Well, it's been an interesting day. It's been an interesting few days for that matter, but today has been a nice resolution - at least to a couple of things.
The Los Angeles Clippers signed two players and walked away from a trade today. And while each of the decisions involves a fair amount of risk, you can't help but admire the bold determination of Neil Olshey and the Clippers' front office.
In case you missed it, the Clippers today:
- walked away from a potential trade for Chris Paul;
- claimed Chauncey Billups off of amnesty waivers;
- matched Golden State's offer sheet for free agent DeAndre Jordan.
Let's go over the Billups deal.
I love this maneuver. For those of you not familiar with the process, the NBA included a new provision in the amnesty clause this year. Players who are waived via amnesty, after clearing normal waivers (in which any team could claim them for their full salary), go into a second waiver process in which only teams under the salary cap can make a claim. The idea, and it was a good one, was to keep the amnesty process from fueling the "rich get richer" problem. Given that the NBA is making such a big deal out of competitive balance, the idea of an overpaid but still talented former All Star ending up signing with Miami or Los Angeles for the league minimum was understandably disquieting. The amnesty waiver process is a means of channeling the waived players with value to low payroll teams.
The amnesty waiver is a blind auction - teams under the cap submitted sealed bids for the player, with the highest bid winning the player's services. The Clippers apparently bid $2M for Billups - and the best part of the whole thing is that it's only for one season, and the Knicks will pay Billups the remainder of his $14.2M contract.
Billups let it be known at the time he was waived that he'd be none to happy to be claimed in the auction. After all, other than when they are first drafted, NBA players are used to having some say as to what teams they play for. For an a former NBA Final MVP like Billups, the idea of landing in Sacramento at this point in his career simply because they made the highest bid was understandably unappealing. Billups did his best to scare teams off, saying that he'd be disruptive if they claimed him against his will. The same strategy may have worked earlier in the week for Gilbert Arenas, who made it through amnesty waivers to become an unrestricted free agent - though it must be stated that a threat to be disruptive somehow has more teeth coming from Agent Zero than it does coming from Mr. Big Shot.
The Clippers were not cowed by Billups' posturing - and at the end of the day, Chauncey is a pro and he'll likely report to camp and do his job as a basketball player. If he doesn't, there's basically no risk to the Clippers anyway - the league has told Billups and his agent that if he fails to report he'll be in breach of his contract, so the guy is risking $14.2M. Might he be disgruntled? Sure, it's possible. But probably the Clippers were counting on the collection of talent they've assembled to persuade him that playing (and earning those millions) is better than not playing.
Billups immediately becomes the starter at point guard. Although he's now 35, he's remained a super-productive point guard, and has shown little drop off as he's gotten older. He's a great fit for the Clippers as an efficient scorer, and a terrific three pointer shooter (career .389) who can spread the floor. A three guard rotation of Billups, Eric Gordon and Mo Williams will keep three point threats on the floor at all times to spot up around Blake Griffin. He's also an NBA Champion who made it at least as far as the conference Finals seven consecutive seasons. The Clippers were very interested in adding Tayshaun Prince to their roster this summer for his playoff experience - now they've gotten the team leader from Prince's Pistons. That's a big win. Of course, it all depends on Billups attitude about the situation - especially since the Clippers are doing this in large part for Billups' leadership. They're counting on Billups' professionalism, plus the promise of a very talented roster, to bring out the best in him.