What I Did This Summer, By Mike Dunleavy Sr.

Timeline

June 26 - Draft Day - The Clippers try to work a deal to trade up (7th pick and a future first rounder for Sonics 4th pick).  Luckily, it falls through, and they still end up with Eric Gordon at 7.  DeAndre Jordan drops out of the first round and the Clippers pounce on him at 35.  They trade a future second rounder for Mike Taylor.

June 30 - Elton Brand and Corey Maggette and Baron Davis exercise Early Termination Options in their respective contracts. 

July 1 - At 12:01 AM in New York, MDsr is meeting with Beno Udrih and reportedly offers him the full mid-level exception.  After that meeting, he learns that Baron Davis is on the market, and quickly flies back to LA to start wooing Baron.

July 1 - Baron Davis agrees with the Clippers on a 5/$65M contract.  The Clippers have apparently also agreed to terms with Elton Brand on his contract.  July 1, 2008 is shaping up to be the greatest day in Clippers' history.

July 3 - Brand and agent David Falk go into 'radio silence' (to use MDsr's term), neither accepting nor returning calls from the Clippers.

July 8 - Elton Brand agrees to a 5/$82M contract with the Sixers.  July 8, 2008 is shaping up to be the worst day in Clippers' history.

July 9 thru 14 - Determined to spend the money earmarked for Brand somewhere, the Clippers immediately meet with restricted free agent Josh Smith.  They also, in no particular order, contact restricted free agent Emeka Okafor, and give the Knicks a low ball offer for Zach Randolph.

July 15 - The Clippers acquire Marcus Camby from the Nuggets for essentially nothing (the Nuggets get the right to swap a future second round pick).

July 17 - Clippers sign Warriors' restricted free agent Kelenna Azubuike to an offer sheet.

July 23 - Clippers trade Brevin Knight to Utah for former Clipper Jason Hart.

July 24 - Warriors match Clippers offer to Azubuike.

July 28 - Clippers sign free agent Ricky Davis for 2/$4.7M (second year is a player option).

UPDATE July 30 - Clippers waive Josh Powell, foregoing the final two years of his contract and leaving only 4 players from opening day 2007-2008 (Kaman, Mobley, Thomas and Thornton) on the roster.

UPDATE July 31- Clippers sign free agent Brian Skinner, a former Clipper.

That's three draft picks, three trades, two three free agent signings, an offer sheet, and countless other discussions in less than five weeks.  What's most impressive is that the Clippers refused to sit still and play the victim in any of this.  When Elton Brand signed with the Sixers, they immediately began offering his money to potential replacements.  In fact, Ramona Shelburne of the Daily News says that the team was on the verge of signing Josh Smith to a very big offer sheet, but opted for Camby instead when Denver agreed to the trade at the last minute.  And when the Warriors decided to keep Azubuike on a Thursday, Ricky Davis was a Clipper the following Monday.

Is every move solid gold?  Frankly, no.  Jason Hart for Brevin Knight is a head-scratcher to me, and was clearly a bonehead move in at least one regard.  With two days left for the Warriors' to match Buike's offer, the Clippers made an at best lateral trade that also ate up about a half million in cap space.  Had they waited, they would have had more money to offer to a free agent wing.  Luckily, $2.3M got the deal done with Ricky D, but one wonders if there was another alternative just a little outside of the Clippers' new price range.  And it's not like the Hart-for-Knight deal was time-critical - I can see no reason that that trade would not have been available to them in August.  That could have been a costly mistake.

But on the whole, it's been an impressive performance.  Is this (semi) finished product as good as the team we thought we had on July 2 (with a big three Brand and Davis and Kaman)?  No, it's not.  Is it better than yet another Brand, Maggette, point-guard-of-the-week-club Clippers team?  Yes, I think it is.  The usual caveats - they have to stay healthy, team chemistry could be an issue, Ricky D and Timmy T are talented players but problem children. 

The team as constituted should be able to compete for a playoff spot in the upcoming season.  And there are a couple of vital aspects to how the team was put together that should not be overlooked.  First of all, you must always bear in mind that the NBA playoffs are a zero sum game.  Exactly 8 Western Conference teams make the playoffs every year, and 7 do not.  In order for one of the have nots to crash the party, one of the haves must leave.  The Clippers stole key starters from the teams that finished 8th and 9th in the Western Conference last season.  That is huge, as it makes the Clippers stronger and two of the most likely competitors for the final couple of playoff spots weaker.  Second, the Clippers have been able to be incredibly aggressive on the free agent market, while at the same time avoiding bad contracts and maintaining significant future roster flexibility.  Consider this - they were prepared to pay Beno Udrih, who made about $700K last season, the full mid-level (starting at close to $6M) for five seasons.  Instead, they signed Baron Davis, who was scheduled to earn $18M next season, for a salary starting at $11M.  And the other big additions (Camby and Ricky D) are only signed for at most two seasons.  As a result, the team has almost $30M in salaries expiring in 2010, just when a slew of all pros are scheduled to be free agents. 

To call this the busiest off-season in club history would be a significant understatement.

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