Not two weeks ago the Clippers were on the brink of disaster—down their only center, uncomfortably reliant on Lance Stephenson, and top-heavy to a fault. Somehow, all has been undone. DeAndre Jordan flipped on his commitment to the Mavericks to re-sign with the Clippers on a four-year deal. The roster was built out in a way that made Stephenson more of a contributor than an essential piece. And Doc Rivers, whose decisions in basketball operations last season hard-capped and hamstrung the Clippers, managed to make smart, worthwhile additions while operating under similar budgetary constraints.
L.A.'s latest was the signing of Josh Smith, who will join the Clippers on a one-year deal for the veteran minimum. Smith’s salary offsets from the $5.4 million he’s owed from Detroit this season. That enables him to join contending teams on the minimum salary without any actual financial sacrifice. Provided that Smith’s salary for the 2015-16 season didn’t exceed $5.4 million, he would make the same wage no matter how much he ended up technically signing for. Los Angeles reaps the benefits of that offset. The Clippers were all but locked into filling out their roster (and rotation) with minimum-salary types, and Smith is far more talented and productive than the players typical of that market.
Smith’s spacey decision-making just isn’t a notable issue relative to the other players the Clippers could have had at this price. He still has the quickness to contain face-up power forwards and the timing to to protect the rim as needed. His passes will on occasion fly into the stands, though more generally Smith’s creative playmaking out of the post and on the roll enable productive offense. Smith finished effectively and made 38% of his three-point attempts for a team that trusted him to fire away ... as long as his toes were tucked behind the line and out of long-two territory. That Smith can do it all (but too often plays haphazardly) is a source of frustration for some, though that kind of capability is an outstanding yield for a team in the Clippers’ position.
The Clippers will inevitably make concessions whenever Blake Griffin steps off the floor. Smith, though, is the closest reasonable facsimile to Griffin that the free agent market could offer—a big who can handle, post up, make plays, defend in space, finish strong, screen, and even dabble on the perimeter, if not exactly in perfect balance. On some nights, Smith will drive Rivers and Chris Paul crazy. On most others, he’ll be a welcome, well-rounded component of a contending rotation.