NBA Trade Rumors - Chris Paul and the Clippers and the Salary Cap

With a bit of a lull in the ongoing Chris Paul saga while the league decides just how much they're willing to lower their trade demands, I thought this might be a decent time to look at some of the salary cap implications of this crazy week. I'll stress first that because the Clippers can create a matching trade package for pretty much any Chris Paul trade scenario, the signings of Caron Butler and DeAndre Jordan and Chauncey Billups have no impact on the team's ability to acquire Paul by trade. For now, Paul would be acquired via trade, and the salary cap has no real bearing on that.

The art of a basketball trade is in getting the deal done and getting what you want without giving up more than you need to. The Hornets are over a barrel here - Paul has already informed them that he has no intention of using his contract option to stay in New Orleans or signing an extension with them. And if they ever entertained thoughts of having him play out this season in hopes that maybe he'd reconsider and decide to stay, the circus of the last week has certainly put an end to that sort of thinking. Paul (who begged out of New Orleans Media Day today) is frustrated and really can't get of New Orleans fast enough at this point. Might a new ownership group prefer to take over the team with Paul still under contract in the hopes that they could sit down with him and convince him to stay, that things will be different, that the dysfunctional days of George Shinn and the conflict of interest of NBA ownership are distant memories, that they're the greatest and bestest owners in the whole wide world? They might - if they're delusional.

So the Hornets must trade Paul before the trade deadline or they will lose him for nothing. Then there's the fact that Paul has apparently indicated interest in only three teams: the Knicks, the Lakers and the Clippers. The implication at this point (though of course there's no way of knowing this for certain) is that he would not stay beyond a single season with any other team. Oh, and neither the Knicks nor the Lakers have the assets to put together a viable trade for Paul, despite recent rumors about the Lakers.

Taken together, this all means that the Clippers have the leverage in this situation. All they have to do is make an offer that is better than what a team like Golden State might be willing to offer for a one year rental. The Clippers don't have to make their best offer - they just have to make the best offer that New Orleans will receive.

But let's look at the Clippers cap situation in a couple of different Chris Paul scenarios.

First of all, where would the Clippers be if they got Paul for the package they've been offering: Chris Kaman, Eric Bledsoe, Al-Farouq Aminu and the Minnesota pick. (All salary data for existing contracts from ShamSports.com.)

Player

11-12

12-13

13-14

Chris Paul

16359805

17779458

17000000

Blake Griffin

5731080

7226892

15000000

Eric Gordon

3831184

12000000

13000000

DeAndre Jordan

10000000

10500000

11000000

Caron Butler

8000000

8000000

8000000

Mo Williams

8500000

8500000

0

Ryan Gomes

4000000

4000000

0

Randy Foye

4250000

0

0

Chauncey Billups

2000000

0

0

Brian Cook

1265976

0

0

Travis Leslie

500000

500000

500000

Trey Thompkins

500000

500000

500000

Total

64938045

69006350

65000000

Cap

58000000

58000000

60000000

Tax

70000000

70000000

73000000

In this scenario, penciling in a new contract for Eric Gordon starting at $12,000,000 (which is conservative), the Clippers would likely be luxury tax payers by next season. They could get a little wiggle room by amnestying either Mo Williams or Ryan Gomes, but they'd still have to fill out their roster one way or the other. As it stands, they'd be paying $69M to nine players, and still need five more low salary contracts to have a full team. With the luxury tax almost guaranteed to be at $70M again as the NBA holds it steady until the new lower BRI split is absorbed into annual growth numbers, the Clippers would either have to pay the luxury tax or jump through some hoops to avoid it.

The following season both Griffin and Paul would be free agents, and of course the plan is to re-sign both of them. penciling them in for $15M and $17M respectively, that leaves the team paying $64M for their five starters; it's a dream starting team to be sure, but it comes with a big price tag, especially considering that both Butler and Jordan were probably overpaid this week. If the luxury tax creeps up a little, the Clippers might (just might) be able to avoid the luxury tax, again by sticking exclusively to very cheap contracts for the rest of the roster.

For either of the next two seasons, if you want to also keep Billups (unlikely with Paul onboard) you're definitely going to be paying the tax.

