Offseason Outlook: Los Angeles Clippers

June 6 at 8:51am CDT By Zach Links

Guaranteed Contracts

Options

Non-Guaranteed Contracts

Free Agents / Cap Holds

Draft Picks

  • 1st Round (28th overall)

Cap Outlook

  • Guaranteed Salary: $66,322,769
  • Options: $4,530,294
  • Non-Guaranteed Salary: $5,398,490
  • Cap Holds: $2,755,286
  • Total: $79,006,839

Despite what the news might lead you to believe, the Clippers have things on their agenda that don’t concern embattled owner Donald Sterling.  Yes, it’s true, the Clippers front office, led by coach Doc Rivers, has a whole to-do list that has nothing to do with this spring’s TMZ bombshell.  The Clippers have needs to fill and while they don’t have a ton of cap space to do it, they will have their opportunities to improve.

The Clippers’ 2013/14 season ended at the hands of the Thunder in the second round and while there’s not much shame in losing to a Kevin Durant-led team, that’s no consolation to the Clippers, who, rightfully, had title aspirations.  Part of their downfall came from an inability to keep KD in check (he averaged 33.2 PPG in the series, a tick higher than what he averaged during his MVP season) and Russell Westbrook had a field day as well.  It’ll take more than a quick fix to slow down someone like Durant, but finding a strong perimeter defender would go a long way towards that effort.  The Clippers’ trade of Eric Bledsoe badly hurt their defense on the outside and they’ve yet to fill that void.

The small ball lineup that worked so well with Bledsoe in 2012/13 didn’t run as smoothly last season. The offense continued to put up points but the team struggled in terms of rebounding and defense.  None of the small forwards that the Clippers tried out – including Danny Granger, Hedo Turkoglu, and Stephen Jackson - were successful at playing as an undersized four.  If the Clippers intend to continue playing with a smaller lineup, and there’s no reason to think they won’t, they’ll have to find a small forward with size and grit who can help open up the offense without being a liability elsewhere. That leads us to one of the more intriguing storylines of the offseason: the possible reunion of Rivers and his former star pupil, Paul Pierce.

Pierce was the key to the Nets’ small ball success last season and is hitting the open market at a time where there is total uncertainty around teammate Kevin Garnett and the team as a whole.  If Garnett, who is slated to make $12MM next season, retires, many have theorized that Pierce will leave in search of familiarity, whether that’s joining up with Rivers in L.A. or ending his career in Boston.  The Nets, meanwhile, may not be the biggest basketball mess in New York City, but they’re a mess nonetheless.  Deron Williams just underwent double ankle surgery, free agents Shaun Livingston and Andray Blatche could very well bolt, and oft-injured center Brook Lopez is returning to a lineup that might be better off without him.  Will the 36-year-old leave the land of plaid shirts and ironic mustaches behind?  Pierce doesn’t have any pre-dating ties to Brooklyn, but his work ethic endeared him to scores of Nets fans who probably weren’t paying attention when Pierce was enemy No. 1 to the team while they were in New Jersey.  He also ended the season with a bad taste in his mouth after his mouth wrote a check to LeBron James that his behind couldn’t cash.  Avoiding a showdown with LeBron until the Finals would be the easy route; staying with the Nets, clashing with him in the conference semifinals or finals, and coming out on top would mean total redemption.  And, oh yeah, the Nets can give him more money, but after banking $300MM+ over the course of his career, he’s not exactly starving.  We’d venture to say that the Nets are still the frontrunners, but the Clippers have to be a very appealing option for Pierce, especially if KG hangs ‘em up.

The Clippers could also use some shooting reinforcements.  The Bledsoe deal that allowed for J.J. Redick and Jared Dudley to come to L.A. should have given them all the outside shooting they needed, but things didn’t quite work out that way.  Redick played what was maybe the best basketball of his career with career-highs of 15.2 PPG and 45.5% shooting from the floor plus 39.5% from downtown…when he was healthy.  That wasn’t the case for much of the season, as he played just 47 games thanks to different injuries.  It was a similar story for Dudley as injuries slowed him down and he ultimately lost his starting job to Matt Barnes due to his slipping play.  So what can the Clippers do?  Sharpshooters like Anthony Morrow, Mike Miller, and Trevor Ariza (he shot 40.7% from downtown this year, despite a 32.5% average in previous seasons) are available on the open market.  They could also bring in the aforementioned Pierce to kill two birds with one stone with his size and shooting ability.

The Clips can make additions with their non-taxpayer mid-level exception, which will allow them to sign any free agent to a contract with a starting salary as high as $5.3MM, but there’s little flexibility outside of that.  Without significant wiggle room, the Clippers’ draft pick at No. 28 takes on a little extra importance.  If they want a shooter with that pick, it might be slim pickins as Rodney Hood and Nik Stauskas will be long gone, unless they rob a bank in the next three weeks, and the pool of first-round caliber shooters is pretty shallow.  They could instead use the pick to improve their front court situation and find a big body to help spell DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin.  Tennessee’s Jarnell Stokes, who spoke with Hoops Rumors back in April, is rising fast up draft boards but could be available at No. 28.  Stokes is a bit undersized at 6’9″, but he brings high energy and very tenacious rebounding.  Baylor sophomore Isaiah Austin offers rim protection and should also be available in that range, though his lack of physical strength and vision troubles are worrisome.

When it comes to their own free agents, the Clippers would surely like to retain veteran guard Darren Collison, who will decline his one-year player option.  The 26-year-old averaged 11.4 points in a career-low 25.9 minutes per game in 2013/14 and was called upon to make 35 starts thanks to the injuries in the Clippers’ starting backcourt.  Keeping him could be easier said than done, however, as the Clippers only hold his non-bird rights, meaning that they can only pay him 120% of last season’s paltry salary.  Re-signing Collison likely means dipping into the non-taxpayer’s mid-level exception, which they may choose to allocate elsewhere.

Fellow backup guard Jamal Crawford figures to be back and while it’s possible that some players will be anxious to leave L.A. in the wake of this year’s fiasco, the veteran has already come out and said that the ownership issues won’t dissuade him from returning.  Of course, the Clippers are unlikely to waive his non-guaranteed deal, so he probably wouldn’t have much of a choice to begin with.  Now that the messy situation has finally been resolved – we hope – with Steve Ballmer’s purchase, it stands to reason that no one will hesitate to stay with or join the Clippers.

The Staples Center’s other tenants are armed with Microsoft money now, but they’ll be  restricted this summer as they try to build around their talented core.  Still, with the right free agent pickup, a good selection at No. 28, and good health, the Clippers can put themselves at the top of the Western Conference next season.

Cap footnotes

* — Collison’s cap hold would be $2,280,000 if he opts out, as he reportedly intends to do.
** — Granger’s cap hold would be $915,243 if he opts out.
*** — The cap hold for Davis would be $915,243 if he opts out.
**** — Crawford’s salary becomes fully guaranteed if he’s not waived on or before June 30th.
***** — Green’s salary becomes fully guaranteed if he’s not waived on or before July 1st.

ShamSports and Larry Coon’s Salary Cap FAQ were used in the creation of this post.

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