Clippers Offseason Targets: Should L.A. sign Gerald Green?


November 15, 2014; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Phoenix Suns guard Gerald Green (14) moves the ball up court against the Los Angeles Clippers during the second half at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

The Los Angeles Clippers have already looked into the possibility of upgrading Matt Barnes before. And after his inconsistent performance in the 2015 NBA playoffs, they may shop the free agent market to see if they’re able to make an upgrade over the scrappy, 35 year old defender.

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He’s been the gritty anchor of the Clippers’ wing defense for the last three seasons alongside Chris Paul, and has often taken the role of defending the opponent’s top wing scorer. Yet whilst his toughness and willingness to do all the little things on defense have been extremely valuable to the Clippers, his shortcomings in the playoffs this year do create some questions.

Barnes has never been an offensive minded player, but shooting just 38 percent and only 26.7 percent from three point range during the playoffs this year had a noticeable impact on the Clippers. Yes, those tenacious plays on defense and wild dives for loose balls are important, but making a mere 3-of-25 three pointers over the last six games against the Houston Rockets can’t be overlooked. And despite the fact he made 36.2 of his shots from being the arc in the regular season (his best mark in nine years), that kind of offensive inefficiency when it mattered most wasted too many possessions for the Clippers.

It hurt L.A., and now it may have hurt Barnes’ future with them.

May 4, 2015; Houston, TX, USA; Los Angeles Clippers head coach Doc Rivers coaches forward Matt Barnes (22) against the Houston Rockets in game one of the second round of the NBA Playoffs at Toyota Center. Los Angeles Clippers won 117 to 101. Mandatory Credit: Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports

Dan Woike of the Orange County Register has reported that the Clippers may look to upgrade at the small forward position this offseason, suggesting several potential alternatives. Paul Pierce (read my analysis of how he fits the Clippers here) and Richard Jefferson (read what we think he offers here) are two such options.

The Truth seems like the best choice so far, though. Due to his relationship with head coach Doc Rivers, the fact he grew up in Los Angeles, and because he proved again in the playoffs this year that he can still rise to the occasion and deliver when a game is on the line. Even at 37 years of age, he has attributes that most other free agents this summer don’t have. However, his recent comments in an interview with SiriusXM’s Mad Dog Sports Radio about his current team — the Washington Wizards — suggest that he may not even leave (per The Washington Post):

"“Man, it was a good run. We really have a really good young team, and a couple budding superstars. It was tough. It especially really hurt us when John [Wall] broke his hand. Even though he came back, that really kind of hurt our rhythm, because we [were] playing so well. We felt like we were the better team if we had stayed healthy, but we lost some heartbreaking games."

"You know how the playoffs are. Every game is close, and it all came down to the end, but I’m happy with the way guys fought. Nobody expected us to beat the Raptors. I thought we were better than Atlanta. We fell up short, but I really like our team, I really like the young budding stars. And we’re definitely disappointed, and would have gave Cleveland probably a better challenge than Atlanta, I think, but it was tough.”"

His emphasis on how Washington have upcoming stars, the fact he thinks they were better than the Hawks, and his frequent use of “we” and “our” does seem to indicate the unity he still associates between himself and the Wizards.

It’s unclear, although Pierce did add that he plans on making his decision within the next couple of weeks.

If he does stay in Washington, though, the Clippers will need to look elsewhere.

Which is where Gerald Green comes into play.

Green has had a rather turbulent career so far. He spent multiple years in the D-League near the start of his career, then reentered the NBA, then went to both Russia and China, before finally coming back to America with the then New Jersey Nets in 2012. Despite his talent and incredible athleticism, he just hasn’t been able to make anything work long term.

Yet since joining the Phoenix Suns in 2013, he’s really started to prove what he can do.

As an unrestricted free agent, Gerald Green has no obligation to stay in Phoenix. Not just because he can choose to sign elsewhere, but because he’s already expressed his lack of certainty about his future with the Suns.

In April, Green raised the issue of whether or not Phoenix actually want him. Or if they do, he may not be as fundamental to their plans as he would like. He also referred back to an issue from the end of January, when (at full health) he was benched for an entire game against the Chicago Bulls.

