirk Nowitzki. He can shoot, he can drive, he can finish, he can pass. The guy is an absolute monster. He can't play with his back to the basket, but that's pretty much the only hole in his offensive game. As a spot up shooter, he should get tons of open looks out of Kobe double teams. And he always struck me as a 'smart' player (whatever that means), so I think he'll pick up the triangle quickly, and I think Phil will like him. Of course, that's the real key. If he DOESN'T pick up the triangle, or Phil DOESN'T like him (for whatever reason), he could find himself sitting next to the purple and yellow floor more than he would have sat next to the blue and red one. Or maybe he'll be in the seats. Who knows with VladRad? But guess what? If VladRad works out, the Lakers are now a decent point guard from competing. I did not see that coming.

One final thought - since both Eric Piatkowski and the Clippers need for three point shooting both came up, did anyone other than me notice that Pike signed with Phoenix for the veteran's minimum? Was anyone other than me hoping that the Clippers would sign him? How cool would that have been? To bring back the longest tenured Clipper, to let him experience some really good times in a Clipper uniform? I just think it would have really, truly turned the page on the whole 'worst franchise in sports' thing. Not to mention that the guy can still knock down some spot up threes, which we could use. And don't be surprised if he is a solid contributor (in limited minutes) for the Suns. Obviously he's perfect for them.