As a man bearing an unhealthy obsession with Steve Nash, last week was terribly difficult for me. A series of articles about the tenuous situation between Nash and the direction of the Suns franchise came out and I wasn’t invited to the party.
Let’s recap last week’s Nash musings:
Tom Haberstroh said they should.
Beckley Mason argued a trade might not be what’s best for the franchise.
And Trevor from Unofficial Review said they should trade him to the Clippers.
I’m going to steal all their best points and combine them into one I like to call “my opinion”. Like Tom, I think the Suns should trade him. Like Beckley, I think it has to be for a particular set of pieces that doesn’t keep them stuck in Mediocrityville and like Trevor, I agree the Clippers are an intriguing destination.
I’ve flirted with the idea of Nash on the Clippers but backed off when I remembered their owner green-lighted trading a lottery pick to save 12 million dollars.
But to hell with precedent! This lockout crap is depressing as all get-out so why not take a shot at constructing a world in which Nash headlines an exciting young team in L.A?
The Trade: the Suns get…
Trevor’s deal is solid, but I believe there’s a better one out there that nets a far greater return for Two Time. Since we can’t speculate on how a new CBA could affect salaries and trades, let’s assume that the new deal keeps things the same or similar to the old system and go from there.
The Suns, as Beckley pointed out, would most likely need to accumulate young, still developing assets and/or picks with another expiring deal in their return for any deal involving Nash. While the management has been on record stating that bottoming out completely isn’t in their goals, most around observers, like Beckley, agree it probably should be. Given that construct, a straight up deal between the two teams doesn’t mesh all that well, but is certainly possible.
Here is one deal that could work (also add in three million in cash and the almost assuredly top 5 Timberwolves 2012 #1 pick that the Clippers own).
While Kaman overstocks the Suns roster with centers (Marcin Gortat, Robin Lopez and Garrett Siler are all under contract), his expiring contract, combined with Foye’s are what Robert Sarver would really crave.
Aminu and Bledsoe have vast potential due to their athletic gifts, but today neither appears destined for stardom. It’s unlikely either keeps Phoenix off the bottom of the league standings and further away from collecting the most lottery balls in a loaded 2012 draft. But the Clippers pick from the Timberwolves allows them to make two lottery picks and begin rebuilding in earnest.
With the three million in cash from the Clips (probably expecting a lot of Donald Sterling to spend that and take on the other long term deals), plus the savings from unloading Frye and Childress, Phoenix saves $34.8 million ($2.5mil in salary disparities from the trade, $29.3mil in contract savings, $3mil from cash thrown in) going forward from this trade. Paring down their glut of centers, most likely Lopez, with a separate deal shouldn’t be too hard given that several teams, most notably Philly, Atlanta and Portland, all have big holes at the five.
The Suns could then easily bottom out next season and by attaching Hakim Warrick to any Lopez deal, they could pare down their payroll to practically nothing while hoping to strike lottery gold. With the amount of cap room they could create and the solid young talent that would inhabit their roster, luring both Chris Paul and Dwight Howard to the desert isn’t an unthinkable possibility, either.
The Trade: the Clippers get…
The Clippers, meanwhile, thrust themselves into the upper echelon of the Western Conference in one fell-swoop. Nash, assuming he can maintain his fitness level, will be Nash. Channing Frye, while somewhat overpaid, is the stretch big that Nash-led team needs.
Josh Childress is the real wildcard. He had a disastrous 2010-11 season in Phoenix and normally headlines arguments concerning the worst signings from last summer. However, Childress was horribly miscast in Phoenix as his game clashed with starter Grant Hill and his inability to stretch the floor further exacerbated the Suns spacing issues. Childress, only 28, was one of the most effective 6th men/spot starters in the league before his departure to Greece. I highly doubt that drilling fundamentals constantly while playing in one of the best leagues outside of the NBA eroded his game to the point last season’s numbers indicated.
Clippers new 8-man rotation
So what could this new look Clipper team do on the court? Result 1: the Nash-Griffin pick and roll combination resulting in even more Sportscenter coverage for Griffin. Result 2: the red-headed stepchild of L.A. would be very similar to the 2010 Suns team that made the Western Conference Finals.
The starting five would be almost spot on: Nash is still Nash. Eric Gordon would be a vastly upgraded version of Jason Richardson. Josh Childress could very capably slide into the Grant Hill utility role with Griffin providing a better rebounding version of Amare Stoudamire. Re-signing Jordan, as stated above, would be a must. He could provide the defensive presence Robin Lopez did, except with less awkwardness and more rim-rattling dunks.
The bench would be like that of the D’Antoni days, short but capable. Mo Williams would in an interesting role as a sixth man. While it’s possibly he could be moved, I’d be inclined to keep him around to see how he could back up and pair with Nash in the Clippers backcourt. Offensively, the 39% 3-point shooting Williams would give the Clippers two deadly shooters at the guard spots at all times. Going zone during stretches where both Nash and Williams play together would be a good solution to mitigate their defensive shortcomings. If things end up not working out, Williams most likely has enough value to be moved for a better fitting piece at the deadline.
