If only the Clippers could sign Joe Johnson

Sep 28, 2015; Brooklyn, NY, USA; Brooklyn Nets guard Joe Johnson (7) poses for a photo during media day at Barclays Center. Mandatory Credit: Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 28, 2015; Brooklyn, NY, USA; Brooklyn Nets guard Joe Johnson (7) poses for a photo during media day at Barclays Center. Mandatory Credit: Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports /

It seems most likely that Joe Johnson will sign with a top title contender like the Cleveland Cavaliers, but the Los Angeles Clippers should at least try to bring him onboard.

There’s no doubt that the Los Angeles Clippers, all things considered, have been playing incredibly well over the last couple of months. Without Blake Griffin, the team has adapted under the exceptional leadership of Chris Paul, the bench has improved, misfits such as Josh Smith and Lance Stephenson are gone, and the Clippers even rank 7th in defensive efficiency. Which, if you’ve watched them over recent years, should really impress you after they struggled to 15th in the same category last season.

Improvements and small-ball success aside, though, the Clippers’ current play isn’t without weakness by any means. In comparison to the Golden State Warriors, who set the increasingly high bar for everyone else in the Western Conference, the Clippers aren’t enough.

No one is with the way the champs are playing. No one can match their all around talent, pace, depth and versatility, and let’s not even get started on who can attempt to stop Stephen Curry.

The point is that the Clippers need more from their bench, even when Griffin returns to provide his diverse offensive skill set and point guard-power forward ability.

With the NBA’s three-point percentage leader in J.J. Redick (48.1 percent) and Paul (38.2 percent), the Clippers have a couple of deadly weapons from deep, with the former being unstoppable at times when he weaves his way through defenders and runs off screens. They aren’t enough by themselves, though. While they help L.A. rank 5th in the NBA with a team three-point percentage of 36.4 and 7th in made threes per game (9.6), the drop off after Redick and Paul is rather sudden.

The Clippers’ next four most used three-point shooters with at least 2.5 attempts per game (Jamal Crawford, Wesley Johnson, Paul Pierce and Austin Rivers) are all shooting below 33.6 percent.

This is where the recently waived Joe Johnson (37.1 percent on threes this season) needs to catch their attention.

Despite the talent he still possesses, which has especially been on show over the last two months, Johnson has been criminally overpaid by the Brooklyn Nets which (along with his poor efficiency early this season) has tarnished his overall reputation. This season he was making an extortionate $24.89 million. It sounds bad enough as it is. But to put that into context against the rest of the NBA, he had the second highest salary in the entire league, behind only Kobe Bryant‘s $25 million.

So, believe it or not, he was making more than LeBron James, Kevin Durant, and, until he gets his overdue pay rise, more than twice as much as Stephen Curry.

Yet, thanks to a buyout, Johnson is back on the market for a far more appropriate price. According to ESPN’s Marc Stein, top playoff contenders are all in pursuit.

It would be bizarre for him to sign anywhere else. Now that he’s 34 and approaching his final years, his time to join a title contender and contribute won’t last forever. Stein also noted the Cavaliers are confident that they are favorites to win the free agent battle for Johnson, which might prevent a possible return to Atlanta or a move elsewhere.

However, let’s further consider how Johnson could help.

It’s not just threes where Johnson could improve the Clippers’ second unit. With their over reliance on shooting behind the arc (see their ugly performance against the Denver Nuggets as they went 13-of-46 from deep), his ability to create shots off the dribble inside helps add another dynamic, too.

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He’s shooting 47.4 percent from 10-16 feet this season, thanks to the way he can shoot to reasonable effect off the dribble and post-up smaller guards. He has more ability to create his own shot inside the arc than guys like Johnson, and he’s obviously got far more to offer offensively than Luc Mbah a Moute. And, of course, his three-point shooting will help make up for the mediocrity of others across the roster.

Over the last two months alone he’s been displaying the stellar efficiency he’s capable of recording. Since the start of 2016, he’s only averaged a modest 13.4 points per game, but he’s done so with 48.4 percent shooting and a 46 percent three-point stroke.

Johnson’s been showcasing his passing ability well this season, too. He’s always been a talented playmaker and his 4.1 assists per game shouldn’t be overlooked either.

Plus, as you’ll know if you’ve watched Johnson (or at least his buzzer beating highlights), he’s got a knack for making clutch shots. If he can keep this going, he can really help take some pressure off CP3 when the Clippers are desperately looking for a bucket or clutch three. Seeing as Paul Pierce has been far from efficient this season, this aspect of Johnson’s game holds even more value.

In order to acquire him, the Clippers would obviously need to offer the veteran’s minimum salary as well, and most likely create a roster spot by moving All-Star D-League addition Alex Stepheson. Although, as he’s only in L.A. on a 10-day contract anyway, it won’t be difficult to create room for Johnson.

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The problem for Doc Rivers is why would Johnson choose the Clippers? The Thunder have an edge as the 3rd seed in the West with two of the top players in the league in Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, while the Cavs are practically a lock for the Finals this year unless the Raptors surprise us in the playoffs. In terms of title potential, these teams make the most sense out of those that Stein mentioned.

This is where it would be startling to see Johnson choose the Clippers. Why put such teams aside that could get you your first ring for a team like L.A. who are in the second tier of title contenders? They are clearly still one of the top teams in the league and should not be underrated, but they aren’t on the same level as the Warriors or Spurs.

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Unfortunately for L.A., there are a multiple other options that make more sense for Johnson.

So, instead of adding Brooklyn’s former star, the pressure to be the Clippers’ final piece rests on the often inconsistent and underwhelming shoulders of Jeff Green.