The Clippers on Thursday made two different roster decisions: as expected, they waived camp invites Marcus Hubbard and Courtney Fortson, and they also made official the acquisition of power forward Reggie Evans. With those items taken care of, the Clippers' roster now stands at 13 with the season a couple of days away.
NBA rules require teams to carry a minimum of 13 contracts and a maximum of 15, so the Clippers can stay where they are, or they can add another player or two. Of course, they can also waive one or more of the 13 currently on the roster, but that seems unlikely. Assuming Evans' contract is guaranteed, that makes eleven guaranteed contracts, and the two others are Trey Thompkins and Travis Leslie, the team's two second round picks, with whom the team is very pleased thus far. Assuming Thompkins and Leslie are safe as affordable players with upside, it seems reasonable that the most likely choices at this point are to hold at 13 or to add one player.
The team's tendency for many years now has been to carry 14 contracts into the season. It provides a little extra depth, while leaving a roster spot flexible for opportunistic acquisitions. My gut tells me that they'll make another acquisition before Sunday, or perhaps soon thereafter. The glaring needs remains the same as it was when I discussed the roster earlier in the week - they need a big man. The Evans' acquisition is good, as it provides some needed muscle off the bench, but DeAndre Jordan remains the only actual center on this team. Evans and Blake Griffin and Brian Cook and Thompkins can all take their turn battling centers much bigger than they are, but it's less than ideal. In most games, a big rotation of Griffin, Jordan and Evans, with spot duty from Cook and/or Thompkins when you want to stretch the floor will be fine. But there will be some games where you absolutely will want an actual seven footer to put in the game. What happens when Jordan picks up two fouls in four minutes against Dwight Howard?
Twitter chatter has linked the Clippers to both Alexis Ajinca and Kyrylo Fesenko in recent days, which tells us two things: (1) the Clippers see the same roster hole we see (it would be hard to miss) and (2) the pickings are mighty slim when it comes to seven footers. Looking at last season's stats for those two isn't exactly awe-inspiring.
Per 36 Minutes
Fesenko and Ajinca are at two ends of the project center spectrum. Fesenko is HUGE - listed at 288, he's a very large man. He also happens to be among the very few players who are worse free throw shooters than DeAndre. Ajinca is LONG - listed at 220, he supposedly has a wingspan of 7'9" and can even hit a fifteen footer. But both are inefficient scorers and both are projects that may never pan out. For the Clippers right now, I would say that Fesenko is the better fit. He's a better post defender, and if we're worried about matching up to Bynum and/or Howard, the waif-like Ajinca isn't going to be a lot of help. Besides, while Ajinca is supposed to be a shot blocker, Fesenko actually blocked more shots per minute last season.
The other options out there aren't much better. I won't go into them, but you can look over my earlier post if you're interested.
It seems strange at first that the Clippers have waited this long if they intend to add someone, but there may be a simple explanation for it. Joel Przybilla, who is easily the best free agent center still on the market, has been contemplating retirement and has said he'll make a decision on it after the holidays. The Clippers may be holding out hope for Przybilla, or at least waiting to see what happens with him before filling their need.
Evans signed for the veteran's minimum, which means that the Clippers still have their $2.5M exception to use. They also have a $3.8M trade exception at their disposal. The Catch-22 at this point is that they'd like to save those for potential opportunities down the line, but that the won't be able to get much quality in another minimum signing. It's worth noting also that by my math the Clippers would be knocking on the door of the luxury tax, probably a couple hundred thousand into it, if they used all of that $3.8M - and I certainly don't expect that to happen.
If you're looking at the Nets acquisition of Mehmut Okur on Thursday and wondering why the Clippers couldn't have done that, the answer is they could have (all Utah got back was a second round pick), BUT Okur's $11M contract would have pushed the Clippers way beyond the tax threshold - so in reality Memo was not an option. Too bad - big and strong and he can stretch the floor, he'd be a perfect fit for the LAC.
There's one other thing to consider - although a center is the most glaring need, the Clippers could also use a perimeter defender with size. To that end, the Suns release of Mickael Pietrus Thursday was interesting. In the end, Pietrus is going to get more than the minimum, and the Clippers may not want to spend their $2.5M on him. Besides, he's rumored to be headed for Boston when he clears waivers. But clearly Pietrus would fill another Clipper need.
I find it difficult to believe that the roster will stay at 13 for long. Consider this: among those 13 is Eric Bledsoe, currently injured and likely out for at least another month. Then among the 12 that are relatively healthy, both Leslie and Evans are dealing with ankle issues. Furthermore, presuming that Leslie (or even Thompson) could benefit from some playing time in the D-league, that's another subtraction from the available NBA roster. Bottom line, until Bledsoe is back, in the BEST case you're currently suiting up all 12 of your healthy players, and two of those are rookie second round picks.
So yeah, I expect the Clippers to sign at least one more player in the near future.