After their final pre-season game Friday night, the Los Angeles Clippers waived forward Lou Amundson and will enter the regular season with 14 players, 13 of them healthy. It's a calculated risk by the Clippers, but one that probably makes sense in the long run.
The team might well have entered the season with two roster spots had not Maalik Wayns been injured in a pre-season game. Wayns, the third string point guard on a team with the best one-two punch in the NBA at the point and a couple of other players on the roster capable of running the team, is safe on the roster for now, since his contract will become automatically guaranteed if the Clippers waive him while he's injured. It's almost certain that Wayns' December 1 guarantee will kick in before he is healthy, meaning that his contract is for all intents and purposes already guaranteed this season.
The Clippers are above the luxury tax threshold, and about $2.5M shy of the hard cap by my math. Yes, there is a pretty obvious hole in the roster regarding the reserve big men -- where the trio of Byron Mullens, Antawn Jamison and Ryan Hollins are less than awe-inspiring. But if the team wasn't convinced that Amundson was the answer, the smart move was to hoard what little money they have left and wait for another chance.
There are two seasons every season in the NBA -- the regular season and the playoffs. The Clippers can take their chances in the regular season -- who knows, maybe Mullens will surprise us after all. They'll ride Griffin and Jordan, continue to try to develop Mullens, hope Jamison has something left, hope Hollins can give them competent back up minutes. And if (when?) all that proves not to be enough, if the team still looks vulnerable in January, then they can look to make a move at that time. It's the roster that they end the season and begin the playoffs with that will ultimately matter.
Every season there are unexpected prizes that become available. For instance, the Phoenix Suns certainly didn't acquire Emeka Okafor this week because he fits their long term plans. If Okafor can overcome his neck injury and play this season, it seems likely that the Suns would negotiate a buy out with him, freeing him to sign with a contender. Would he be willing to take a minimum deal to be a back up with the Clippers? Maybe, maybe not, but the point is that other bigs will be available as the season wears on. If it's not Okafor, it will be somebody else. It doesn't mean that the Clippers will be in the right place at the right time to snag a big that becomes available, but solid rotation minutes on a team likely to advance far into the playoffs (while catching lobs from Chris Paul) could be a compelling offer to someone.
The Clippers also have a trade exception for $2.6M from the Eric Bledsoe deal. They could use most of that to acquire a player making less than $2.5M and still remain under the hard cap. Not that there are necessarily any players who make less then $2.5M who could help the team, but you never know. Or if a trade were to become available that could help the team, the extra room under the hard cap could prove important. In the end, saving a million on Amundson's salary might not seem like much, but with such a small margin of error, it could make a huge difference.
In the end, the Clippers decided that roster flexibility and just a bit more financial wiggle room were worth more than Amundson could provide. I agree. The worst case scenario is that nothing better comes along and they have to sign Amundson (or Jason Collins, or Lamar Odom -- there are always options) at some point. But Amundson's absence isn't going to make a significant impact in the regular season.