The question follows the Clippers wherever they go, like a smelly bag of laundry inside their luggage: Can they win a championship without upgrading at small forward?
Their current options at the position, well, kind of stink.
Starter Matt Barnes has been inconsistent with his shooting, a hot start against the Memphis Grizzlies on Sunday notwithstanding, and at 34 is no longer an elite perimeter defender.
Veteran Chris Douglas-Roberts was supposed to help in that department but has been sidelined indefinitely by a strained right Achilles’ tendon.
Second-year player Reggie Bullock has played sparingly, not doing much besides a 12-point outburst against Utah.
Small forward has become such a black hole that Clippers Coach Doc Rivers used the 6-foot-10 Hedo Turkoglu as his first player off the bench to fill that role Sunday during his team’s 107-91 loss to the Grizzlies at FedEx Forum.
Rivers replaced Turkoglu with shooting guard J.J. Redick, creating a three-guard lineup the coach has used on occasion to compensate for his team’s deficiencies at small forward.
Asked about the situation, Rivers said his team had all the players it needs to win a title.
“I have yet to meet the perfect team,” Rivers said. “If you could show me that, I would love to see it. In this day and time, I guess every position has to be great. That’s just not the truth. Usually, there’s a position where guys have to fill for, and that’s ours right now.”
The big issue isn’t that the Clippers small forwards are struggling offensively; it’s that they’re having trouble stopping elite and non-elite wing players alike. Oklahoma City’s Perry Jones scored 32 points against the Clippers, whose fans probably needed a game program to figure out who he was. San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard followed with 26 points and Orlando’s Tobias Harris had 25.
Rivers tried to acquire a proven small forward over the summer but was unsuccessful. The Clippers gave Australian veteran Joe Ingles a look in the preseason before waiving him; Ingles is averaging 2.6 points for the Utah Jazz but is not an especially athletic player or a strong defender.
Barnes had an early flourish against Memphis on Sunday, making four of six shots in the first quarter. He did not shoot or score afterward, finishing with nine points.
Douglas-Roberts isn’t sure when he’ll be back from his Achilles’ injury. Part of him doesn’t want to know.
“I haven’t even asked for a timeline,” he said, “because I don’t want to hear something that I don’t want to hear.”
Douglas-Roberts has resumed spot shooting but cannot move laterally. He said his injury caused him to shoot mostly jump shots in the four games he played because he “didn’t have any real explosiveness getting to the basket.” He made only one of 11 shots, missing all six three-pointers.
There was one upside to his inaccuracy, though.
“If it was falling,” Douglas-Roberts said of his shot, “I probably would have continued to play on it, and it’s a possibility that it could have popped [the Achilles] completely, and that’s career-threatening.”
CLIPPERS AT CHARLOTTE
When: 4 p.m. PST, Monday.
Where: Time Warner Cable Center.
On the air: TV: Prime Ticket; Radio: 980, 1330.
Records: Clippers 7-5; Hornets 4-10.
Record vs. Hornets (2013-14): 1-1.
Update: The Hornets have lost five consecutive games after squandering an eight-point lead in the fourth quarter of a 94-93 setback against Miami on Sunday. Center Al Jefferson presents another difficult challenge for the Clippers’ DeAndre Jordan, who had only two points and three rebounds Sunday during a foul-plagued performance against Memphis.