An overview of the Clippers offseason so far

USA TODAY Sports

A lot can happen during a 10 day vacation right in the heart of NBA free agency. Here's my take on what happened for the Clippers.

Hey everybody. Guess who's back? Well, kind of back anyway. After almost two weeks traveling with family, your favorite Los Angeles Clippers blogger (at least one of your favorites, hopefully) is now in Las Vegas, hanging at the NBA Summer League. A lot has happened since I hit the road -- let's take a quick fly-by.

At the time of my departure, the Doc Rivers saga (aka the Docudrama (tm)) was resolved, the NBA draft had happened and the Chris Paul re-signing was a foregone conclusion, so let's start with that baseline; when I left, Rivers was the coach, and the lineup looked like this:

Position First string Second string Third string
Point guard Chris Paul Eric Bledsoe Open
Shooting guard Willie Green Jamal Crawford Open
Small forward Caron Butler Open Reggie Bullock
Power Forward Blake Griffin Open Open
Center DeAndre Jordan Open Open

Obviously I'm leaving out guys like Malik Wayns and DaJuan Summers -- given the unguaranteed nature of those contracts, they were always placeholders. They might wind up on the roster, or they might not, but the Clippers are completely free to look for upgrades with impunity, and I'm guessing they'll find them.

That starting position, that baseline, isn't bad. It's essentially the same starting lineup that produced the best season in franchise history a season ago, the best second string backcourt in the league, a new coach with an NBA title on his resume, and a promising rookie. The issue remained, with Paul's new contract and Griffin's maximum contract kicking in, the team would be limited in the ways they could fill in the remaining roster spots.

And then there was Bledsoe. It's been clear for awhile that Bledsoe would be more valuable as a trade chip than as a player on the Clippers, simply because he plays the same position and is the same size as Paul. Almost any significant upgrade to the roster would need to come via a trade involving Bledsoe.

Based on the season and especially the playoffs, the Clippers most needed an upgrade on the wings, where their starters had been almost useless against Memphis. Names like Arron Afflalo and J.J. Redick had been in circulation as trade targets in exchange for Bledsoe, but the Clippers clearly needed more if they were going to give up the coveted Bledsoe. Or maybe Rivers, who continually expressed his overall satisfaction with the roster and seemed specifically to like Bledsoe, would hold on to the young dynamo and try to play him more with Paul.

The Clippers will present rotation hell for defenses faced with the dilemma of helping or staying home on Redick and Dudley

On July 2, the Clippers pulled the trigger on a roster-shifting deal. Bledsoe and Caron Butler would go to the Phoenix Suns in a three team trade that landed Redick and Jared Dudley in Los Angeles. In one transaction, the Clippers had upgraded both wing positions, adding the one thing they most desperately needed as a team -- perimeter shooting. Redick is one of the really great shooters in the league, 39 percent from deep on his career. Dudley seems like the kind of player who will be much better as a role player on a good team than he was on a bad team in Phoenix, a proverbial glue guy, and his career three point percentage (.405) is even better than Redick's. Playing alongside Paul and Griffin should be a perfect fit for both of them and the Clippers will present rotation hell for defenses faced with the dilemma of helping on Paul's drives or Griffin's post ups or staying home on Redick and Dudley.

Almost as importantly, the deal preserved the mid-level exception for the Clippers to use to continue to fill out the roster. After the trade and the economical re-signing of Ryan Hollins for the NBA minimum, the depth chart looked like this:

Position First string Second string Third string
Point guard Chris Paul Open Open
Shooting guard J.J. Redick Jamal Crawford Willie Green
Small forward Jared Dudley Open Reggie Bullock
Power Forward Blake Griffin Open Open
Center DeAndre Jordan Ryan Hollins Open

The bad news -- under the new CBA, teams over the luxury tax threshold by more the $4M are not allowed to acquire players via sign and trade deals. Getting Redick forced the Clippers into a hard cap for the season. Going over the luxury tax by any amount would of course be new territory for the Clippers, but now the question was mostly out of their hands. They are simply not allowed to go higher than that $4M apron. With four to six roster spots yet to fill using a combination of the MLE, Bird rights and minimum contracts, the Clippers would be severely limited in what they could accomplish.

Matt Barnes was of course a key member of the team last season, the closer at the three. He wanted to stay with the team and the Clippers wanted to keep him, but after playing for the team for just one season, the Clippers could not use his Bird rights to pay him the salary he had frankly earned. To keep him, either Barnes would have to take a pay cut versus what he could get elsewhere, or the Clippers would have to eat into their MLE. On July 5, they opted for Door Number Two.

