LA Clippers President of Basketball Operations Lawrence Frank will have his hands full this offseason.
Beyond the task of retaining the enigmatic Kawhi Leonard, who could become a free agent by opting out of the final year of his contract, Frank will have to deal with the free agency (and potential departure) of two of the team’s key rotation pieces: Reggie Jackson and Nicolas Batum.
As for Jackson, the most the Clippers can offer him with early Bird rights is roughly four years, $40 million. He was arguably the Clippers’ third-best player in the postseason (second-best once Leonard went down with his ACL tear), making it known that he is a viable scoring combo-guard that could be of service to many NBA teams. While he seems to clearly value the Clippers’ culture, there could be a dollar figure large enough to draw him elsewhere.
For Batum, the money is even tighter. The most the Clippers can offer him in free agency is the Taxpayer Mid-Level Exception, currently set at $5.9 million. Batum re-established himself as a Swiss (French?) Army Knife in 2020-21, filling in wherever the Clippers needed him. A 6’8, long-armed, high-IQ wing that can knock down 40+% of his threes and play small-ball center is one of the most coveted assets in the NBA today, so it stands to reason that Batum will be receiving larger offers than the MLE from other teams.
If the worst comes to pass and both players walk, LA will need to fill in the gaps that they left. Though Leonard’s absence could potentially mean a gap year for LA, they will not own their 2022 draft pick, so they might as well attempt to be as competitive as possible in the event that Leonard returns earlier than expected.
With that being said, here are three possible free agents for the Clippers to pursue in the 2021 offseason.
If the 2021 postseason proved anything for LA, it was that the necessity for a “true point guard” was misguided. Rajon Rondo was unplayable by the Conference Finals while Jackson (nearly a shooting guard in a point guard-sized body) was the Clippers’ second-leading scorer in that same series. So why not try replacing Jackson with another scoring guard?
Rose was spectacular for the Knicks last season, averaging 14.7 points off the bench and knocking down a career-high 38.8% of his threes. He’d be taking a pay-cut if he left New York for LA, as the Knicks have his early Bird rights and the Taxpayer MLE is less than what he’s currently earning. It also seems unlikely that Rose would want to leave his beloved head coach Tom Thibodeau, though perhaps the allure of a championship could pull Rose to the opposite coast.
The only thing better than one Morris brother is two. Marcus’ brother might be the lesser talent of the twins, but he’s still a viable option on the wing, particularly as a part of LA’s small-ball lineup. If Batum walks, LA will need another 6’8 forward that can hold his own on a switch.
The Morris brothers thrived together during their days in Phoenix, and Markieff already resides in Los Angeles. Perhaps a more sizable role while Leonard is out (Markieff only played 9.5 minutes per game in his four appearances in the Lakers’ First-Round loss to the Suns) will entice him to cross the Staples Center hallway and join his brother as a Clipper.
While he isn’t the knockdown shooter that his brother is (he only hit 31.1% of his threes last season), he’s still a like-sized body on defense and a decent threat to score on offense.
Snell’s massive four-year, $46 million contract will finally expire this offseason. He dealt with ankle and achilles injuries during his 2020-21 season with the Hawks, but was effective when he played, knocking down an absurd 56.9% of his threes. However, he too was squeezed from the rotation as the postseason progressed. His shooting fell off a cliff (1-11 from deep in his nine appearances in the playoffs), and the Hawks’ defense waned when he was on the court (a putrid 114.6 defensive rating).
Snell’s playoff collapse might have lowered his value enough for his next contract to fall within the Clippers’ budget. Just as Batum did, he’d have a chance to rehabilitate his value as a backup forward.
Ideally, LA will hope that both Jackson and Batum will value LA’s team culture enough to leave money on the table elsewhere. However, if they do choose to walk away, Frank and the Clippers will have to get creative and search for cheap, capable players like the ones above in order to maintain the team’s depth.