The Clippers have had some pretty busy offseasons lately. In 2008, they signed Baron Davis, and for about a week at the beginning of July, they appeared to have both Davis and Elton Brand in the fold, before they got Falked by FElton and his agent and Brand went to Philadelphia. They followed up the loss of Brand with a one-sided trade to get Marcus Camby from the Nuggets. The following season, they won the lottery, drafted Blake Griffin, and traded Zach Randolph (acquired six months before) in a move that simultaneously helped transform the roster and set them up to have cap space this summer.
The summer of 2010 figured to be the biggest of all. The Clippers entered the offseason with a new GM, needing a new coach, and with $19M in their pockets. The offseason isn't over yet, but it is mid-July, and all of the big name free agents are settled. So how's it going so far?
The offseason started ominously, with the Clippers sitting on the sideline while the other teams in need of coaches filled their jobs. We're told that they were doing their due diligence, conducting phone interviews, and patiently creating their list of candidates. Maybe. Or maybe they were waiting for the market to settle, seeing who would still be available, and finding out what kinds of offers other teams were making so that they were certain not to overpay. You're less likely to get into a bidding war if you're the only team who still needs a coach.
Did the Clippers miss out on any great candidates while they were on the sidelines? Time will tell. There was a report that they had asked the Celtics for permission to speak with Tom Thibodeau, but no face to face interview ever occurred. Dwane Casey, one of their finalists, was almost hired in Atlanta, so they risked losing him by waiting. In the end, they hired Vinny Del Negro, a choice most of Clips Nation (myself included) seems ambivalent about. Suffice it to say, I'm not surprised he hadn't been snapped up by another team.
The draft was certainly a highlight of the summer. Drafting 8th, they were ecstatic when Al-Farouq Aminu, the athletic small forward they coveted, made it to them. Then, they aggressively pursued another pick, and traded to acquire Eric Bledsoe from Oklahoma City at 18. To top the night off, Willie Warren, a player who had been considered a lottery pick eight months earlier, was still available at 54. Things were looking up.
When free agency opened on July 1, no one really expected the Clippers to secure the services of LeBron James, but at least they got an invitation to make a presentation. With no head coach and no owner in the meeting, the Clippers had the smallest delegation and made the shortest presentation of the six candidate teams. Was that a problem? Probably not, given that LeBron was never going to pick LA, but it came off in the media as the Clippers once again being a small time organization not worthy of being taken seriously.
But even if we knew the Clippers weren't going to get LeBron, $19M to spend on free agents is nothing to sneeze at, so hopes were high that the team would make some significant acquisitions. Well, as of July 14, the team has signed Ryan Gomes, Randy Foye and Brian Cook. Yippee.
Don't get me wrong; these aren't actually bad signings. And unlike many other franchises this summer, the Clippers didn't overpay (much) in any of these contracts. Foye can be a capable backup at both guard spots, something the Clippers desperately need. Gomes has started more often than not for several seasons in Minnesota, and an experienced small forward is definitely a good acquisition. Cook is pretty terrible, but you're not going to get great players for the NBA minimum; not when you're the Clippers.
When Gomes was signed, I actually assumed that he was being signed to add depth on the wing, and that there was still another significant signing in the works. After all, the team still had about $10M to spend, even allowing for a contract for Sofoklis Schortsanitis, MBFGC. But almost a week later, with Mike Miller, Kyle Korver, Travis Outlaw and Josh Childress all signed, it seems as if maybe the team is done after all. They have way too much money to spend on a backup, small forward seems to be the only spot where they need a starter, and none of the small forwards left on the market are worth the money they have. Basically, the choices are Ronnie Brewer, or one of the veteran guys with baggage - like a Josh Howard or a Richard Jefferson. It could certainly still happen - but I'm feeling more and more like Ryan Gomes was acquired to be the starter at the 3. Leaving the team a whole lot of money to... to... well, to put in Donald Sterling's pocket, I guess.
Being under the cap has some advantages certainly. Maybe they have their eye on a player that another team is looking to get rid of. There's a long time until the season starts, and a lot more can happen. Maybe we're being too hasty if we think that the Clippers don't have any more big moves left in them. But that's what it's beginning to feel like.
For one thing, with so many teams carrying tons of cap space still, not to mention that half the NBA seems to have a huge trade exception, the Clippers are far from the only option for the remaining free agents and/or salary motivated trades. The Suns and Jazz each used their trade exceptions from their departed stars to reload their rosters, the Suns with the small forward I most wanted, Josh Childress, and the Jazz with an upgrade over Boozer in Al Jefferson. The point is that if the Clippers think they can be opportunistic and wait for the perfect sitation to come along, I'm not so sure that's true. There will be plenty of teams interested, and with available money, if some intriguing player suddenly finds himself on the trading block in the near future.
If both Willie Warren (signed to an unguaranteed contract today) and Sofo (expected to get an offer this week before he leaves to join the Greek National Team) make the team, that brings the roster to twelve. They have to sign at least one more player, and could sign up to three. MDsr always liked to carry 14 contracts, leaving one roster spot open. But Eric Pincus seems to think the Clippers will carry 13 contracts this season.
Whatever the number, if the Clippers only have minor deals left in them this summer, it's going to be a major letdown in what was supposed to be the biggest offseason in the history of the franchise.