Column: Clippers make case for keeping roster intact as trade deadline looms

Landry Shamet insisted the Clippers hadn’t talked among themselves about Thursday’s noon PST trade deadline, but their actions Wednesday night suggested otherwise.

Montrezl Harrell and Paul George, still dressing after the Clippers had shredded Miami’s zone defense in rolling to an impressive 128-111 victory over one of the top teams in the East, eagerly pulled out their phones in the locker room at Staples Center so they could catch up on the action around the league. Some of that action was happening down the hall and involved the Heat, which reportedly was finalizing a deal to add veteran Andre Iguodala from Memphis.

Shamet hoped he won’t be added to the list of players moved in the final hours before the deadline, though his name has come up in connection with the Clippers’ reported interest in New York Knicks forward Marcus Morris.

If the Clippers make a trade they’d likely get a supplemental player like Morris, who is a 43.9% shooter from three-point range this season and would be an upgrade over Maurice Harkless. They made their big moves last summer with George and Kawhi Leonard and are still smoothing out all the ripples from those additions, though in winning their third straight game and fifth in the last six the Clippers are finding the cohesion they lacked earlier in the season. They’re enjoying some continuity without injuries to disrupt them and they’ve been providing glimpses of the level they might reach someday. That prospect doesn’t seem so far off anymore.

If they can’t pull off a significant upgrade at forward at a reasonable price it wouldn’t be the end of the world — or of their championship aspirations. Keeping Shamet makes the most sense for them, especially after he persuasively stated his case for staying by scoring 23 points, his most productive performance since he joined the Clippers in a trade with Philadelphia exactly a year ago Wednesday.

“Where are we in the West now?” Shamet asked with the air of someone who knows the answer to the question he had asked.


“Yeah,” Shamet said. “We’re in the mix. I love our group. I think we’ve shown we have the pieces. It’s just a matter of continuing to find ourselves and keep figuring it out.”

He was among the eight Clippers who scored in double figures Wednesday as they set franchise records for three-point shots made (24) and attempted (54). They also set a season-best mark with 35 assists, led by George’s 10.

“This is about the deepest team I’ve been on from top to bottom,” George said. “It’s unique, where we’ve got a great starting group, a great bench group, and you’ve got experience in both bench and starting groups. I think the best thing about it is no matter who’s in, who’s out, who’s plugged with which group, we keep it rolling and find ways to get guys looks.”

In tying George for team-high scoring honors Shamet took 15 shots, a distinct improvement over the three shots he took against San Antonio on Monday. “Which I didn’t like,” coach Doc Rivers said.

Rivers, incidentally, said he was surprised Shamet hadn’t scored more than 23 points in a game as a Clipper before this. “That it? I’ve got to talk to Sham. We gotta do better than that,” Rivers said. “It’s good. Let’s keep breaking records. I don’t care about any records but I do care about winning.”

Shamet’s six-for-13 shooting from beyond the arc was crucial as the Clippers overcame a slow start to outscore Miami by 15 in the third quarter and by five in the fourth quarter. The Clippers moved the ball well and made their shots as their offense flowed freely. “It’s always been that. It’s just been a matter of finding our rhythm,” Shamet said.

“I think that’s what we’re stepping into now, figuring out the best version of how this group, we need to play. I think we were just trying to search for it earlier in the year, which is normal. Still trying to search for it. I don’t think we’re perfect yet. We’ve had a few games where we’re stagnant but overall we’re fine and we’re starting to find it and figure it out. We need to play more of that brand of basketball, I think.”

George noted that the Clippers still must clean up their starts and sharpen their ability to close out games, weaknesses that have made some of their wins more difficult than they should have been. Lou Williams, who had 14 points Wednesday, sees other flaws that have kept them from realizing their full potential.

“I think we still have stretches in a game where the ball is kind of stagnant and we’re not communicating on the defensive end,” Williams said. “I think in a lot of games talent is still getting us through, so I think there’s a lot of things that still can be tightened up and worked on, on both ends of the floor. Are we close? I’m not sure, but we’re still growing.”

The rest of that growth could be best achieved by staying as they are through the deadline.

“Obviously, if a home run comes past I’m sure that management is doing their due diligence,” Williams said, “but other than that we’re super-excited about the group of guys that we have.”

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