Allow me to indulge in a familiar (and kind of annoying) basketball-writer exercise: insisting that some role player is actually way more important than you might expect. The role player in question is JaMychal Green, who on Monday agreed to re-sign with the Los Angeles Clippers on a two-year, $10 million deal with a player option on the second season, taking a discount because he wants a shot at a title, per The Athletic's Shams Charania.
Green is a power forward who isn't exactly great at anything but might be in the process of reinventing himself as a high-volume 3-point shooter. He made a career-high 40.3 percent of his 3-pointers last season, including his 41 games as a member of the Memphis Grizzlies and 24 as a Clipper, but after being traded to L.A. he went from shooting 3.8 3s per 36 minutes to 6.1 per 36. The Clippers traded their leading scorer, Tobias Harris, but got better offensively, and a lot of that was because of the shooting provided by Green and Landry Shamet.
If Green keeps taking and making 3s at the rate he did last season, there will be more space for Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and Lou Williams to make plays. Even if there is a slight dip, though, he will contribute on the other end. Green is a power forward who moves his feet quickly enough to stick with wings, and he toughs it out on the inside against taller players. (He is 6-foot-9 but has a 7-2 ½ wingspan.) He fit with the Clippers last year not just because he made shots, but because the franchise has made a concerted effort to acquire bloodthirsty defenders.
"I like playing with players that are dogs," Green said in February, via the Los Angeles Times' Andrew Greif. "I consider myself one. Coming here, I knew I had some dogs to play with."
The beauty of the Clippers' overnight transformation into a championship-caliber team is that they didn't have to sacrifice their hard-nosed, defense-first identity in the process. If Leonard and George never created any offense whatsoever, they would still be highly compensated because they're two of the best stoppers on the planet and they can shoot. Los Angeles lost a versatile defender in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, but it quietly added Moe Harkless and Rodney McGruder, who can both guard multiple positions. There will be somewhat of an adjustment period, but I'd be surprised if it were a particularly difficult one. Much of the supporting cast played together last season, and chemistry comes easier with floor spacers and switchable, high-IQ defenders. Green is both.
According to Cleaning The Glass, Green spent about seven percent of his regular-season playing time in Los Angeles -- about 33 minutes -- at center. In the playoffs, however, the Golden State Warriors played Ivica Zubac off the court and coach Doc Rivers made Green their starting center halfway through the series. Green defends pick-and-rolls better than Zubac or Montrezl Harrell, and he's Los Angeles' only big man who can space the floor. Next season, even if Harrell plays most of the center minutes and Zubac is the nominal starter, the Clippers should take a look at Green in starting and closing lineups. It will likely be necessary in April, May and June.
If Green indeed sacrificed a significant amount of money to return to the Clippers, it is yet another affirmation of their front office's work in establishing a new identity in the wake of the Lob City era. They are not a flawless team, but they look like an actual team, not a collection of random parts. On the court, their new superstars should be able to trust their teammates to make shots and get stops, and Los Angeles' role players should trust those stars to make plays and take over the occasional game. That symbiotic relationship can occasionally be seen through the lens of transactions, too: Just as Leonard and George knew that the Clippers had a solid group of guys to complement them, Green knew that Leonard and George would make it possible to compete on the highest level, playing a substantial role.