Clippers: Saying No to Chris Copeland


In Doc Rivers‘ three years as team president, there have been some questionable free agent decisions made.

Byron Mullens and Antawn Jamison as backups to Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan in 2013. Choosing Spencer Hawes over Paul Pierce and Jared Cunningham over Joe Ingles last year. Now, that trend could be continued as a report surfaced that the team is interested in the floor-spacing unrestricted free agent Chris Copeland, formerly for of the Indiana Pacers and New York Knicks.

Like Mullens, Jamison, and Hawes, Copeland’s value lies within his ability to space the floor, and he does it well — in his first two seasons in the NBA, the third-year forward shot at least 40 percent from the three-point line; this past season, Copeland saw a huge drop in efficiency in Year 2 with the Pacers, shooting 31% on a career-high 167 three-point attempts. The thing is, the Clippers aren’t wanting for offense, even months after their inability to hit threes played a role in dropping the West semi-finals to the Houston Rockets. After leading the league in offensive rating last year, leaning on the shoulders of Chris Paul, J.J. Redick, and Blake Griffin, the Clippers have added Paul Pierce and Lance Stephenson to the equation. Even factoring in the losses of Matt Barnes and Spencer Hawes, combined with Stephenson’s unproductive 2014-15 season, the Clippers are primed to repeat as the league’s best offense, and if not, at least finish in the top-3 barring injury.

And like Mullens, Jamison, and Hawes Copeland’s strengths blend in with that of the Clippers’ current roster while adding on to its weaknesses — good offense, awful defense. Where the Clippers have needed help — since Doc Rivers’ arrival — is on the defensive end, and Copeland is a net negative in every measure available to judge defenders, both eye and advanced.

Copeland’s -1.77 Real Plus-Minus (ESPN) was the 64th best by a small forward last season. Per NBA Stats, the Pacers were worse defensively (and offensively) with Copeland last year, as the team’s defensive rating dropping from 100.2 to 103.2 when he was on the floor. The same occurred 2013-14 with the Pacers, with the team’s defensive rating dropping from 95.8 to 109.7 when Copeland was on the floor. Going back to Copeland’s rookie season, the trend continued. When relying on the visual test, the eyes tell you Copeland is built like a small forward but lacks the lateral quickness to keep up with wing players consistently, and is a so-so defender against back-to-the-basket power forwards. In theory, DeAndre Jordan, third-place finisher in Defensive Player of the Year voting and All-Defensive 1st team member, could cover for the mistakes of Copeland and others, but we’ve seen up to this point Jordan is no defensive savior — while incompetent, he remains flawed.

To put it simply, the tradeoff for Copeland’s one-trick pony isn’t worth the pick up, especially when you consider Paul Pierce, who is far talented than Copeland — even this late in his NBA career — to be the stretch-4 the Clippers have always wanted.

There is still a need to improve the backup forward position for the Clippers as of now. Better alternatives to Copeland? Josh Smith and Darrell Arthur, two forwards who’ve the team has had conversation with in free agency. Another reported interest and better player than Copeland would be Carlos BoozerTyler Hansbrough, Reggie Evans, and Chuck Hayes, players that haven’t been connected to the Clippers this summer, are better options. And worst-case scenario, the Clippers re-sign Glen Davis to another vet minimum deal as Blake’s backup — still better than Copeland.

One day Doc Rivers will get a grasp on finding the right role players to surround his superstars with.

Hopefully Copeland can save Rivers from himself by choosing to sign elsewhere.

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