Where Do the Clippers Go From Here?
The Los Angeles Clippers are coming off of arguably their best season in franchise history. Although they were swept by the San Antonio Spurs in the second round, the Clippers made their first postseason appearance since 2006. They went 40-26 and impressed with a hard-fought, Game 7 victory in Memphis. How far could they have gone had Chris Paul and Blake Griffin been fully healthy for the series against the Spurs?
The Clippers have agreed to terms with Neil Olshey, their vice president of player operations (according to press release issued on Friday, June 1st). They opted to keep head coach Vinny Del Negro for the final year on his contract.
UPDATE: The Clippers and Olshey have since parted way so add a VP replacement to the to-do list.
The Clippers have seven players under guaranteed contract for next season: DeAndre Jordan, Caron Butler, Ryan Gomes, Eric Bledsoe, Trey Thompkins, Paul and Griffin.
Mo Williams has a player option on his $8.5 million and, upon completion of the season, he confirmed that he will stay for another year. There’s a difference between telling the media he’s opting in versus actually opting in, but it appears to just be a matter of time.
Additionally, second-year guard Travis Leslie’s $762k is non-guaranteed.
Olshey and the Clippers will have a number of decisions to make this summer with free agents Randy Foye, Nick Young, Kenyon Martin, Chauncey Billups, Reggie Evans and Bobby Simmons.
If Williams makes his stay official, the Clippers will have about $59 million in salary on the books. Without Williams, Los Angeles is at about $50.5 million, which corresponds to about $5.4 million in cap room after cap holds.
To get far below the cap, the team would also need to renounce the rights to each and every free agent. Is there one player worth giving up that much depth for?
The team could also choose to use their amnesty clause on the seldom-used Ryan Gomes, who is going into his final year at $4 million. Assuming Leslie is waived as well, cap space would max out to about $9.2 million.
Instead, it appears more likely the Clippers are a mid-level exception (MLE) team, giving them about $5 million to spend on free agency (and re-sign their own players).
The spending limit would probably be the luxury tax threshold, which will be a little over $70 million next season.
If the Clippers spend $5 million on a free agent, that leaves about $6 million for Foye, Young, Martin, Billups and/or Evans. Amnesty on Gomes would increase that spending power to $10 million.
There is a pending hearing to determine if the Clippers have Bird Rights on Billups, but the result may be immaterial. L.A. can pay Billups up to 120% of the full $14 million he made last year (including the portion paid by the New York Knicks), which is significantly more than he’ll actually get.
L.A. has Early Bird Rights on Foye, who can get up to about $7.4 million. The Clippers don’t have Young’s Bird Rights, but can offer him up to $4.4 million starting salary without using their MLE.
Martin is eligible for a $3 million starting salary and Evans just under $1.5 million.
If the Clippers do use their full MLE, the max they can spend on total roster would be about $74 million. If instead they used the Mini-MLE of $3.1 million, they’d climb as high above the tax threshold as they desire.
Unless L.A. had a chance to acquire a player who undeniably made them an elite contender, the Clippers will probably spend up to $70 million this coming season.
The Clippers still have a trade exception from the Chris Paul trade, which would allow them to bring in up to $2.86 million in salary (Al-Farouq Aminu).
Would they offer a package built around DeAndre Jordan, Eric Bledsoe and filler for Dwight Howard? That’s unclear, but the Orlando Magic are still searching for a general manager and head coach. Howard currently isn’t being shopped.
The Clippers have no interest in moving Blake Griffin for Howard, or anyone really.
Instead, the team has talked about bringing in stretch-big who can complement both Griffin and Jordan. Olshey also indicated the team would consider bringing in a more traditional two-guard.
Shooting is a premium although not in one-dimensional players who struggle to do anything else.
Assuming Williams does opt in, the Clippers can package Williams and Gomes as $12.5 million in expiring contracts, which could yield up to $18.9 million in incoming salary (assuming the tax apron of $74 million isn’t breached).
The Clippers are also getting calls for Bledsoe after his breakout postseason. They’d be able to acquire a lottery pick in the upcoming draft but currently the team appears to be happier having Bledsoe on the roster.
Free Agency/Trade Targets
The Clippers have long coveted Ray Allen, but he needs to be healthy and he’s expected to have offseason ankle surgery.