Maybe Donald Sterling will be perfectly willing to pay the tax. If the deal goes down in this manner, he'll have little choice really, unless he lets Gordon or Paul or Griffin walk. And given that those are the three that seem to be the reasons we're talking about this trade in the first place, that would be self-defeating.

Now let's tweak the trade and look at the numbers again. What if you put Gordon into the package, and held on to the Minny pick.

Player

11-12

12-13

13-14

Chris Paul

16359805

17779458

17000000

Blake Griffin

5731080

7226892

15000000

DeAndre Jordan

10000000

10500000

11000000

Caron Butler

8000000

8000000

8000000

MIN Pick

0

4000000

4500000

Mo Williams

8500000

8500000

0

Ryan Gomes

4000000

4000000

0

Randy Foye

4250000

0

0

Chauncey Billups

2000000

0

0

Brian Cook

1265976

0

0

Travis Leslie

500000

500000

500000

Trey Thompkins

500000

500000

500000

Total

61106861

61006350

56500000

Cap

58000000

58000000

60000000

Tax

70000000

70000000

73000000

The difference between Gordon's free agent contract and the MIN pick's rookie scale deal (which is of course a complete estimate since we don't even know what pick it will be) gives the Clippers some crucial breathing room against the luxury tax threshold. In this scenario, you could split the mid level exception each season among a couple of players and still avoid the tax.

This is why I personally would be open to including either the pick OR Gordon (but not both) into the trade package for Paul. Gordon is a great player, and is underpaid on his current deal - but he'll probably be overpaid starting next season, and by keeping the cheap pick versus the expensive Gordon, the Clippers have more options. (Of course, this is probably the same reason that the Hornets would prefer the pick.)

Finally, one crucial element of the Clippers' present leverage is the presumption that they would be a likely landing spot for Paul in the summer of 2012 if indeed the Hornets choose not to trade him. But in the wake of expensive contracts to Jordan and Butler, is that true?

Player

11-12

Summer 12

Blake Griffin

5731080

7226892

Eric Gordon

3831184

9577960

DeAndre Jordan

10000000

10500000

Caron Butler

8000000

8000000

Mo Williams

8500000

0

Ryan Gomes

4000000

4000000

MIN Pick

0

4000000

Al-Farouq Aminu

2755560

2947800

Eric Bledsoe

1596360

1707720

Chris Kaman

12700000

0

Randy Foye

4250000

0

Brian Cook

1265976

0

Chauncey Billups

2000000

0

Travis Leslie

500000

500000

Trey Thompkins

500000

500000

Roster holds

0

100000

Total

65630160

49060372

Cap

58000000

58000000

Tax

70000000

70000000

Note that $9,577,960 is Gordon's cap hold, not his salary, since the Clippers would be negotiating Paul's deal first. The short answer is, the Clippers would have to jump through a lot of hoops to have enough cap space to offer Chris Paul the type of deal he'll be looking for next summer. The theoretical beauty of this approach is that the Clippers could have their cake and eat it too. They'd keep all of their young assets AND get Chris Paul! The best of all worlds. Only problem is, those assets count against the cap too. The obvious first step is to amnesty Mo Williams, but even with that, the Clippers can only get to an offer starting at about $9M. This is again assuming a cap hold of $4M for the MIN pick.

I spoke with a Clippers official about this on Tuesday, and was assured that they knew exactly how they'd free up more money if they had a shot at Paul next summer. Of course they COULD do it - you could trade the MIN pick with Ryan Gomes for future considerations (similar to packaging Baron Davis with a lottery pick last February) and free up another $8M there - done. A less painful deal that might be doable would be to package Gomes and Aminu, assuming a team would take on Gomes' $4M for Aminu's potential.

Having said that, if Paul is truly on the free agent market next summer, and given that they could negotiate his deal before jumping through these additional hoops, the Clippers could indeed create the space to sign him to a very large contract. If they were willing to give up assets like Aminu, Bledsoe and the MIN pick as part of a trade, they could certainly swap those assets for future picks next year and make this happen. Using amnesty on Williams, perhaps using the new stretch provision on Gomes, dumping some of the young guys salaries, it would be entirely possible to sign Paul as a free agent.

Which only enhances the Clippers' leverage in the current situation.

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