Don't Expect July Fireworks From the Clippers

Last July was the most eventful month in the history of this blog in the midst of the most active month in the history of the Clippers franchise.  The level of activity, from June 30th when Elton Brand and Corey Maggette each opted out of their Clipper contracts and Baron Davis opted out of his Warriors deal, until July 31 when LA signed free agent Brian Skinner, was dizzying.  It was also, in hindsight, foolhardy.  The Clippers began the season with only five players from the year before, and by January were down to only two (only one who was playing, since Kaman was hurt so much) and the unprecedented roster turnover was at least one reason that the team chemistry was so poor (or at least that's one of the excuses du jour we've heard from the organization).

So don't expect a lot of early July activity from the Clippers this season.  For one thing, they'll be peddling a 'stability is a virtue' storyline in the wake of a 19 win season - something like "We changed 12 out of 14 players and had a terrible year - if we keep 12 out of 14 players, we'll have a good year."  Of course, it's not quite that simple, but one can definitely see the advantages to limiting the changes going into training camp.

And that 12 out of 14 estimate is entirely possible.  We know there's at least one new face - this Griffin-kid they picked up in the draft looks like he will make the team.  But they've also got ten returners with contracts as of now - and two other contributors from last season (Steve Novak and Fred Jones) who are probably more likely to stay with the team than to end up anywhere else.  So one very real possibility is that the Clippers re-sign Jones and Novak, don't find any trades to their liking, and sign a non-descript veteran at the end of July or the beginning of August.  Voila - 12 of 14 players return.

The team didn't jump into the shallow end of the draft pool last week, feeling that the prices were a little steep for players who are unlikely to help at any rate (it will be interesting to see if Daryl Morey gets any return from the three second rounders he bought with Carroll Dawson's money in Houston).  Nor are there any household names associated with the Clipppers summer league roster so far (other than the studs already on the NBA team):  Kevinn PinkneyKyle McAlarney?  These guys seem unlikely to be taking that 14th roster spot.

As for free agency, here's what we know right now - the Clippers are not pro-actors in the market; they are re-actors.  MDsr was quoted in this morning's LA Times saying:

We probably won't be an immediate player in the free-agent market.  There'll be some players that are taken quickly . . . [but] then the market will settle and you'll be able to sit back and make some decisions.

This tells me a couple of things.  For one, you can forget about any free agents who are looking for anything close to mid-level exception money.  Every team in the league can offer the MLE, and if the Clippers are planning to sit back and wait, those guys are going to get their offers from elsewhere.

But reading a little deeper into the comments, I'm guessing that the team is waiting for a couple of dominoes to fall in order to see what effect it has on the trade market.  The Clippers obviously still have a big man on the block, and the early movement in free agency could have a big impact on which teams are looking for big players, as well as on which players may become available.  It's not a bad strategy.  Let's take just a few examples:

  • Joe Dumars in Detroit has the first move in this game.  He has the most money to spend, not to mention that the organization's reputation for putting together winning teams make Detroit an attractive destination.  If Detroit signs a forward like Hedo Turkoglu or Charlie Villanueva or Trevor Ariza, they'll likely try to trade Tayshaun Prince, a ClipsNation favorite as a potential 'glue guy.'  Since Chris Kaman to Detroit has been rumored, Kaman for Prince would seem to be a possibility.
  • Staying in Detroit, if Dumars instead lures Ben Gordon to the Motor City, the move likely removes a potential Clippers trade target.  If Gordon stays in Chicago, the Bulls are likely to trade Kirk Hinrich (or maybe Luol Deng).  Eric Pincus of HoopsWorld has been talking about the possibility of Hinrich to the Clippers for awhile.  But if Gordon bolts, Hinrich will likely stay in Chicago.
  • And obviously any team looking for low post scoring and/or a starting center will pop up on the Clippers' radar if they fail to meet their needs via free agency.  If Houston's current pursuit of Marcin Gortat pays off, then they've found their Yao insurance policy - if not, they might be on the phone asking about Chris Kaman or Marcus Camby.

So the Clippers are in wait-and-see mode for now.

But while we're on the subject of trades, let's do a quick follow up on the Zach Randolph rumors from draft day.  Since I first mused about the stories out of Memphis last week, I've heard from two more sources that the Milicic offer was not on the table.  Chris Herrington of the Memphis Flyer and Eric Pincus who covers the Clippers for HoopsWorld both say that the trade offer was Randolph for Buckner and Jaric, never Buckner and Milicic.  This is consistent with Chris Vernon's account, and also with common sense.  Jaric's contract is a bigger albatross than Z-bo's (Chris Sheridan ranked them 3rd and 15th respectively on his list of "Dead Money Players and Cap-Killing Contracts") - so why would the Clippers trade a bad contract for a worse one? 

But Kevin Arnovitz brings up an interesting point on Clipperblog.  One version of the trade talk was that the Grizzlies already had the Milicic to New York for Quentin Richardson trade in place when the Clippers asked for Darko in the Randolph deal.  Well, what about reviving the deal as Richardson and Buckner for Randolph?  It seems the Grizzlies are still interested, and because Memphis is under the salary cap, there are no restricitions on including Richardson in another trade right away.  That would actually be a better trade for the Clippers, returning needed depth on the wing (hardly a "glue guy", Q can at least stretch defenses with his three point shooting) rather than yet another big.  Also, according to Herrington, only $1M of Buckner's contract is guaranteed, so it would actually be a major cap savings for LA. 

But as with everything else, for now it's wait and see.  If Memphis makes a successful play for David Lee or Villanueva, they won't need Z-Bo.  If not?  Maybe we'll see some roster movement after all.

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