Jason Terry, O.J. Mayo and Jamal Crawford (opt-out) may be available in free agency.
Channing Frye is trying to get over a shoulder injury and may not be healthy to start the season. He’d be the perfect fit as a floor spacer for Griffin.
Other stretch players might include Kevin Garnett, Antawn Jamison, Michael Beasley (potentially restricted), Mehmet Okur and Al Harrington (under contract with the Denver Nuggets).
Brandon Rush will probably be a restricted free agent with the Golden State Warriors, but he’s a solid defender and outside shooter. Dorell Wright is on the block and has had some success as an outside shooter, although last year he had consistency issues.
The Houston Rockets have players like Kevin Martin, Chase Budinger and Courtney Lee (to be restricted) who would fit, although none would necessarily be “easy” gets.
Ersan Ilyasova would be a nice get in free agency, but he’s probably looking for starters’ minutes and salary. Ryan Anderson is in a similar position with the Orlando Magic, except they’ll certainly make him a restricted free agent.
It’s difficult to guess which path the Brooklyn Nets take but if they need to get out of Anthony Morrow’s $4 million. J.J. Redick with the Magic may not be available but he too can shoot. Marco Belinelli is also a free agent (New Orleans).
That’s just a perfunctory look across the league, but the Clippers have very quickly become a team that players would like to play for. It will be interesting to see exactly how the team takes advantage of the opportunities this summer.
From July to the end of October, the Clippers will have the ability to give Griffin an extension. Obviously the team would like to lock him in for as long as possible, as soon as possible.
Under the new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA), each team can designate one player (coming off of a rookie contract) for a five-year extension instead of the standard four. That would enable to Clippers to keep Griffin through the 2017-18 NBA Season.
Technically, Griffin doesn’t yet qualify for the “Derrick Rose Rule” which would allow the Clippers to pay him closer to $16 million than $13 million in the first year of his extension, which would kick in for the 2013-14 season. Griffin would need to be voted in as All-Star starter to be eligible, make an All-NBA Team or win league MVP, which clearly can’t happen before the end of October.
The CBA allows for the Clippers and Griffin to agree to a maximum extension without knowing what that dollar figure is. If he signs off on such a deal, he’d have significant incentive to be an All-Star starter given the salary boost it’d provide.
The numbers will fluctuate by then but in theory Griffin’s current eligibility would be about $75 million over five years. If voted in as All-Star starter (etc.), that could jump to $92 million.
Paul can be given an extension from June 14th until the end of June 2013. The most the Clippers can give him is a 5% bump up in pay based on next season’s salary (since he’s over the max). That would be a starting salary of $18.7 million, which extends to about $60.2 million over three years.
Paul would be able to lock in more money if he doesn’t extend, instead hitting free agency in 2013 and signing a five-year deal but there’s something to be said for having financial security.
It remains to be seen if Paul is ready to take an extension or wait out for a bigger contract and choice of destination. Griffin is the more likely of the two to take an extension this summer given no one else will be able to offer anywhere close to what the Clippers can, especially if he’s an All-Star starter.
In the meantime, the Clippers have clear motivation to improve their roster and give both Griffin and Paul reason beyond the money to stay in Los Angeles.
NBA Playoff Power Rankings Week Six
6/4/12 – The San Antonio Spurs and Miami HEAT seemed to be completely in control of their respective series. Now, both the Oklahoma City Thunder and Boston Celtics are on a roll. Can either take a third-straight and with a chance to close at home in Game 6? Is it inevitable to see two Conference Finals ending in Game 7s? The NBA playoffs, six weeks in . . .
|2||10-3||Serge Ibaka isn’t going to hit all 11 shots again, but Kevin Durant may have emerged (ahead of schedule) as the league’s most unstoppable force.|
|1||10-2||The Spurs can out execute any team in the league but sometimes there are things that just can’t be prepared for (i.e. Durant).|
|3||10-5||The HEAT may be getting Chris Bosh back soon and it took everything the Celtics had to squeak out a win at home, so Miami gets the slight edge.|
|4||10-7||Boston knows how to do this thing. They’re not fazed. They’re a little older, banged up and under-manned but they’ve been to the NBA Finals twice and taken home a ring with almost the same core.|