Hoops Rumors is in the process of looking back at each team’s offseason, from the end of the playoffs in June right up until opening night. Trades, free agent signings, draft picks, contract extensions, option decisions, camp invitees, and more will be covered, as we examine the moves each franchise made over the last several months.
- Branden Dawson (Round 2, 56th overall). Signed via minimum salary exception to a two-year, $1.4MM deal.
Rookie Contract Option Decisions
Kevin Jairaj/USA Today Sports Images
The Clippers’ offseason was an interesting one to say the least. The franchise seemingly lost one of its stars in DeAndre Jordan to the Mavericks only to have him make an eleventh hour about-face and return to Los Angeles. Shooting guard J.J. Redick had given the team a grade of “F” for its summer moves when all had seemed lost regarding Jordan. But once the ink was dry on the big man’s new four-year pact, Redick, like many of us, sang a different tune. “We had no cap space,” Redick said to Kenny Ducey of SI.com, “and we re-signed our best player that was a free agent, and we picked up Paul Pierce, Josh Smith, traded for Lance [Stephenson], Wes Johnson, Pablo Prigioni. We have 13 rotation players, so it’s definitely an A.” Well-said indeed, regardless of the team’s sluggish start to 2015/16.
Retaining Jordan was paramount if the franchise hoped to maintain its forward momentum as well as have a legitimate shot to contend in the Western Conference. With no first-round pick this year and a difficult salary cap situation to navigate, the Clippers would have had no means with which to adequately replace the 27-year-old for this season. While I could make the case against Jordan being worth a max salary deal, given the short window to contend in the NBA, the team absolutely had to hold onto him no matter what. Jordan’s contract will likely look better once the salary cap increases next summer, but regardless of whether this deal turns out to be an overpay or not, coach/executive Doc Rivers made the right call in retaining him.
Rivers had a number of difficult decisions to make this offseason, including a trade that could be a master stroke as easily as it could sink the team. That’s the acquisition of the mercurial Stephenson from the Hornets, who were all too happy to cut bait on their big free agent signing of a year ago. This deal was also a means for Rivers to erase one of his biggest mistakes from the summer of 2014, which was signing Spencer Hawes to a four-year, $23MM deal. The Hawes signing was a puzzler for me given the team’s far greater need at small forward as well as for backcourt depth, and Rivers was seemingly able to correct both errors with this trade.
Stephenson is a talented player whose versatility and toughness are certainly traits that the Clippers can use, but he also carries with him the reputation of being a disruptive force in the locker room and to overall team chemistry, which will be a concern going forward until Stephenson proves otherwise. The Clippers are not an especially hard-nosed team, and Stephenson’s physicality can certainly be a boon if the coaching staff can properly harness it. He’s not adept at moving without the ball, which could limit his effectiveness in the team’s offense. The swingman’s contract includes a team option for 2016/17, so Los Angeles could cut ties after the season without being on the hook for any funds, making a gamble on Stephenson a lower risk than it may have otherwise been.
The Clippers’ biggest weakness in the starting unit the last couple of seasons has been at the small forward spot. Matt Barnes manned the three for Los Angeles in 2014/15, averaging 10.4 points in 76 appearances, but his value was more as a defender than as a scorer, an imbalance that hurt the team on occasion. To address the offensive deficiency, Rivers went back to his past and brought in veteran Paul Pierce via a three-year free agent deal. Pierce is no longer the 18-20 points per game scorer that he was for Rivers’ Celtics teams, but he certainly knows how to perform in the clutch and his presence alone should improve the Clippers. The 38-year-old is definitely a liability on defense, and he’ll almost assuredly need to avoid back-to-back contests as the season wears on, but I still love what Pierce can bring to the club. Three years is far too long a contract for a player Pierce’s age, but the third season is partially guaranteed, which limits the team’s financial commitment somewhat.
Los Angeles suffered from a distinct lack of depth off its bench last season, a weakness that Rivers attacked via the free agent market with a series of low-cost signings of high-value reserve players. The team added Josh Smith, Pablo Prigioni, Wesley Johnson and Cole Aldrich via team-friendly contracts, and despite the trouble the Clippers have had finding rotations that work thus far this season, they are all moves I believe will pay off down the line.
One glaring weakness that the Clippers have is their lack of young talent, which also explains why the franchise is in a bind cap-wise. Success as an NBA club makes it difficult to add useful players via the draft. Blake Griffin is the only recent draftee of the team’s to find NBA success, and the Clippers selected him all the way back in 2009. Los Angeles did exercise its third-year rookie option on C.J. Wilcox, who was the 28th player taken in 2014. It wasn’t a given that Los Angeles would pick up the option, with the team having reportedly explored a deal that would have sent Wilcox and Jamal Crawford to Denver in exchange for Wilson Chandler in June. With Chandler suffering a season-ending hip injury, it would appear that the Clippers dodged a bullet not making such a swap.
The Clippers haven’t looked sharp to begin the season, which casts a pall over what I consider to have been a solid offseason for the team. Los Angeles isn’t the juggernaut that the front office hoped heading into the 2015/16 campaign, but it’s a long season, and Rivers’ summer moves still have plenty of time to pay off. While the results have been subpar thus far, I don’t fault what occurred over the offseason. But the franchise’s window to contend is dangerously close to being shut, so fans of the team had better hope things begin to turn around soon.
The Basketball Insiders salary pages were used in the creation of this post.