Since the rest of this is fairly lengthy I will simply open with a few words about my concept. Basically I wanted to make this team younger and more athletic without really going through a rebuilding process. I also wanted to bring in a young star without completely sending the salary cap into the stratosphere. I feel that I was fairly successful in accomplishing both of those goals.
Far too often we as Clippers fans are prone to pessimism. I think that initially this tendency predisposed me to being a bit conservative with what I was trying to do. After putting the better part of a couple of days into this, however, I think you will find that I shed any traces of conservatism. While my plan is extremely aggressive, I also think that it is largely realistic.
It may seem far fetched that all of the transactions I propose could happen in combination. I would suggest, however, that if each trade can be deemed reasonable individually, then what is to stop them from occurring in tandem besides a general lack of ingenuity and drive by those currently in control of this organization?
C- Chris Kaman (9.5M)
PF- Elton Brand (16.4M)
SF- Luol Deng (13M)
SG- Cuttino Mobley (9M)
PG- Shaun Livingston (5M)
6- Al Thornton (1.8M)
7- Chase Budinger (2.4M)
8- Joe Smith (5M)
9- Devin Brown (1.2M)
10- Brevin Knight (2M)
11- Dan Dickau (1M)
12- Paul Davis (500K)
13- Josh Powell (500K)
14- Shaun Foster (400K)
15- Open for Flexibility
C - Kaman/Smith/Davis/Powell
PF - Brand/Smith/Thornton
SF - Deng/Thornton/Brown
SG - Mobley/Budinger/Brown/Foster
PG - Livingston/Knight/Dickau
Total Payroll = 67.7M
1. Extend Brand now before he opts out
Brand has been in the league for 8 years now and he will turn 30 next season. He is not exactly hurting financially and from everything we have seen about him, Elton is ready to put winning first. It is my belief that if we can clearly demonstrate to Elton that his signing a contract extension for slightly less than the maximum would result in putting a far more competitive product on the floor, he would not hesitate.
If he is looking for a big payday, Brand will likely exercise his option for next season. This will allow him to take advantage of the big jump in maximum salaries that occurs when a player has been in the league for 10 seasons. Honestly though, I do not foresee this being the case.
My goal would be to extend Brand now for the amount he would receive next year if he accepted his option, and then increase his salary by the maximum of 10.5 percent per year. This would give him a maximum increase in his money, just from a less-than-maximum starting point. If Brand were to opt out after this season, his maximum starting salary would likely be around 17 million, which means this is not really much of a pay cut at all.
The extension would last for two seasons after next and provide Brand an option for a third. This would seem to be equitable to both parties and allow for greater flexibility going forward. If Brand continues to struggle with injury, the team will not be trapped beneath his contract forever. If he returns to all-world form, he can opt out in three seasons and get himself a maximum deal if he desires.
I spent about an entire evening looking at information about the CBA trying to determine if what I just described is against the rules, and could find nothing to that effect. Still, I may have missed something and broken a well established salary cap rule. Regardless, I think the essence of my idea is a good one. It would certainly be possible to extend Brand at less than the maximum in order to make the Clippers as competitive as possible.
2. Trade Sam Cassell and Quinton Ross to the Cleveland Cavaliers for Ira Newble, Devin Brown, Cedric Simmons, and the Cav's first round draft pick.
So far this season the Cavs have been deficient in two major areas. They badly need a point guard and their defense has declined significantly since last season. It is pretty obvious how Cassell and Ross, respectively, would fix those problems for Cleveland.
The guys that the Clippers get back are not that consequential. Simmons is a relatively nice young big who will fill out the roster. Newble can be cut immediately. Brown is worth keeping around as a bench scorer and energy guy. From the Clippers end, this move is purely about dumping salary and getting the pick.
3. Trade Tim Thomas to the New Jersey Nets for the expiring contracts of Jamaal Magloire and Darrell Armstrong.
If the Net's window of opportunity is not already shut, this season may be the franchise's last chance to make a playoff run. Prior to this season the Nets thought that Jamaal would be a key acquisition. Due to his poor play and the emergence of Sean Williams, however, Magloire's worth to the Nets at this point is extremely limited and he is racking up DNPs. Thomas would be the perfect fit to be the team's staring power forward. The Nets are currently 4-1 in January despite playing a rotation of Josh Boone and Malik Allen at the position. One more shooter to run the wing and play with Jason Kidd would help the Nets immensely in the playoffs. Tim's playoff experience certainly would not hurt either.
4. Trade Corey Maggette, the Minnesota first rounder (which is unprotected next year), the pick we just got from Cleveland and one future unprotected first round pick of our own (2009) to the Bulls for Luol Deng and Joe Smith.
Deng will need to be re-signed this offseason, likely for a maximum contract. At first this will cause Mr. Sterling to completely blow a gasket. Once he sees the rest of the plan, however, I think he will come around, especially once he sees we are under the luxury tax. Plus, it has been a while since we really saw any truly stingy behavior from him. He gave Kaman the big deal and not offering any more than we did to Maggette last summer was probably something closer to prudence than parsimony.
