Clippers-Knicks Trade Breakdown

November 24, 2008

Whenever a trade is made, one’s initial instinct is to declare a winner and loser. But personnel moves involve a lot of gray area, and a true assessment of a trade’s impact cannot often be known until years later. Last week the Knicks sent big man Zach Randolph and guard Mardy Collins to Los Angeles for forward Tim Thomas and guard Cuttino Mobley. Because of the reasons behind the deal, the benefit of the trade to each team will not be known until the 2010 season has started.


The acquisition of Zach Randolph provides the Clips with a legit 20 and 10 guy at the 4 spot. Going into this season GM Mike Dunleavy assumed he would already have such a player in Elton Brand, as Brand had verbally represented that he would sign with the team. The Clippers thought they would have an inside-outside punch with Brand and newcomer Baron Davis, capable of leading the team back into the playoffs. Unfortunately, the whole plan went out the window when Brand broke his word.

In Randolph, the Clippers now have a bruising, young power forward. Although there have been whispers of Randolph being a malcontent in the locker room, his solid performance and conditioning this year have erased some of that chatter.

Randolph is a bulky 4 who won’t get outmuscled. He has a solid low-post game, but can also face up and drain the 20-footer. His offensive game is actually an upgrade from Brand because unlike the overrated Brand, Randolph consistently commands double-teams in the post. His inside-outside versatility should allow him to flourish with the Clippers other two versatile bigs, Marcus Camby and Chris Kaman.

More important, the Clippers now have the necessary frontcourt size and depth to compete with a large Western Conference featuring such inside tandems of Shaq-Amare, Bynum-Gasol, Oden-Aldridge, Yao-Scola, and Okur-Boozer.

Ultimately, Dunleavy brought in Baron Davis this offseason to compete NOW. Baron is in his prime and the Clippers did not want to wait 2 years down the line to bring in free agent help. The Clippers now have a legitimate chance to earn the eighth spot, provided all the parts gel.


In giving up Mobley and Thomas, the Clippers lost solid veteran play and two contracts which would expire by 2010 (Randolph’s deal, on the other hand, does not expire by 2010).

Although Mobley’s game is deteriorating somewhat due to age and injury, he still is capable of knocking down open jumpers and providing 10-15 points a night at the 2 spot. He is an underrated defender who has given Kobe Bryant trouble sometimes during their cross-town battles. Mobley also is capable of backing down other guards on the block.

Meanwhile, Thomas is a versatile player who can play the 3 or the 4. His best asset is his ability to space the floor with his three-point shooting. Knicks coach, and cop look-alike Mike D’Antoni is well aware of his game having coached Thomas in Phoenix.

Thomas’ downside has always been inconsistency, and that inconsistency has gotten worse as he has gotten older. Still, as a reserve, he can be an asset.

Overall, the Clippers have lost future cap space and some veteran leadership with this deal. The loss of Thomas is manageable because other players are there to step up. The loss of Mobley is more drastic because there is now a hole in the backcourt.

At the two, Ricky Davis now becomes the starter by default. Davis is currently struggling and is in the midst of a shooting slump. In all likelihood, he will work himself out of his funk sometime this year. But even when his game gets right, Ricky Davis is not the answer at shooting guard, as he is best placed in a backup role.

The Clippers have two alternatives in the meantime. The first is Al Thornton, a burgeoning star at small forward, who is athletic enough to guard some two’s in spot minutes.

The second option is talented rookie Eric Gordon. Gordon was an explosive scorer in college, but he is still learning the NBA. He already has legitimate NBA three-point range and is a thunderous finisher at the rim. Questions remain as to his defense and his ability to adjust quickly to the higher level of NBA competition. The other problem with Gordon is his lack of height, although this is partially negated by Baron Davis’s ability to guard 2’s, allowing Gordon to then defend the opponent’s point guard.

Trade throw-in Collins doesn't figure to add much to this mix.

Until the shooting guard position is upgraded, the Clippers will be limited in how far they can go.


Cap space. Both Mobley and Thomas’ contracts expire by 2010. Stephon Marbury’s $20 million plus deal will expire by 2009. This means that the Knicks will be able to make a serious run at LeBron James in 2010. Although they can’t match years with Cleveland, now they can at least match dollars.

The problem with clearing cap space is that it leaves the cupboard bare. James has stated that he will go to a team with a chance to compete for championships. If the Knicks have no nucleus in place, there actually would be a disincentive for James to sign with New York.

What this trade provides the Knicks however, is the ability to sign TWO top-tier free agents, much like when Orlando signed Grant Hill and Tracy McGrady. The thinking is that the prospect of playing alongside a fellow free agent star will be enough to bring James to New York.

In the meantime, Mobley can instantly step in and start at the 2. Thomas, at a minimum, should be part of Knicks rotation in a reserve role. Both players have three-point range and should function well in D’Antoni’s system.


Their best player this year. Randolph was thriving under D’Antoni and putting up big numbers. By trading him, they lose their primary inside threat. Thomas and newcomer Al Harrington must try to fill his void. Perhaps Eddie Curry will now get some showcase minutes in the hopes of garnering trade interest.

Ultimately, the Knicks lost any hope of making playoff noise in the next two seasons. But, even with this year’s promising start and Randolph on the roster, the Knicks likely would have been an early playoff casualty. For New York, it is worth the risk of giving up on the next two years in the hope of getting James in 2010.


In the end, the success of this deal will hinge on who the Knicks are able to sign in 2010. As for the Clips, they have put themselves in a position to leave the cellar and step up to mediocrity. They've only made a baby step, but at least it's progress.

By Mike Elliott
Staff Editor for

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