LOS ANGELES -- Even though Chauncey Billups was lost for the season 39 days ago, the thought of the Los Angeles Clippers possibly trading for a replacement in Nick Young wasn’t hatched until 10 days ago.
It was a deal the Clippers, in need of a big shooting guard, wanted to make. And it was a trade Young, a Los Angeles native who played at Cleveland High (in nearby Reseda) and USC, wanted the Clippers to make.
In the end, however, it seemed as though it wasn’t going to happen. As much as Clippers general manager Neil Olshey coveted Young and thought he could help the team, he wasn’t prepared to part with any of the assets he wanted to protect currently and in the future. Those assets included second-year guard Eric Bledsoe, future first-round picks and players currently ingrained in the rotation, such as guards Mo Williams and Randy Foye.
As of 11:15 a.m. in Los Angeles, Olshey was ready to move forward with the Clippers’ roster before he got a phone call from Washington Wizards general manager Ernie Grunfeld. The Clippers were back in the mix if they wanted Young, and the price tag was more than reasonable. They could get their talented 26-year-old starting shooting guard, and all the Clippers had to give up was a future second-round pick, which they got from the New Orleans Hornets in the Chris Paul trade, and Brian Cook, who has played all of 16 games this season, averaging 1.9 points and 1.4 rebounds.
Basically the Clippers were getting Young, who is averaging 16.6 points and 2.4 rebounds in 32 starts this season, for nothing to complete a larger three-team deal between the Wizards and Denver Nuggets that sent Nene Hilario to the Wizards and JaVale McGee and Ronny Turiaf to the Nuggets.
“I was actually surprised, I didn’t think there was any way we were going to be able to acquire a player like Nick Young for a future second-round pick,” Olshey said. “Nick has wanted to be here for a long time. He was motivated to come here. Clearly, it was part of a bigger deal and we needed to make the math work for Washington and Denver to complete their transitions.”
Olshey said he thought the deal was dead last night when he went to bed and anticipated the Clippers would not make any deals. That is, until 45 minutes before the NBA trade deadline, when Grunfeld called him. Olshey had already informed Clippers owner Donald Sterling about the prospect of the deal Wednesday night and Sterling had signed off on it.
Since Olshey took over as the Clippers’ general manager in 2010, he can’t remember many times when Sterling hasn’t signed off on a move he wanted to make. Perhaps the biggest difference Blake Griffin has made to the Clippers since he was drafted with the first overall pick in the 2009 draft was change the mindset of Sterling, who has gone from the most frugal owner in sports to one who is now willing to back a high payroll. In the past three months alone, the Clippers have gone out and acquired Caron Butler, Chauncey Billups, Chris Paul, Reggie Evans, Kenyon Martin and Young as well as re-signed DeAndre Jordan.
“He’s been great this whole time,” Olshey said. “He hasn’t turned us down once on deals we wanted to do.”
After the Clippers’ 91-87 loss to the Phoenix Suns on Thursday night, playing without Steve Nash and Grant Hill, they are now 9-11 since losing Billups last month to a torn Achilles tendon and have lost a fair share of those games to below-.500 teams such as the Suns, Golden State Warriors, New Jersey Nets and Cleveland Cavaliers. Young’s addition doesn’t completely fix what ails this team, certainly not from a defensive standpoint, but it gives them a 6-foot-7 guard on the wing who can knock down open 3-pointers and at least make life slightly more difficult for the bigger swingmen who have had their way with some of the Clippers’ smaller guards.
“Nick is a multi-dimensional scorer; he can score in pick-and-rolls, isolations, off screens, he’s one of the best catch-and-shoot corner players in the league,” Olshey said. “And for all the talk about him as a defender, people don’t realize that in isolation, on-the-ball situations, Nick Young is in the top 10 percent in the league as a defender.”
Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro said the plan is for Young to be the Clippers’ starting shooting guard alongside Paul, which will move Randy Foye, who has started in Billups’ absence, to a second unit that will now feature Williams, Martin, Evans and a healthy Bledsoe.
“Yes,” Del Negro said when asked if Young would start. “He gives us more size in the backcourt. He’s a proven scorer in this league. He’s explosive; he can take you inside, outside. How it’s all going to come together, time will tell, but to get a player of his caliber on the team, I think, is a real positive thing and he can give us some help.”
Young’s arrival to the Clippers’ training facility on Friday coincides with the return of Billups, who will continue his rehabilitation with the team in Los Angeles. Olshey and Del Negro say they believe that being back home around players such as Paul and Billups will help Young’s development and maturity, which may have been stunted in Washington where he played for four coaches in less than five seasons.
“I think you’re going to see a big jump out of Nick Young here,” Olshey said. “There’s just something about being around guys like Chris Paul and Chauncey Billups. Just being around them elevates your persona. It’s just a level of professionalism that they hold them to that I think Nick will embrace because he’s just dying to learn. He’s like a guy in an oasis just looking for a drink of water. He wants somebody to show him how to not just be a big-time talent but a professional in our league.”
While the Miami Heat and Chicago Bulls are entrenched as the favorites in the East, there is a feeling the West is wide open and the trades made by the Lakers to acquire Ramon Sessions, the San Antonio Spurs to acquire Stephen Jackson and Clippers to acquire Young on Thursday, was a way for each team to make one last push for a spot in the Western Conference finals and possibly the NBA Finals come June.
“It looked like it was going to be quite at the trade deadline, but people think the field is pretty open right now,” Olshey said. “I don’t think there’s a dominant team anybody is afraid of and has it wired. What you saw was teams that are in the mix tried to move the needle and get better. The Lakers got better today and so did some other teams. What you saw was teams say this thing is open and we’re going to push in some chips and see if we can make some progress in the playoffs.”