Ryan Gomes would be able to back-up both forward spots, maybe even sliding Childress down to the two on occasion when the Clippers go big. Frye, as mentioned above, will provide an extremely valuable presence as a stretch big who can finish some games when more offensive punch is required to close a team out.
Willie Warren and Brian Cook could be somewhat capable replacement options should an injury befall someone in the top eight. Signing a Jarron/Jason Collins type on the cheap to use up fouls versus physical fives wouldn’t be a bad idea either.
With that eight-man rotation set, you could expect the Suns to steal a lot from the D’Antoni/Gentry playbook by looking to play a high possession game with a big emphasis on keeping the lane clear and lots and lots of ballscreens.
With Blake Griffin’s awesome rebounding prowess, Childress could be asked to leak out at times, perhaps looking for cheap transition baskets on Griffin outlets while Eric Gordon would have free reign to hunt three point shots early in the shot clock. Richardson’s production increased greatly from that freedom and there would be no reason to think Gordon’s wouldn’t do the same.
Gordon also had solid production off ball screens last season and overall is much better at running them than Jason Richardson ever was. L.A. could look to quickly advance the ball and have their first big down ball screen for Gordon or simply let him “rub off” their run. Step-up screens (where the ball handler drives baseline off a screen) early in transition is where Griffin could factor in, either diving hard down the lane or catching around the foul line for a face up-drive.
In the half-court, the pick and roll combination of Nash and Griffin may not prevalent as one might suspect. Unlike Lopez showcased in 2010, Jordan hasn’t flashed the ability to consistently knocked down 15ft jumpshots, however, also unlike Lopez, he can pick and roll hard to the rim for lobs (a la Tyson Chandler).
Vinny Del Negro might be inclined to run some actions with Gordon and Childress flat in the corners while Jordan and Nash pick and roll in the middle of the floor with Blake Griffin replacing. Here Griffin would have the opportunity to take advantage of a defense collapsing on Jordan’s hard dive by either attacking the rim off a drive, shooting a wide open jumper or using a jab/shot fake attack to draw a foul or drive to the basket.
When Griffin is involved with Nash, they will most likely perform a lot of the same actions as the Stoudamire-Nash duo did. The latter duo became very nuanced in their screening “dance” as Stat would vary his timing on the roll occasionally. Sometimes diving hard right after the screen, almost slipping it, sometimes hanging back on a delayed roll and sometimes popping for a jumpshot or the opportunity to face-up and attack the rim. I’d expect that as the season progressed, Nash and Griffin would develop a similar chemistry as well.
Jordan, meanwhile, would roam the baseline on these actions, much like Tyson Chandler and Brandon Haywood did for Dallas, circling underneath the rim opposite Griffin’s role or pop looking to force his defender into a longer/tougher help situation. When Jordan exits for Frye, the Clippers have a few more possibilities to work with.
Frye and Gordon could occupy the deep corner with Childress taking over the role of roaming the baseline, much like Hill would occasionally do for Phoenix. This move allows Childress to play more to his strengths while Frye and Gordon, whose Synergy stats from spot up situations were excellent, to snipe away from long distance.
Gomes, marginally better than Childress from the arc at 35.7% career, could switch between both spacing the floor from a corner (moving Gordon and Frye to the long three point attempt on the wing) in a “4-out” look or roaming the baseline underneath. However, with a simple emphasis on corner shooting before and throughout the season, the Clippers would be best served in Gomes hovers between 35-38% shooting from behind the arc.
Defensively, the Clippers have the chance to be a very good man-to-man team with their starting five. Jordan, Griffin, Childress and Gordon all have the ability to be “plus” to “plus-plus defenders.” Nash will most likely continue being switched onto the worst offensive threats of opposing teams and be allowed to go under any ballscreens to avoid taking too much contact during games.
With a bench of three average to well below average defenders, having a 2-3 zone in their back pocket would be a great benefit. Not only could it afford the Clippers to play small with a Williams-Nash backcourt at times, but would hide some of Frye’s defensive liabilities against more physical posts, stealing the floor-spreading big more minutes.
Clippers as contenders
When looking at the West as currently constructed, this proposed Clippers team could quite possibly challenge for a Finals-berth. Dallas and the Lakers would struggle containing Griffin and the multitude of Nash/Gordon/Williams pick and rolls. Age and offensive limitations make wonder if the Spurs and Grizzlies, respectively, could keep up with them in a seven game series.
Oklahoma City is the one team that doesn’t seem to have any glaring weaknesses the Clippers could exploit. All I know is that if that series came to pass–albeit most likely in a parallel universe where lockouts don’t happen and don’t Sterling isn’t a miserly owner–I’d clear my schedule to watch.