Deng is an elite young talent, as was witnessed during last year's playoffs. He can guard three positions masterfully. He is long, quick, fast, agile, moves excellently without the ball, is dazzling from mid-range, and has a great attitude. The scariest thing about Luol is that he is only 22. If he can improve his touch from beyond the three point arc (a place he currently rarely ventures), he could legitimately be the league's top all-around wing player.
It is scary to imagine just how imposing a front court of Kaman, Brand, and Deng would be on opposing teams. There is little doubt that they would form one of the top two or three front courts in all of the NBA.
It may seem like a stretch that the Bulls would have any desire to make this trade. After all, the team did decide not to pull the trigger on a deal for the NBA's greatest individual talent in Kobe Bryant largely due to a desire to hold on to Luol.
The reason this works is that things have changed in Chicago since the off season. First of all, the team has not made any progress in negotiations to extend either Deng or Ben Gordon. It has also become painfully obvious that without any player with the ability to create going to the basket, this team is relegated to shooting far too many jump shots. Between the impending free agency of their two best players and their lack of success, the Bulls are in need of a change.
Maggette would probably get to the foul line more than their entire roster does currently. His slashing would combine nicely with the spot up shooing of Gordon, Hinrich, and Nocioni. Without making a move the Bulls simply have too many players who do the same things. Including the three picks ensures that the Bulls would not feel they were being slighted in any way by this deal, especially when you consider how high that Minnesota pick is likely to be next season.
4. Sign Shaun Livingston to his offer sheet at $5 million.
Shaun will likely be looking to prove he can stay healthy and perform for an entire season. It would really be in his best interest to come back next year and probably the year after in order to get a bigger deal thereafter. I cannot imagine any team really offering him much more given his injury history and inconsistent development when healthy. We would also probably be his best chance to play in a starting role immediately next season.
5. Draft Chase Budinger with the 6th pick and Shan Foster with the 36th pick.
Budinger is a freakish athlete and at 6' 7" has a nice frame to play guard in the NBA. I saw him play volleyball in person a couple of times a few years back and his leaping ability is simply out of this world. As his shot continues to improve, his length at shooting guard will really make him a phenomenal talent. I can really see turning the reigns over the Chase at shooting guard sooner rather than later. His presence will likely make shopping Mobley's contract much more sensible. I am also high on Foster, but if the pick was Joey Dorsey or the like then so be it.
I believe that this plan puts the most competitive team possible on the court without increasing the team's payroll significantly. In a perfect world I probably would have both taken advantage of the team's mid-level salary cap exception to bring in a shooter and kept Thomas. I think the team I have put together has a good shot to win immediately, and Thomas's contributions would be a huge boost off the bench for the next couple seasons as the young guys develop. The reality of the situation, however, is that in order to bring in Deng's talents, some salary had to be dropped if we wanted to avoid the luxury tax.
The Cassell trade is a must for the Clippers. He wold have walked after this season so getting some value out of him in the form of the pick and Devin Brown is really a victory. Ross has been great for us, but bringing in his defense would surely put the Cavaliers over the top on this deal. Plus, including Ross makes the deal viable from a financial standpoint.
In some sense, the price I paid for Deng is a bit high. If you factor in the picks, the Bulls are getting four players for the price of one. The Clippers are losing five players to get Deng, because Thomas's contract was dropped mostly to make room to resign Deng.
Still, Deng is a special player. To go get someone of his caliber is going to take a pretty significant sacrifice. The kind of sacrifice that has us sending away three first round picks. Still, it is necessary to put this team back into the playoffs and give it a chance to compete for a title. Winning the title is still the goal right?
If we do not make these deals, Maggette is likely to opt out of his contract and look for a newer, bigger one. If he does not opt out this off-season, it only postpones the inevitable. We will be right back to square one with him after next season. He has already turned down a contract extension. In a way, now is probably one of the Clippers' final opportunities to get value back from Maggette's departure. If we do not act now we will either have to let him walk and get nothing back or sign him to a long deal that he probably does not deserve.
Thomas is a nice player, but he is not getting any younger. It seems like his game becomes more one dimensional with each passing season. He also has a history of injury and attitude problems. The one aspect of his game that is truly valuable, his shooting, can be replaced at far less cost.
There are two issues that I see presenting themselves once this plan is in place. The bench is a bit thin, and while the payroll is not outrageous for next year it has a distinct possibility of increasing with the salaries of Deng, Brand, and Kaman. Remember though, that after next year Joe Smith's deal will come off the books. The year after, Mobley will be entering his final season will be much easier to trade. By parting ways with the two of them we will be saving ourselves 15 million dollars. That should be plenty to fill out a nice bench unit and lock up Budinger in a couple years as the starting shooting guard for the future.
Once this plan is executed the Clippers will not only be a contender next season, but for seasons to come as Kaman and Deng continue to develop and Brand returns from injury to hopefully play some of the best basketball of his career.