Offseason In Review: Los Angeles Clippers

November 28 2013 at 6:28pm CST By Chuck Myron

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.

Signings

Trades

  • Acquired the rights to head coach Doc Rivers from the Celtics in exchange for an unprotected 2015 first-round pick.
  • Acquired J.J. Redick from the Bucks and Jared Dudley from the Suns in exchange for Eric Bledsoe (to Suns), Caron Butler (to Suns), and a 2015 second-round pick (51-60 protected; to Bucks). Redick was signed-and-traded for four years, $27.76MM.

Draft Picks

  • Reggie Bullock (Round 1, 25th overall). Signed via rookie exception.

Camp Invitees

Departing Players

Rookie Contract Option Decisions

  • None

Those who believe NBA head coaches have little effect on the game and are largely interchangeable can’t point to what the Clippers did this offseason as evidence. The team engaged in a lengthy back-and-forth with the Celtics over coach Doc Rivers, with negotiations seemingly stalling at multiple points before Rivers finally settled on heading to L.A. and the Clippers and Celtics agreed on a second-round pick as compensation. Clippers owner Donald Sterling, notoriously thrifty with coaches and executives, no doubt swallowed much harder at the prospect of giving up $21MM over three years in salary for the new coach, who’ll also head up the front office.

Securing Rivers also cost the team any chance it had at acquiring trade targets Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, since the league has banned any further transactions between the clubs this season. Exchanging active players for coaches would be a violation of league rules, and the NBA doesn’t want to open itself to speculation that another swap was always in the works as further compensation for the Celtics’ decision to let Rivers go. Garnett and Pierce wound up with the Nets instead, and while it’s possible they could eventually end up in L.A. via Brooklyn, I wouldn’t be surprised if the league put the kibosh on that, too.

Of course, it was commissioner David Stern who famously blocked a trade that would have sent Chris Paul from New Orleans to the Lakers, giving the Clippers the opportunity to acquire the All-Star point guard for themselves after the 2011 lockout. The bill came due this summer when Paul hit unrestricted free agency, but he made it clear from the start of the 2012/13 season that he didn’t want it to be his last with the Clippers, who’d begun to give Paul some input on their front office decision-making.

There were some tense moments, as teams like the Hawks and Rockets dreamed of teaming Paul with Dwight Howard, the other prize on the free agent market. If there was any serious doubt about Paul re-signing, it happened when the club let go of coach Vinny Del Negro in the spring. The superstar was reportedly upset when owner Donald Sterling intimated that Paul was behind the coach’s ouster. That tempest didn’t last, and oddly enough, it was when the Clippers hired Rivers, a move Paul seemed to push for, that the point guard’s return to the team finally seemed 100% assured. The Clippers and the 28-year-old veteran of six All-Star games agreed to a max contract on the first day of free agency. It was the rare case of a nine-figure outlay that drew little criticism for being too lucrative, and Paul’s 12.2 assists per game to start the season, which would be a career-high, have done nothing to fuel any skeptics.

Not all of the team’s moves this summer were immune to second-guessing, and even Sterling quickly soured on the next most important transaction the team made this summer. The owner reportedly gave his approval to the three-team trade that netted J.J. Redick and Jared Dudley, but revoked it after executives from all three clubs and agent Arn Tellem, who represents Redick, had agreed to the package. That left Tellem, Redick and the executives outraged, and the trade only happened after Rivers pleaded with Sterling to once more change his mind.

The owner got over his fears of committing more than mid-level money to Redick, a player who’s never started more than 22 games in a single season. Sterling also consented to the departure of Bledsoe, whom he was fond of even though Paul’s presence at point guard assured the 23-year-old would never reach his full potential in a Clippers uniform. The owner wasn’t alone in having those misgivings, but Redick and Dudley, whose reasonably priced contract offsets the notion that the team is overpaying Redick, give the team a pair of desirable complementary offensive weapons to soup up an already potent attack. The aging Caron Butler‘s bloated expiring contract and Bledsoe, who’d be nailed to the bench in L.A., was a fair price.

Acquiring two starters for the price of one in that deal allowed the Clippers to use the mid-level exception on their bench. They gave the better part of it to Matt Barnes, whose limited Non-Bird rights wouldn’t have been enough to retain him after his valuable performance as a reserve last season. More than a half-dozen teams were after the gritty small forward, who wound up inking the most lucrative deal he’d ever signed. That’s not an achievement most 33-year-olds are able to pull off, but Barnes is becoming more efficient as he ages, notching career-high 15.5 PERs in each of the past two seasons. His toughness is an asset on a club so worried about being considered a finesse team that it called for an end to its “Lob City” nickname in training camp.

The rest of the mid-level went to Darren Collison, a point guard coming off a disastrous season with the Mavericks. Collison lost his starting job in Dallas to journeyman Mike James, and the Mavs decided against tendering a qualifying offer to the player who’d at one point looked like a steal as the 21st overall draft pick in 2009. The Southern California native returns to familiar surroundings with an old teammate in Paul, whose injury when Collison was a rookie paved the way for the former UCLA Bruin to have a breakout year in 2009/10. The Clippers are banking on Collison to right himself so they don’t feel too much of a squeeze from Bledsoe’s departure.

Another player who’s experienced flameout in Dallas was on the Clippers’ radar this summer, but the team elected not to re-sign Lamar Odom when his off-court troubles made it too risky a proposition. It sounds like he’ll join the team at some point this season, but L.A. brought on veteran Antawn Jamison instead of Odom this summer. Jamison seemed perhaps the best bargain of 2012 when he signed his minimum-salary contract with the Lakers, but the 37-year-old’s steep regression last season made the minimum-salary price tag a fit this time around.

The Clippers aren’t deep at center and there are questions about whether they can get defensive stops when necessary, but the 2013/14 team is as well-positioned for a title run as any in franchise history. Paul, perhaps the best point guard in the game, is surrounded with Blake Griffin and a strong starting five, with capable backups at nearly every position and a coach with championship pedigree. Any organization tied to a pair of max contracts that are guaranteed through 2016/17 will have concerns about its flexibility, but neither of them will turn 30 until 2015, so there’s no reason to expect a drop-off in their games anytime soon. Unless the Lakers can convince LeBron James to sign with them in the near future, the best basketball in Staples Center will be played on a red-and-blue court for years to come.

Luke Adams contributed to this post.

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