Signing Barnes for three seasons for something in the neighborhood of $3.3M per season is a fair deal for both the Clippers and Barnes, but it nonetheless left them looking at a roster without a legitimate backup point guard and very few options left other than signing a minimum salary vet. They could always re-sign Chauncey Billups -- but would either party really be happy with Billups playing a reserve role?

The Collison signing tied the off-season together

In the sneaky good signing of the summer in my opinion, the signing that makes everything else make sense, the Clippers convinced free agent Darren Collison to come back to L.A. at a rate of two seasons for about $4M. At $1.9M this season (the rest of the team's MLE) Collison is a steal. He has a working relationship with Paul from their days together in New Orleans, and he's a more than capable spot starter should the somewhat fragile Paul miss time. The Collison signing tied the off-season together. Losing Bledsoe as the backup point guard was softened by the addition of the speedy Collison to fill that role. Eating up a big chunk of the MLE to retain Barnes stung less when the remainder was sufficient to nab Collison. With the MLE now spent, the depth chart was really taking shape:

Position First string Second string Third string
Point guard Chris Paul Darren Collison Open
Shooting guard J.J. Redick Jamal Crawford Willie Green
Small forward Jared Dudley Matt Barnes Reggie Bullock
Power Forward Blake Griffin Open Open
Center DeAndre Jordan Ryan Hollins Open

The rotations at the one through the three look as strong as any team in the league, with the Clippers going three deep on the wings, where they struggled last season. And with every team in the league chasing three point shooting, the Clippers added two deep shooters better than either Jamal Crawford or Willie Green, two of their best three point shooters last season. It cost them Butler, their starting three and a true pro in his two seasons with the team, but the Clippers got younger and better on the wing in the process with two guys on reasonable contracts. A big win.

The team clearly lacks a quality third big, and the options are getting thin. They have the option of re-signing Lamar Odom, who filled that role last season, for any amount that keeps them below the luxury tax apron hard cap. I've believed all along that Lamar would be back with the Clippers next season (assuming he still wants to play basketball) simply because he would not seem to have many other options. If it's going to happen, it's a little baffling that it hasn't happened yet. Odom's defense and rebounding would be very useful, even if I've given up on him ever rediscovering his offensive game. But where is the announcement of his signing?

It's difficult to imagine the Clippers finding a better option than Odom with their available resources. Would a ring-chasing veteran big be willing to join the team with the lure of a contender and a decent role? Perhaps. Elton Brand's name has been mentioned (which is tough for some in Clips Nation to hear). Former Laker Metta World Peace cleared amnesty waivers recently and is certainly an option, again as a small ball four. Rumor has it that Al Harrington will be a free agent soon. Other names will surely surface. It's worth remembering that Barnes was a very late signing for the Clippers last season. For what it's worth, former Clippers Ronny Turiaf as well as Billups are no longer options, both having signed elsewhere at this point.

Regardless, that's where we stand at this point. There's a glaring hole where the third big should be, and between two and four roster spots total to be filled. (My guess is that the Clippers will enter the season with 14 on the roster, while preserving enough money to sign another minimum player during the season.) The spots could go to summer leaguers like Wayns and Summers and Samardo Samuels and Brandon Davies -- but if the Clippers hope to avoid taking a step backward in their frontcourt compared to last season, they'll need to sign Odom or someone better. If they can fill that hole, it will have been a productive off-season indeed.

Note 7/15/13 - 7:40 am from John Raffo:

Well, Steve's clearly been on vacation. There are a couple of critical things he missed in here, and rather than trying to repair them I'll just make some notes down here.
- First, before the Clips finalized the Redick/Bledsoe trade they renounced Lamar Odom. So, no Bird rights. He can only be paid the minimum. The problem is he can sign with anyone for that number, even the team across the hall, the one in purple and yellow.
- Second, there's been of lot of freely acknowledged discussion between the Clippers and Antawn Jamison coming in as a back up big. This seemed strange at first, until Doc Rivers came out last week and said (and I'm paraphrasing): "We're trying to build two teams, a big team, and a small team. We have the first, we're working on the second." So, I think the idea is that Jamison would be a cheap, effective "stretch four" that everyone's talking about. This also fits in with the rumor/acknowledgement that Alvin Gentry has a big hand in the Clips offense next season and perhaps, in the Clips acquisitions right now.
Of course, everyone around here (Lucas primarily, but everyone really) is upset by the idea that the Clips might not carry a traditional power backup for Griffin and Jordan that the only real "rim-protector" the Clips have on the bench is Ryan Hollins who has some very big holes in his game.

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