While the NBA playoffs are still going, the 2017 off–season is rapidly approaching for many teams with massive decisions to make.CBA expert Danny Lerouxbreaks down the major challenges and opportunities for theLos Angeles Clippers in The Crossover's NBA Summer Preview series.
The Clippers are at a series of crossroads. While many will focus on the franchise’s big decisions more broadly, they only have a modicum of control over the situation because each of their key free agents is unrestricted and can leave of their own volition. The front office can and will impact those choices through their contract offers but each decision is a part of an interconnected ecosystem. After all, whether or not JJ Redick returns materially affects the team’s competitiveness and thus how the Clippers look to Chris Paul and Blake Griffin. That could lead the franchise towards more extreme outcomes like retaining or losing all three key pieces.
Here are three key storylines to watch for the Clippers this offseason:
Chris Paul: The 32-year old star will have the opportunity for a massive contract whether that comes from the Clippers or another team. At the current $101 million cap estimate, his maximum starting salary would be $35.35 million and the new Collective Bargaining Agreement allows him to secure a five-year, $205 million contract from LA without the limitation of the prior CBA’s Over-36 rule. The future Hall of Famer has to decide if he wants to commit to the Clippers or play somewhere else, presumably with a team that has a greater chance of winning a championship. As an additional wrinkle, Paul is eligible for a no-trade clause but the league has seen the downside of doing so with Paul’s friend Carmelo Anthony.
Blake Griffin: Despite being four years younger than Paul, some teams may see Griffin as a shakier investment due to his substantial injury history and game more reliant on athleticism. Still, more than a few franchises will offer significant sums of money for the talented forward and force the Clippers’ hand. His maximums will be five years, $175.7 million with the Clippers and four years, $130.3 million elsewhere and Griffin will also be eligible for a no-trade clause. This will be Griffin’s first opportunity to choose his own team as an unrestricted free agent so we will learn quite a bit about what he prioritizes in a single massive decision.
JJ Redick: While Paul and Griffin are higher on the Clippers’ totem pole, Redick will be the most complicated negotiation because his value is harder to pin down. This should be the shooter’s last chance at a massive contract and his current team will be bidding in an aggressive market for players with his skillset. A Redick departure would have meaningful ripple effects because the Clippers would not be able to replace him using cap space due to their other commitments.
Potential Free Agents: Chris Paul ($24.3m Player Option), Blake Grifin ($21.4m Early Termination Option), JJ Redick (Unrestricted), Luc Richard Mbah a Moute ($2.3m Player Option), Raymond Felton (Unrestricted), Marreese Speights ($2.1m Player Option), Brandon Bass (Unrestricted) and Alan Anderson (Unrestricted)
Likely Summer of 2017 Cap Space: None
Realistic Maximum Summer of 2017 Cap Space (using $101M estimate): $37.1 million without every free agent
2017 Draft Assets: No draft picks. The Clippers owe their first round pick to Toronto via Milwaukee because Doc Rivers dumped Jared Dudley’s contract in 2014 and their second to Boston due to the 2015 Austin Rivers trade.
Potential Targets: It would take a massive series of departures for the Clippers to have any more than a Mid-Level exception to work with so they will presumably be bargain shopping. The most likely fit would be a shooting guard to replace Redick, but signing a starting caliber player for less than $10 million for any duration will be exceedingly difficult. C.J. Miles and Kyle Korver could be good fits if they were willing to take that salary and Nick Young could change locker rooms at Staples Center. Outside of that trio, the Clippers would be best served signing multiple wings in hopes that one of them sticks as a key member of the rotation. If Raymond Felton leaves, the front office will also need to find a backup point guard, which will likely follow his path of a veteran looking to raise his profile on a single season deal.
Pressure Scale: 10. There are no easy solutions for the Clippers and so many parts of their off-season are out of their control. Saying “blow it up” is far easier to say than do, particularly for an owner who paid $2 billion for the team less than three years ago. That said, committing to a team not in serious title contention that will become prohibitively expensive in a time when the salary cap will not rise quickly should be exceedingly daunting. On top of all that stress, even if Ballmer pays handsomely to bring everyone back, DeAndre Jordan can become a free agent next summer and completely wipe out their chances of contention. Jordan’s potential departure is a significant reason why letting at least Griffin and Redick go stands as the most logical option even if emotionally difficult. The Clippers play in an incredibly desirable market and could effectively clear their books at a time the Lakers and Knicks have overextended themselves without being playoff teams. While Doc Rivers is not the right person to rebuild the team with his abysmal draft history, clearing the decks makes them the most compelling job in the NBA for a talented and ambitious general manager. That presents substantially more opportunity than committing to a half-decade of awe-inspiring salaries for an aging core that is unlikely to seriously contend for a title. Of course, that decision may look different to Ballmer but they will not be able to turn back after this summer.
State of the Franchise: If the Jazz are on a windy road without a guardrail, the Clippers are playing dodgeball while blindfolded. Their elite free agents draw most of the attention but the team only has six players under contract for next season and only three of them were part of the playoff rotation. While Rivers has proven adept at bringing in bargain signings like Mbah a Moute, Felton and Speights, the sales pitch gets much more difficult if his team is not a championship contender. It is entirely possible that zero members of the 2016–17 Clippers are on the 2018–19 team but that number could easily be much higher if Paul and Griffin return. While not as perilous as the free agent market last season, many contracts signed this summer will become burdens very quickly in the newly stable salary landscape and everyone involved has to figure out what they want while also staying ready to adjust to new developments. It will be a wild, impactful early July in Los Angeles.