Clippers Heading into Uncharted Territory
The Los Angeles Clippers knew they weren’t going to keep Eric Bledsoe beyond his current contract. On Tuesday the team sacrificed a player with a bright future for the chance to win now, making a three-team trade with the Milwaukee Bucks and Phoenix Suns to acquire J.J. Redick and Jared Dudley. The cost was Bledsoe, Caron Butler and a second-round pick.
The Clippers spent the last month gauging the value of Bledsoe, finding they were in the market for players like Arron Afflalo, DeMar DeRozan and O.J. Mayo. The perfect deal didn’t present itself for Los Angeles until the trade came together Tuesday for Redick and Dudley.
The team had two major goals over the offseason, followed by a trio of secondary aims. In hiring head coach Doc Rivers, the Clippers locked in their ultimate mission – securing Chris Paul to a long-term deal.
Once Paul agreed to sign for roughly $107.3 million, the team could focus on filling out the roster with outside shooters, improved perimeter defenders and a big who can help with scoring in the front court.
Redick is a true shooter, Dudley can hit the three and is an above-average defender and the team hopes to lure free-agent forward Carl Landry with their remaining Mid-Level Exception (MLE – $5.15 million) to complete their puzzle.
According to a source familiar with Landry’s thinking, he is hoping to get a contract worth $7 million a year. The Clippers won’t be able to afford him at that price, but a four-year deal starting at $5.15 million to rejoin his Paul in a winning situation might be enough. That’s ultimately up to Landry.
The Suns pick up both Bledsoe and Butler, a big win for a rebuilding team. Bledsoe is in the final year of his contract at $2.6 million and Phoenix could end up being a long-term home for the young guard. Butler, also in his last year at $8 million, was overpaid for his role on the Clippers. Dudley and Redick are better fits, although Los Angeles was grateful to Butler as one of the first free agents to sign on at the start of the rebuilding process.
Redick was not going to return to Milwaukee. For their trouble, the Bucks receive two second-round picks (one from each team). If Milwaukee goes under the salary cap (as expected), they won’t receive a trade exception for Redick.
Receiving a player via sign-and-trade, the Clippers will have a hard cap this season at roughly $75.6 million.
L.A. is expected to sign first-round draft pick Reggie Bullock for roughly $1.15 million. Rookie forward Brandon Davies is believed to have a non/partial-guaranteed deal with the Clippers at the league minimum.
The Clippers have three returning players without guaranteed deals (Willie Green, Maalik Wayns and DaJuan Summers), and all may be released to help keep the Clippers under the hard cap.
If the MLE goes to Landry, the most the Clippers can offer their own free agent Matt Barnes is a deal starting at $1.48 million — just a hair above a minimum contract. The Clippers would like to bring him back, but Barnes may look for more money elsewhere.
If Landry doesn’t sign, the Clippers might look to use some of their MLE on Barnes but the team would still be short a scorer in the front court.
Lamar Odom could return on a minimum contract. While that would pay Odom $1.4 million, the Clippers would be charged just $884,293 against their cap (the league covers a portion of minimum contracts).
The Clippers would also need a backup point guard (in addition to or in place of Wayns) but it remains to be seen if that’s a role free agent Chauncey Billups would like to take — and for how much. Los Angeles has his Bird Rights but if they bring in Barnes, Landry and Odom, the franchise is creeping ever closer to that hard cap.
The team also has interest in their former player, point guard Bobby Brown, who has played well overseas in the Euroleague for Montepaschi Siena — although L.A. may not have more than the minimum to offer.
The Clippers also need another center in the front court, likely at the minimum. That could be either Ryan Hollins or Ronny Turiaf, who were part of the team last year, or free-agent acquisitions like Jason Collins or Jermaine O’Neal. Hollins, Collins and O’Neal have all played for Rivers with the Boston Celtics.
A bigger question may be the fit of DeAndre Jordan next to Blake Griffin in the front court. The Clippers tried to swap him for Kevin Garnett, but the deal was blocked by the NBA because of its potential linking to Rivers. Thus far there doesn’t appear to be a trade in the works for Jordan.
With the acquisitions of Redick and Dudley, along with Rivers, the Clippers are going all-in in their pursuit of a title.
If they spend their full MLE and fill the roster up with role players (including Barnes), they’ll be more than just a first-time luxury tax payer but a team right on the edge of the hard cap.
No Bledsoe means the team lost some youth and athleticism, but the Clippers are a better and more balanced team. They still have some spending power and appear willing to add the pieces around Paul to make a serious run at a title.
How far can they get with the roster under Rivers is debatable, but management is putting together what they believe to be a contender.