Would Kevin Garnett put the Clippers over the top ?
The tick tock will determine whether Kevin Garnett gets traded to the L.A. Clippers by Thursday's NBA trade deadline. It'll take the Clippers' braintrust convincing Danny Ainge to pursue such a deal, and it'll take someone -- Ainge, Chris Paul, Vinny Del Negro, Blake Griffin, a Google Map readout showing the distance between Staples Center and Malibu -- to convince KG to waive his no-trade clause.
But what determines whether such a trade would be worth it for the Clippers depends on how much the Ticket can improve L.A. within the next couple of years.
Right now, the Clippers are No. 3 in the West. They trail San Antonio by four games and the Thunder by 1.5 games. A path to the Finals would almost certainly go through Oklahoma City at some point, and also possibly through S.A. To beat either team will require not just the strong offense we've come to expect from Chris Paul's teams, but really good defense. OKC and S.A. are No. 1 and No. 5 in offense in the NBA, respectively. Any defense would be tested when facing that. In particular, the Thunder have the best offense since the 2009-10 Suns. It's a powerful beast led by the most aggressive creator in the league (Russell Westbrook) and the purest scorer of his generation (Kevin Durant). Even great defense have real trouble slowing the Thunder. And many would hesitate to call L.A.'s defense great. That's where K.G. comes in.
But note that the Clips' defense has actually been really good these season. It ranks No. 7 in the league, barely lagging the team's No. 6 offense. According to NBA.com/stats, L.A.'s defense has been particularly good after a day of rest, giving up 98.1 points per 100 possessions as opposed to 105 on the second game of a back-to-back. There will be no back-to-backs in the playoffs. As it the case with most teams, the bench's defense has better numbers than do the starters -- a lot of that likely has to do with the competition.
Jordan, the center that Garnett would replace, is known as a defender, but has struggled since signing a massive contract before the 2011-12 season. This year, the Clippers' defense is seven points per 100 possessions better when DAJ is on the bench. The number is similar for fellow starter Blake Griffin, but Blake offers something other than defense when on the court: elite offense. If Jordan isn't helping the defense when on the court, he's not doing much.
Meanwhile in Boston, the Celtics are nine points per 100 possessions better on defense when KG is in the game. The Boston defense is night and day: beyond elite with KG, worse than average without him. And he plays enough to have made it the top defense in the league. But the proposed trade isn't just Jordan for KJ: Eric Bledsoe would go back to the Celtics, too. And Bledsoe has had a positive defensive impact on the Clips, though that could be the bench role talking. The popular wisdom is that if Chauncey Billups is productive, Bledsoe is less important this season. But after only 100-odd minutes, it's not remotely clear that Billups is going to be able to play a major role. That's a dice roll for the Clippers. If they shoot craps, we're going to see more Jamal Crawford handling the ball or Willie Green in action than most folks want.
I don't know whether Garnett can help the Clippers stop the Thunder, because I don't know if the Thunder can be stopped by anyone. But it's clear that if Billups can play well enough to keep Green's minutes limited and Crawford's focus on playing off the ball, Garnett would represent a massive improvement for L.A.'s defense and likely also its offense. If the goal is to gun for the top right now, few realistic trades would be more helpful than this one.
Chris Paul deserved the MVP trophy in Sunday's All-Star Game with 20 points, 15 assists and four steals. But don't forget that Kevin Durant had his third straight 30-point All-Star Game. In four career All-Star appearances, KD is averaging 28.7 points on .587 effective field goal percentage. I know it's an All-Star Game, but jeez, man.
* The great Bruce Arthur of Canada's National Post visited Andrew Wiggins, the presumptive No. 1 pick of the 2014 NBA Draft. Wiggins' father is Mitchell Wiggins, one of the players who earned David Stern's cocaine ban in the '80s and his mother is Marita Payne-Wiggins, a two-time Olympic silver medalist sprinter. Despite the high expectations that come with that athletic pedigree and his status as the best teenaged basketball player in the world, he remains as humble as one could be in such a situation and, as Arthur calls it, charmingly unpolished. With a 2013 draft weak at the top nearly upon us, Wiggins is the next franchise-altering star who will be available. Indications suggest he has not just the talent to make his own map, but the disposition as well. That's great news.
* Phil Sheridan of the Philadelphia Inquirer suggests the Sixers put Andrew Bynum on the shelf for the rest of the season so that they aren't tempted to offer him a fat contract if he comes back in March and looks great. Sheridan is not exactly shy about placing some blame on Bynum for the disappointing situation. That's where this is difficult for me: I have no idea -- and I suspect everyone else is in the same boat -- how much of this can be blamed on Bynum. He doesn't have a reputation as someone who works incredibly hard to get back from injury. But we all know reputations can be misapplied. It's not dissimilar from how Dwight Howard is viewed these days: as someone too unserious for the situation at hand. Howard gets criticized for not being morose. That's what seems to be going on with Bynum: he's not depressed about his knee, he's doing wild things to his hair and being a little cute with his public comments, so he must be pulling one over on us. I'm not sure it's that simple. I think he's a young rich man who is upset he can't do his job but also isn't going to let that ruin his life. We should all be so free. That said, Sheridan is spot on about the risks of signing him long-term. In the best case, his knee is terribly unhealthy. That's a recipe for salary cap disaster. Tread lightly, hungry teams.