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.
Trades and Claims
Rookie Contract Option Decisions
For a team that showed more promise last year than it ever has in more than 30 years in Southern California, the Clippers went through a startling number of changes this summer. It all began with the surprise defection of GM Neil Olshey to the Blazers, just three days after he reportedly agreed in principle to stay on board. Portland made a three-year offer nearly five times as lucrative as the one-year deal he was in line for with the Clippers. The news, coupled with the team's slow-moving approach to finding Olshey's successor, drove home the idea of Clippers owner Donald Sterling as a corner-cutter unwilling to spend what it takes to win, and cast doubt on whether the team would retain cornerstones Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, both of whom could have become free agents in 2013.
Part of that concern was quickly wiped away in July, when Griffin and the Clippers agreed to a five-year extension that could commit as much as 30% of the team's salary cap to the high-flying forward if he's voted an All-Star starter or makes an All-NBA team this year. It made Griffin the team's designated player, meaning the team can't sign anyone else to a five-year contract for the duration of Griffin's deal, and it was the only fully guaranteed five-year extension handed out this summer. It also came well in advance of all the other rookie-scale extensions this year, and appeared to be a full-throated rebuke of the idea that the Clippers would not pay to win. Question remains over whether it was a wise choice to make such a commitment to a player with a history of serious injury and a few notable flaws in his game, but the move appeared to set the tone for Paul, who appears to be leaning toward a return.
Paul took an active role in assisting the offseason decision-making of the triumrivate left to run the front office after Olshey left. Player personnel director Gary Sacks, team president Andy Roeser and coach Vinny Del Negro shared duties over the summer, and Roeser and Del Negro apparently retain some sway even after the September promotion of Sacks to vice president of basketball operations. Griffin, after he signed his extension, expressed support for Sacks, and the team also brought aboard Gerald Madkins, who worked with Paul in New Orleans, as director of basketball operations.
The upheaval in the front office mirrored the array of changes to the roster. The Clippers engineered Lamar Odom's return to L.A., bringing him over from the Mavs and sending Mo Williams away in a swap of nearly identical salaries. The Clippers seemed as natural a fit as any team for Odom, who clearly left his heart in Tinseltown when the Lakers traded him to the Mavericks before last season. His addition was nonetheless a gamble, and his production hasn't come close to matching what Williams gave them off the bench last year, but Odom's $8.2MM comes off the books next summer, so there's no long-term consequence for the team if he never regains his Sixth Man of the Year form.
The Clippers replaced Williams as the first guard off the bench with Jamal Crawford, another former Sixth Man of the Year. It seemingly came down to Crawford or Ray Allen, and though L.A. went with the younger option, it looked at first glance like Allen might have had more left in the tank. Crawford was coming off a poor season for the Blazers, having shot just 38.4% from the field, his lowest mark since his rookie season in 2000/01, and at age 32, there was legitimate question about whether his best days were behind him. He's dispelled those doubts early on this season, as he's leading the team in scoring at 17.5 points per game. As long as his production doesn't drop off a cliff this season or next, he looks like a worthwhile investment for the mid-level exception. His four-year contract is only partially guaranteed in the final two seasons.
The agreement with Crawford came at the same time as the club's decision to bring back Chauncey Billups, who's coming back from a torn Achilles tendon. The one-year, $4MM deal carried little risk, since they're not tied to the 36-year-old for more than a season in case he can't come back healthy, and his locker room presence might make up for any on-court deficiencies. Ostensibly to cover themselves while Billups would be out at the start of the season, the Clippers convinced the Hawks to engage in a sign-and-trade that brought Willie Green to L.A. on a three-year contract that only includes a guarantee for the first season, at $1.375MM. To faciliate the deal, the Clippers used part of a trade exception they acquired from participating in a sign-and-trade that sent Reggie Evans to the Nets.
It was one of many deft maneuvers the team used to make so many changes this summer, when they didn't have a first-round draft pick or any space under the salary cap. For a team with a front office in flux, those sorts of machinations showed uncommon poise, and indicated seamless communication between Sacks, Roeser and Del Negro.
One way the team gave itself some flexibility was in using the amnesty provision on Ryan Gomes. Though his contract, which had one year and $4MM left on it, wasn't particularly troublesome, it freed up space under the team's $74.3MM hard cap.
The Clippers used their bi-annual exception on Grant Hill, and though it may have seemed unwise to bring aboard a 40-year-old coming off a season in which he put up a career-worst 12.3 PER, he nonetheless has been a double-figure scorer in each of his 17 seasons in the league, and has remained a capable perimeter defender. The second year of his two-year deal is only $500K, once more minimizing risk for the Clippers.
One of the weaknesses of the team's offseason was its handling of big men. The Clippers used the minimum salary to acquire Ronny Turiaf and Ryan Hollins after taking a pass on re-signing Evans and Kenyon Martin. Evans and Martin were often on the floor late in games last year because of the poor free throw shooting of Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, so going with minimum-salary replacements while spending far more liberally on the perimeter seems ill-advised. The September signing of Matt Barnes, who can handle the four when the team goes small, is a plus, and it's fair to say Barnes, Turiaf and Hollins are all bargains at the minimum. Still, unless Odom works out, the team may find itself wishing it had allocated more of its resources to the frontcourt.
The Clippers let go of several key members of its team from last season, but the offseason won't be judged on what was lost. Instead, the team made a concerted effort to improve its status as a contender, and, moreover, retain Griffin and Paul. With Griffin locked up for years to come, the ultimate referendum on the team's litany of changes in the summer of 2012 will likely come next summer, when Paul will decide whether he likes what he sees around him enough to re-sign.
Luke Adams contributed to this post.