- Chris Paul ($21,468,696)
- Blake Griffin ($18,907,725)
- J.J. Redick ($7,085,000)
- Spencer Hawes ($5,543,725)
- C.J. Wilcox ($1,159,680)
- (Carlos Delfino $650,000)1
- (Jordan Farmar $510,922)2
- (Miroslav Raduljica $252,042)3
Restricted Free Agents/Cap Holds
Unrestricted Free Agents/Cap Holds
- Guaranteed Salary: $58,077,790
- Non-Guaranteed Salary: $8,748,342
- Options: $0
- Cap Holds: $24,060,085
- Total: $90,886,217
This looked like the year the Clippers would make that next step forward. They were one win away from their first-ever Western Conference Finals berth, but they whiffed on all three chances to grab that victory. Instead, the team hit its head against the same ceiling it has repeatedly, losing in the conference semifinals for the third year out of four. What’s worse is that the specter of losing DeAndre Jordan in free agency presents a clear path in which they could get significantly worse for next season, and there’s no readily apparent way to get much better.
Courtesy of USA Today Sports Images
No, a return to the lottery isn’t in store, given the continued presence of both Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, both signed through 2016/17 with player options for 2017/18. Yet with more than $58MM guaranteed against a projected $67.1MM cap, and more than $6.7MM tied up in non-guaranteed salary to key contributors Jamal Crawford and Matt Barnes, the Clippers would have no cap flexibility to sign an adequate replacement should Jordan bolt. The former 35th overall pick has spoken in glowing terms about Doc Rivers, the coach who took him from playing only 24.5 minutes per game in 2012/13 to an All-NBA Third Team selection in the span of two years, but Jordan has said the Clippers aren’t necessarily the favorites to sign him. Indeed, Jordan has expressed through back channels that he will have extreme interest in joining his home-state Mavericks this summer, multiple sources told Tim MacMahon of ESPNDallas.com last month.
The Clippers appear ready to make him a five-year maximum-salary offer. Jordan has said he won’t sign a one-year deal to try to reap an even greater payday when the salary cap escalates sharply in the summer of 2016, so ostensibly the Clippers can tempt him with the fifth year and 3% higher raises that only they can offer him. Of course, Jordan never said he wouldn’t sign a two- or three-year deal to take advantage of the salary cap when it’s projected to rise into the $100MMs. The financial advantage the Clippers have wouldn’t be as pronounced in that scenario. It could well come down to comfort rather than money. While Jordan’s affection for Rivers is obvious, he’s rumored to have had a falling out with Paul, though teammate Dahntay Jones says that isn’t true.
A Jordan departure would carry a silver lining of sorts for the Clippers. Removing the league’s leading rebounder and All-Defensive First Team center from the roster would leave the Clippers without a reasonable chance to break through in a way they didn’t this year, and so it would likely goose Rivers into more extensive retooling with an eye on the summer of 2016. They could try to trade Crawford’s expiring, partially guaranteed contract for a future first-round pick or a promising young player on a rookie scale contract. They could explore what sort of bounty they might get in return for selling high on Redick, who’s coming off the best season of his career, knowing that he’d be 32 by the time they could spend freely again. They could try their luck at using the full mid-level again after blowing it on Spencer Hawes last year. None of those approaches would necessarily bear fruit, but as long as the Clippers didn’t clutter their 2016/17 books too much, missing on Jordan would allow them the chance to go after Kevin Durant and other star 2016 free agents.
Jordan is, without a doubt, one of the top centers in the game, but he’s no Durant. Maxing out Jordan this summer would mean he’d be making in the neighborhood of $20.5MM in 2016/17, and coupled with the more than $20.1MM that Griffin has coming and the nearly $22.9MM the team committed to Paul, and the Clippers would have about $63.5MM against the preliminary projection of an $89MM salary cap for three players alone, never mind the money on the books for Redick and Hawes. That would make it almost impossible for the Clippers to sign Durant to his estimated $25MM maximum salary.