As he felt his team weren’t that interested in utilizing his ability, Green made the following comments (per Paul Coro of AZCentral Sports):

"“In the beginning, I thought I was playing better than last year but I guess other people thought otherwise. It hasn’t been the same (since the Chicago game). I ain’t gonna lie. It’s been frustrating because I know I can help win… I want to be here but I just don’t know if they want me here. Because if you want somebody, you show them. I didn’t think I was playing that bad and now we’re here… I don’t really get excited about games any more because I don’t know if I’m going to play. These type of games don’t excite me any more. They don’t give me confidence.”"

Judging by Green’s statement, is does seem more in the hands of the Suns organisation as to whether he stays or not. And as he hasn’t played for the same team in back-to-back seasons (excluding the last two years with the Suns) since he began his career with the Boston Celtics back in 2005, Green may well want to try and continue what he’s started in Phoenix. Rather than having to uproot himself yet again.

However, if they don’t want him, there’s nothing he can do about it. So if he does leave, should the Clippers consider signing him?

Apr 14, 2015; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Phoenix Suns forward Gerald Green reacts in the fourth quarter against the Los Angeles Clippers at US Airways Center. The Clippers beat the Suns 112-101. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

If Paul Pierce is available, it seems the answer to that question should be no. Of course, Green is eight years younger, but seeing as the Clippers are in far greater need of mental toughness and some skilful, veteran savvy off their bench, The Truth offers the attributes they need the most. Instead of bringing in more elite athletes and three point shooters — as these are two areas they’re abundant in already.

If Pierce stays in Washington, though, Green becomes more intriguing.

Rather than signing an old veteran on the last legs of their career, Green’s explosive and fast paced game fits the Clippers’ style of play perfectly. His 6’8″ frame flies around the floor with effortless bounce, and his 39 inch vertical would allow him to be the perfect highlight addition to Lob City. But he isn’t just about dunks.

Jan 28, 2015; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Phoenix Suns guard Gerald Green (left) shoots tha ball against Washington Wizards guard Garrett Temple at US Airways Center. The Suns defeated the Wizards 106-98. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Green saw his role decrease to that of a bench player this season, as after starting 48 games in 2013 for the Suns, he started just four this season. In terms of his production based on his playing time, though, Green is now at his best. He averaged 22 points per 36 minutes this year (an increase of 2 from the previous season) and added 4.6 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1 steal. He used his athleticism, 35.4 percent three point shooting (he shoots very well when contested, too) and even some spin-moves on the baseline to bury some buckets whenever given the chance.

When he was on the floor for the Suns this year, Green even raised their offensive rating by 5 whole points per 100 possessions. Furthermore, the Suns went from having a net rating of -1.6 without Green, to +1.3 whenever he was in the game. So, for a player who the Suns have shown little faith in over the past season, he was able to turn them into a winning team — for at least the brief amount of time he was on the floor.

This is the best way to summarise just how helpful he’s been to Phoenix, and the fact he turned their negative net rating into a positive one makes it even more baffling that he only received 19.5 minutes per game this year.

Is it possible he can have the same kind of impact in L.A., though?

At the moment, it’s essentially down to Paul Pierce. The Truth brings the kind of veteran leadership, championship-know-how and ability to close out games with big shots that the Clippers need. Not to mention it would take a great deal of pressure off Chris Paul and Blake Griffin in close fourth quarter situations. Whether or not he leaves Washington is another matter, but if he does, L.A. need to make him their top wing player to target.

Green, on the other hand, looks like the best (affordable) alternative. The main concern, however, is that his defense isn’t always consistent. He can use his elite quickness and length to burst into passing lanes and create easy fast break points, but at times he doesn’t guard opponents as intently as possible. That being said, if he joins tough, All-NBA first team defenders like Paul and DeAndre Jordan, and a powerful vocal coach like Doc Rivers, he may have the influence and inspiration he needs to reach his full defensive potential.

The Clippers do need to prioritise acquiring a new backup big man (through the draft or free agency), yet if they find any possible way to add a guard as well (which will be difficult with around $5 million cap space next season), Green looks like the next best option after Pierce.

With his combination of athleticism, length and shooting ability, the positive influences the Clippers can offer him may help Green go onto greater heights than he did in a troubled situation with Phoenix. He doesn’t posses great intangibles, yet when he gets minutes he can score in a hurry, and could create some offense for the Clippers’ struggling bench.

He isn’t a veteran leader like Pierce and doesn’t provide elite defense, but L.A. could still benefit from his presence for one simple reason:

When he plays, he gets buckets.

Next: The Jamal Crawford conundrum