Offseason In Review: Los Angeles Clippers

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

Extensions

  • None

Trades

Waiver Claims

  • None

Draft Picks

  • C.J. Wilcox (Round 1, 28th overall). Signed via rookie exception to rookie scale contract.

Camp Invitees

Departing Players

Rookie Contract Option Decisions

It would be logical to think it would be a given that a team that notched a franchise-record 57 victories and advance to the conference semifinals would have quite a bit of momentum heading into the offseason. That’s especially true of a club that was returning the bulk of its core and seemingly only needed to make some minor roster tweaks in order to maintain its forward progress. But the last year’s Clippers were in a unique and thoroughly distressing spot. The Donald Sterling scandal hit during the playoffs and threatened to derail the entire franchise, and it cast a pall over what the team had accomplished in recent years.

NBA: Los Angeles Clippers at Detroit PistonsSterling, the league’s longest-tenured owner prior to his ouster, set off a league-wide chain of events when his racist remarks were revealed during the team’s first-round series against Golden State. The shocking comments almost led the players to walk off the court during the series. But commissioner Adam Silver, in his first major test in his new position, swooped in and issued a lifetime ban to Sterling. While the litigation is ongoing regarding his departure and sale of the team, the franchise largely moved on after months of turmoil when it sold for a record price of $2 billion to former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer.

Ballmer immediately injected a breath of fresh air into the “other team” in Los Angeles, and he arrives with a seeming willingness to spend whatever it takes to win, in direct contrast to Sterling. Ballmer also brought a fresh batch of enthusiasm to the franchise. Ballmer’s arrival quelled any talk of Doc Rivers departing, which would have been a devastating blow to the franchise and might have led to discord among the team’s players, many of whom are extremely loyal to Rivers. It shouldn’t have been too much of a surprise when Ballmer gave the coach/executive a new contract worth more than $50MM over the next five years shortly after closing on his purchase of the team. The deal was well-earned, since Rivers essentially held the Clippers organization together during those difficult weeks that followed the TMZ report which outed Sterling’s comments. He’s one of the game’s best ambassadors and a true class act.

Rivers’ job title also received an upgrade from senior vice president of basketball operations to president of basketball operations. Kevin Eastman, who served as an assistant coach with the Clippers last season and had been with Rivers as an assistant for the past nine years, moved into the role of vice president of basketball operations, where he’ll serve under Rivers. Dave Wohl became the team’s GM after working as the team’s director of professional scouting last season, giving the Rivers yet more front-office assistance while he’s focusing on his coaching duties.

The revamped front office staff was given the task of finding the right complementary pieces to address the team’s two most glaring weaknesses — perimeter defense and outside scoring. An inability to stop Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook had led to the downfall of the Clippers in their playoff series versus the Thunder last year. This isn’t an issue that was unique to the Clippers, as both of those players are more than a handful for even the stoutest defenses. But if the Clips dreamed of playing in the NBA Finals, they needed to improve markedly. The team’s offseason additions did little to help the Clippers toward that goal.

The Clippers’ weakest position in terms of talent is at small forward, where the gritty Matt Barnes returns as the starter. Barnes offers toughness and hustle, two vital skills that would be more valuable if he were a reserve. Paul Pierce was mentioned in connection with the Clippers during the summer, and he seemed like a fit given his history with Rivers and desire to play for a contender. But the Nets wouldn’t play along in sign-and-trade talks, and Pierce chose to head to Washington and the easier route to the Finals in the East.

So, Rivers and company instead signed Chris Douglas-Roberts to a minimum-salary deal, and they gambled that Reggie Bullock, their 2013 first-rounder, could develop into a useful rotation piece. It hasn’t worked out thus far, considering the two players are averaging 5.0 points combined through the team’s first 16 contests. The Clippers do play small-ball quite often, which lessens the need for more production from the three-spot, but come playoff time, the Clippers will regret not better fortifying this position, unless they’re able to address the need via a trade prior to the February deadline. This isn’t a very likely scenario given that the team is hard-capped and less than $1MM beneath the $80.829MM threshold the collective bargaining agreement doesn’t allow them to cross, even if Ballmer would be willing to spend more.

The Clippers’ largest offseason outlay was the signing of Spencer Hawes via the non-taxpayer’s mid-level exception. This is a move that I have extremely mixed feelings about. Hawes certainly can help address the franchise’s need for more outside scoring, and at 7’0″ he can play center as he does so. But Hawes is a luxury, and inking him to a four-year, $22.652MM deal when the team clearly had more important needs hardly seems wise. It’s not that I don’t believe Hawes is worth in excess of an average of $5.66MM per season, especially when compared to the more than $8.5MM annually that Channing Frye received from Orlando or Ryan Anderson‘s $8.5MM per year with the Pelicans. He’s just not the right fit for this Clippers squad considering the team’s cap position and shrinking window of contention. This is a contract that will weigh the team down and with a 15% trade kicker included, it won’t be an easy one to get off the books when Rivers and company come to their senses.

The free agent departure of Darren Collison, who inked a three-year, $15MM deal with the Kings, was the other offseason turning point that will significantly impact the Clippers’ title hopes. Collison declined his player option, and since the Clippers only held his Non-Bird rights, they could only pay Collison 120% of last season’s $1.9MM salary. The Clippers could have fit Collison into the mid-level exception that they instead used on Hawes, and that would have been a wiser move for the long term, especially given the efficiency that Collison displayed playing on a career-low 25.9 minutes per game last season.

The departure of Collison makes it two straight offseasons in which the Clippers lost an upper-tier reserve at the point, following the trade of Eric Bledsoe to the Suns a year prior. In this suddenly injury-heavy NBA, a strong backup point guard is a vital cog in any successful team. That’s especially so considering that Collison made 35 starts a season ago and kept the Clippers in the thick of the playoff race while Paul was in street clothes. Signing Jordan Farmar this summer to fill Collison’s spot is a less-than-inspiring move, and if Paul is forced to miss any significant time this season, it will probably knock the Clippers into a lower playoff seed, and in the difficult Western Conference, that portends an early playoff exit.

The Clippers would have been much better off to re-sign Collison, pass on Hawes, and focus on adding some much-needed rebounding and defense through minimum-salary deals or through trades. The Clippers are currently 29th in the league in rebounding (37.9 per game), and they are a middling 15th in points allowed (99.1 per game), which is not a winning formula long-term.

The Clippers only needed to make some minor tweaks this offseason, but the moves the front office executed can easily be second-guessed. A trip to the NBA Finals would prove me wrong, but I can’t help but feel that the team took a step back this summer. The Clippers must ask themselves if adding Hawes, Douglas-Roberts, and Farmar while subtracting Collison, Jared Dudley, and Ryan Hollins make the team better than the 57-win squad of a year ago. Any way I look at it, the answer is a resounding “no.” Unless one of the team’s role players has a career season or help arrives via trade, the Clippers won’t be raising their own title banner to the rafters of the Staples Center anytime soon.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images. The Basketball Insiders salary pages were used in the creation of this post. Chuck Myron contributed to this post.

Leave a Reply

Be the First to Comment!

Notify of
avatar

wpDiscuz

Get the hottest NBA news and rumors before anyone else! Follow us on Twitter to stay updated: