With the NBA’s Free Agency window right around the corner after this week’s draft, we’re taking a broad survey of the options available to the Clippers as they look to keep last season’s Western Conference Finals rotation together while making a few improvements around the edges and attempting to prepare for some time–perhaps a full year–without superstar forward Kawhi Leonard.
To do that, we’re going to more or less work off of last year’s model–breaking down the free agent pool position-by-position (guards, forwards, and bigs) this week and then looking within each position’s list of available players to predict which players could be available in the Clippers’ budget and which would be desirable targets for them. This year, however, there are a lot fewer exciting possibilities as the team has significantly less free agency flexibility than they did last season. Last season, the Clippers had the full non-taxpayer mid-level exception and the bi-annual exception to add players above the league minimum, and the possibility of exploring sign-and-trade deals. This year, because of their financial situation, the team is exceedingly unlikely to be able to use the full MLE, BAE, or take in a S&T player unless Kawhi Leonard opts out of his contract and signs with another team. As long as Kawhi is a Clipper, their only meaningful tool with which to chase free agents from other teams is the taxpayer MLE, worth about $5.7M. That’s not very much buying power, and the team’s first priority with that tool should be Nicolas Batum. If that works out, the Clippers’ only newcomers this off-season could arrive via trade, the draft, and minimum-salary deals. That means the “not happening” tier is going to be much more expansive this season. Players are listed along with any options or restricted status, plus John Hollinger’s BORD$ valuation at The Athletic.
Chris Paul – $39.9M player option, Hollinger $36.2.M
Mike Conley – Hollinger $24.5M
Kyle Lowry – Hollinger $25.2M
Lonzo Ball – restricted, Hollinger $22.5M
Danny Green – Hollinger $19.3M
DeVonte’ Graham – restricted, Hollinger $19.1M
Evan Fournier – Hollinger $13.7M
Spencer Dinwiddie – $12.3M player option, Hollinger $13.1M
Norman Powell – Hollinger $13M
Tim Hardaway Jr. – Hollinger $12.9M
Dennis Schröder – Hollinger $11.4M
Josh Richardon – $11.6M player option, Hollinger $8.9M
Terence Davis – restricted, $7.3M
Gary Trent Jr. – restricted, Hollinger $5.4M
Talen Horton-Tucker – restricted, Hollinger $5.3M
Cameron Payne – Hollinger $3.9M
Starting with the oft-mentioned names like Paul, Lowry, and Dinwiddie, and moving on down the list, these are a group of guys who aren’t even really options for the Clippers as free agents. Bringing in a guy in a sign-and-trade deal worth $20M would require the Clippers dumping Patrick Beverley, Luke Kennard, and Rajon Rondo as well as allowing Reggie Jackson, Nicolas Batum, and Patrick Patterson to walk in free agency before filling out a 14-man roster with 5 minimum-salary deals. Paul and Lowry aren’t taking that level of paycut and gutting the roster for them might not be worth it anyway–and it certainly isn’t worth it for the Dinwiddie-tier guys. Mix in some guys who are likely to stay with their current teams on deals too rich for the Clippers and restricted guys out of their price range, and you’ve got a good list of quality free agents that you can all but rule out joining LA this summer.
Probably Out Of Reach
Victor Oladipo – Hollinger $11M
Alex Caruso – Hollinger $12.2M
Kendrick Nunn – restricted, Hollinger $11.5M
Derrick Rose – Hollinger $10.1M
Alex Burks – Hollinger $9.9M
Kris Dunn – $5M player option, Hollinger $8.5M
This next tier has a bunch of guys who are nearly in the tier above, but end up knocked down a half-tier because there’s a slim chance they actually end up on the market looking for a new team at a discount. Oladipo, Nunn, Rose, and Burks play for the Knicks and Heat–two teams that could opt to use their cap space on higher-profile additions and leave these guys looking for new teams. Alex Caruso is a really nice role player and should be a priority for the Lakers, but could shake loose if they try to swing for the fences with a guy like Russell Westbrook, and Dunn should pick up his player option but could similarly be an option in a few Clipper scenarios should he decline it.
Reggie Jackson – Hollinger $9.1M
The most important guard for the Clippers’ plans this summer is Reggie Jackson, purely by nature of his early bird status. While the team just has one $5.7M taxpayer MLE and minimum deals to spread between Nicolas Batum and all outside free agents, they can give Jackson a deal up to 4 years and $47 million without needing to use their taxpayer MLE. Since they’ll be well over the luxury tax line with or without Jackson, it’s pretty important that they prioritize keeping him. Otherwise, they’ll be hard-pressed to find a suitable replacement. Even if they do find a way to acquire a higher-profile point guard, such a trade would likely cost them both Patrick Beverley and Rajon Rondo’s expiring contracts, leaving re-signing Jackson to play a backup role by far the team’s best option.
Taxpayer MLE Candidatees
TJ McConnell – Hollinger $12.2M
Goran Dragic – Hollinger $7.3M
Patty Mills – Hollinger $7.3M
Cory Joseph – $12.6M deal only $2.4M guaranteed, Hollinger $6.3M
Raul Neto – Hollinger $6.3M
Lou Williams – Hollinger minimum
A handful of the most attractive smaller names on the list, these guys are all realistic candidates to change teams this summer at a price point around the $5.7M taxpayer mid-level (though offering that isn’t guaranteed to land you one). The problem for the Clippers is that they’re relatively deep at guard, with Patrick Beverley, Rajon Rondo, Terance Mann, and Luke Kennard all available off the bench behind presumptive starters Reggie Jackson and Paul George. At forward, however, Nicolas Batum is an essential rotation piece who the team needs to use their taxpayer MLE on to retain. If Nico departs in free agency, they’d need to use that tool to replace him, though it’s possible that some contingencies (Batum leaving + trading guard depth for frontcourt depth, for example) make it appropriate for LAC to use their biggest free agency tool at the guard position.
The best player in this category is probably McConnell, who won’t get his Hollinger-assessed value but made a really positive, scrappy impact for Indiana last season. However, if a scenario develops where the Clippers need to use the taxpayer MLE on a point guard, I’d lean towards Patty Mills, whose ability to create and make high volumes of off-the-dribble threes would add some explosive scoring upside that the Clippers could really use.
Experienced Point Guard Options
Jordan McLaughlin – restricted, Hollinger $3.2M
Ish Smith – Hollinger minimum
Frank Ntilikina – restricted, Hollinger minimum
Jeff Teague – Hollinger minimum
Elfrid Payton – Hollinger minimum
Dennis Smith, Jr. – restricted, Hollinger minimum
Brad Wanamaker – Hollinger minimum
If the Clippers are going to need a true point guard this summer, it will likely be after a trade that restructures their guard depth. Right now, with Reggie Jackson as the team’s biggest free agency priority and Patrick Beverley and Rajon Rondo both on guaranteed contracts for next season, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to hunt for a fourth point guard–and they already have Yogi Ferrell, who is comparable to the guys listed, on a non-guaranteed deeael for next year. But if a trade does come and LAC is in a position to add another point guard, they could look to this list, and I’d love for them to pursue Jordan McLaughlin, who was a favorite in this space last year and could be pried away from Minnesota with a guaranteed contract offer.
Mike James – Hollinger minimum
Markus Howard – restricted, Hollinger minimum
If the Clippers are desperate for shot creation (and it might make sense for them to be if they expect to spend the full year without Kawhi Leonard), there are some high-volume guard options for the minimum. But it’s such an important skillset that the team would be better off filling such a void via trade than resorting to this tier of free agent.
Scrappy Combo Guards
Ryan Arcidiacono – Hollinger $4.6M
Austin Rivers – Hollinger $5.4M
Langston Galloway – Hollinger $4.5M
These are the kind of players I tend to have a soft spot for, although it is admittedly a bit hard to see this archetype contributing majorly to the Clippers’ rotation so long as Terance Mann remains a significantly better option in a similar mold. One key difference is that each of the three players here are more reliable three-point shooters (Arcidiacono 37% on 453 career attempts, Austin Rivers 36% on 419 attempts in the last 2 years, Galloway 40% on 416 attempts over the last two years), but none are as good or versatile as Terance overall on both ends of the floor. Rivers in particular seems like a safe bet to be an adequate rotation guard option for a team that ends up needing him, while the others are more for depth.
Ben McLemore – Hollinger $6.4M
Bryn Forbes – $2.5M player option, Hollinger $5.4M
J.J. Redick – Hollinger $4.8M
Wayne Ellington – Hollinger $3.6M
E’Twaun Moore – Hollinger minimum
Garrison Matthews – restricted, Hollinger minimum
The one thing the Clippers probably don’t need a ton of this off-season is three-point shooting. The best three-point shooting team in NBA history last season, LA often found themselves not using elite shooters like Luke Kennard because everyone in the rotation was an elite shooter, making Kennard’s skillset redundant. The team will want all the volume they can get in order to boost the offense with Kawhi Leonard injured, but I think the Clippers will need to look for a bigger, more well-rounded player as a stopgap to fill in those minutes. If Kennard winds up in a trade in the next couple of weeks, the Clippers could take a much closer look at guys like McLemore, Ellington, and Moore as potential minimum-salary replacements in a shooter specialist role.
Garrett Temple – Hollinger $3M
Tony Snell – Hollinger minimum
Of all the potential cheap options here, I think it would really boost the Clippers to add one of these guys on a minimum-salary deal this summer. Temple is the better overall player, but he’s 35 to Snell’s 29 and Snell has a bit better size and a better track record as a spot-up three-point shooter. Temple is the better defender (Snell is just ok) and can actually create a little bit with the ball in his hands, although the efficiency levels of those possessions leave a bit to be desired. Snell has made 42% of his 1190 three-point attempts over the last 5 seasons, even though he doesn’t attempt them at a rate you’d want a good shooter to. And as a former high school teammate of Kawhi Leonard, it makes plenty of sense that Tony could pick the Clippers over other minimum offers if no real money materializes for him this summer. The appeal here is largely that these guys are 2/3s rather than “guards”–positions are tricky. They should be weighed against some of the 3s and 3/4s in the forwards batch.
Javonte Green – restricted, $4.3M
Shaq Harrison – Hollinger $4.4M
Avery Bradley – $5.9M team option, Hollinger minimum
As long as the Clippers have Patrick Beverley on the roster along with their glut of role playing guards, they probably shouldn’t use a second roster spot on a pesky point of attack defender. But if Beverley departs in a trade, it would be nice to have a specialist for that skillset who could be deployed when opposing guards are scorching the Clippers with their scoring. At his best and healthiest, Pat is among the very best small handful of point of attack defenders in the NBA. None of these guys measure up to his elite ability on that end, and none of them are as good at blending in offensively with the plus shooting and decision-making Pat possesses. I wouldn’t be thrilled about any of them playing nightly, but it would be nice to have someone who is at least a plus point of attack disruptor on the bench for situational use. Of the three, I’d take Harrison over Bradley, who has a rough history with the Clippers and has declined substantially since that already-bad performance.
Malik Monk – restricted, $5M
Saben Lee – restricted, Hollinger $4M
Brandon Goodwin – restricted, Hollinger minimum
Edmond Sumner – $2.3M team option, Hollinger minimum
It wouldn’t shock me if none of these guys actually become available this off-season, but they each represent an opportunity for the Clippers to get a little bit younger after having the oldest roster in the NBA next year. The trouble is that even if he’s made unrestricted, Monk should be out of the Clippers’ price range (or at least a taxpayer MLE guy, certainly not a minimum deal), while Goodwin, the most likely to become available, is already 25 and doesn’t appear to be substantially better of an option than a guy like Yogi Ferrell. Lee and Sumner aren’t can’t-miss guys, but they both look like actual NBA players–which means their teams aren’t going to let them get away at their respective price points.
Tyler Johnson – Hollinger $4M
Dante Exum – Hollinger minimum
Matthew Dellavedova – Hollinger minimum
Looking for the next Nic Batum or Reggie Jackson who will sign with the Clippers for cheap when everyone says they’re washed and have a major resurgance? Well, here you go–take your pick. Johnson was ok for Brooklyn last year, but unless he can re-expand his game beyond shooting and get some of his off-the-bounce creation from earlier in his career back, he’s just a worse spot-up guy than a bunch of other guys on this list. Dellavedova was a lot of fun in his short peak as a role player alongside LeBron, but it’s been pretty clear for a while now that he has nothing left. Exum is the most interesting to me, as his athleticism and skillset made him a prized prospect but now at 26 years old he’s missed substantial time in recent years due to injury and never quite put together a good NBA season. If there’s a gamble worth taking here, it’s on Exum, and I wouldn’t hate to see the Clippers take it depending on how their roster spot situation ends up looking, but I wouldn’t blame them for passing on what could easily turn into a wasted roster spot.
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