The effects of a max deal for Jordan would be even more immediate, since it would essentially force the Clippers to either pay the tax or unload a key member of the team, like Redick or Crawford. A slight chance exists that the Clippers could dodge the tax apron, the line $4MM above the tax threshold, but it’s more likely the Clips would zoom above the apron, too. That means the team would be unable to acquire a player via sign-and-trade or spend more than the $3.376MM taxpayer’s mid-level amount on the starting salary for any free agent from another team. Just crossing the tax threshold carries with it stricter salary-matching rules for trades, never mind the apron.
Regardless of whether the Clippers sign Jordan or not, they’re already hamstrung when it comes to Austin Rivers. They can’t sign him for a starting salary any more than $3,110,796, which is the value of the rookie scale team option that the Pelicans declined before the season. That rule is in place so teams can’t try to get around the rookie scale and give their recent first-round picks more money as an enticement to stick around for the long term, but it doesn’t matter that the Clippers had nothing to do with that option decision. It still applies, even though Rivers was traded twice this season. It wouldn’t matter if the Clippers wanted to sign him using cap room, the mid-level, or any form of exception. That $3,110,796 figure is as high as they can go.
Of course, that doesn’t mean any other team will want to exercise its right to pay him more than that. Rivers had his moments in the playoffs, when he shot 37.1% from three-point range, but he was still a net negative during the postseason according to Basketball-Reference’s Box Plus/Minus metric, just as that statistic suggests he has been during all four regular seasons of his NBA career. Doc Rivers unsurprisingly wants to re-sign his son, and there is a degree of promise left for the former 10th overall pick who won’t turn 23 until August 1st. Still, there won’t be a clamor for his services from competing teams, and even $3,110,796 may well be too rich for the Clippers’ tastes, especially considering the other salary constraints they face.
The perception of nepotism concerned Doc Rivers before GM Dave Wohl and a pair of assistant coaches talked him into trading for his son. Doc Rivers suggested that Wohl had worked to convince him for months, dating back to last summer. Yet for myriad other reasons, Doc Rivers might be wise to give Wohl or someone else the final say in the front office. Rivers succeeded with the Redick sign-and-trade in his first weeks on the job, but he’s done little since to upgrade the talent on the roster, outside of the enhancements he’s made to Jordan and others through his coaching. Perhaps Rivers would be well-advised to concentrate on what he does best, better than just about anyone in the game, and simply coach while someone else handles player personnel. Owner Steve Ballmer just last summer gave Rivers a five-year deal worth more than $50MM to serve both as coach and president of basketball operations, but Rivers needn’t do two jobs for Ballmer to get his money’s worth. Both Wohl and assistant GM Gary Sacks have been at the controls before, and if the Clippers wanted to look elsewhere, the chance to work for the deep-pocketed Ballmer in a warm-weather glamour market with two incumbent superstars on the team would be appealing to just about any executive.
Still, it doesn’t seem like Rivers is going to be without his front office responsibilities anytime soon, and when it comes to keeping Jordan around, that’s probably an advantage for the Clippers. Whoever’s running the team will have to excel at building the team’s depth, or at least improve on the spartan supporting cast that’s there now. The placement of Paul, Griffin and Jordan on this year’s All-NBA Teams showed the Clippers’ core is as strong if not stronger than any other in the league. Paul could overcome his playoff demons, Jordan could make more free throws, and Griffin could challenge for the title of the best player in the league, and the Clippers could still fall short of a title if the team can’t fill a rotation with enough players worthy of staying on the floor.
1 — The Clippers waived Delfino in August 2014 and used the stretch provision to spread his remaining guaranteed salary over the next five seasons.
2 — The Clippers waived Farmar as part of a buyout deal in January and used the stretch provision to spread his remaining guaranteed salary over the next three seasons.
3 — The Clippers waived Raduljica in August 2014 and used the stretch provision to spread his remaining guaranteed salary over the next five seasons.
4 — Crawford’s salary is partially guaranteed for $1,500,000.
5 — Barnes’ salary is partially guaranteed for $1,000,000.
6 — Hudson’s salary becomes fully guaranteed if he remains under contract through July 15th.
The Basketball Insiders Salary Pages were used in the creation of this post.