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The Magic Number Remains 15

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When Josh Powell signed with the Clippers last week, I took off one shoe and counted up to 15, which is the maximum number of contracts an NBA team can carry.  At that point, the Clippers had 14 players reportedly signed.  The 15th spot, for a third healthy point guard, had been openly reported as a competition between 2007 2nd round pick Jared Jordan, 2006 2nd round pick Guillermo Diaz and Will Conroy.

When Diaz played exclusively at the shooting guard in Summer League games in Las Vegas, I found it a little strange.  Certainly the Clippers are thin at the 2, at least as far as natural shooting guards (Maggette and Ross being better suited to the small forward position).  But the organization seemed comfortable that they had enough 'wings' and stated in no uncertain terms that they wanted three healthy point guards to begin the season.  If Diaz was being groomed as a combo guard, a golden opportunity came and went in Vegas without finding out if he could actually do it.  (The fact that he shot in the low 30's seemed like a problem for his prospects as a shooting guard as well.)

This is all to say that the team's announcement yesterday that they had signed Diaz was unexpected.  As I pointed out at the time, it's not really that significant if the contract is not guaranteed.  If the Clippers can still waive Diaz prior to the beginning of the season without any remuneration then the competition remains completely open for the 15th spot.  If indeed there is no guarantee, then all this means is that the Clippers will either keep Diaz or be done with him at the beginning of the season.  They do not retain his rights if they waive him.

Still, the timing seems strange.  Why announce a Diaz signing without providing any additional information about the as yet unsigned Jared Jordan?  And if anybody in the organization answered any questions for reporters regarding the signing, I haven't seen it.  The LA Times and OC Register had nothing today, and the Daily News carried the AP story, which is just a wordsmithed version of the press release.  

By the way, it's not just idle speculation in the press and on Blogs that it was going to come done to Diaz or Jordan or Conroy.  It's right there on Clippers.com in a Q&A with Jordan from July:

On competing for the point guard position...
"I know what's going on with the point guard situation. It's a competition, but that's what you want. You don't want anybody to just give it (the position) to you."

So, sure, avid Clipper fans like all of us here at ClipsNation may be jumping to the wrong conclusion if we assume this signing impacts Jordan's status, but who could blame us?  We can count to 15, and we can certainly count to one (as in, one of these three will make the team).  So it's not unreasonable to want an explanation about Jordan's status at the same time as an announcement about Diaz.  (The front page of Clippers.com is particularly disconcerting right now, listing the Brevin Knight, Josh Powell and Diaz signings together as if they were all on equal footing.)

It was suggested in the comments of yesterday's post that the Clippers should sign both of them and send one or both to the D-League for some seasoning.  Unfortunately, the number remains 15, whether the team assigns them to the D-League or not.  If they're under contract to the Clippers, they count against the 15.  The fact of the matter is, with Livingston and Brand out for months, it makes it much more difficult to carry guys on the roster who are not expected to contribute now.

The next question becomes whether or not the signing of Brevin Knight changed the equation, making it less imperative to have a true point guard and consequently easier to keep Diaz.  But there was never any question that the team was going to sign a veteran point guard - so all the talk in July of Diaz / Conroy / Jared fighting for one roster spot had already taken into consideration the presence of a veteran point, whether it was Steve Francis or Jason Hart or Brevin Knight.  If anything, the fact that Knight has been injury-prone in his career (along with Cassell's age and fragility) makes it all the more imperative to have a third point guard on the roster.  I suppose the fact that Knight is a pure point (and therefore more redundant with Jared than Steve Francis, who could also play the 2) might have changed things a little.  But I remain  confused.

Here's something that occurred to me though:  as far as I know, the Clippers have never actually signed Korolev.  Way back in July they announced that he would play on the Summer League team, and that they had reached a contract agreement.  But the official signing has yet to take place, and he did not in fact play a single minute in Summer League (despite the implication that he would really benefit).  I found it a tad strange that he didn't play at the time.  I find it more so now.  

And of course the Elton Brand injury occurred after the Korolev 'agreement.'  So as to the question of 'what has changed since Summer League', Brand is hurt.  Obviously, the logical reaction to Brand's injury would be to add more size, and Korolev is big.  But is it possible that the organization has rethought the Korolev experiment once again?  When they thought that Korolev was the 4th small forward and 4th power forward on the depth charts, maybe they calculated that his long term upside was worth a roster spot.  With Brand gone, the 'bigs' on the roster had better be able to play now - and Josh Powell was signed to play now.  So maybe it's bye-bye Korolev, hello Powell, and keep both Diaz and Jordan.  Maybe.

So, here's the most comprehensive recap of the situation I can come up with for the time being:

  • Jared Jordan - unsigned;
  • Will Conroy - signed to a non-guaranteed contract, rumored (in Italian) to be considering signing with an Italian club;
  • Yaroslav Korolev - agreed to a deal in July, but as far as I know not yet signed;
  • Guillermo Diaz - signed, but unknown whether it is guaranteed.

Two of the above players will make the team, and two will not.  

I am 99% certain that the Josh Powell contract is guaranteed, although the Clippers have not released the terms of that contract either.

For what it's worth, HoopsHype is showing the Diaz contract as a one year deal, though they do not have terms.  That makes it more likely that it is not guaranteed.

A couple final points - there is of course no rule against waiving a player with a guaranteed contract to get down to the magic number.  It is wildly against the nature of Donald Sterling to do so in his tenure as team owner, but it's certainly a possibility.  Of course the lower the contract value, the less painful it would be to release the player.  But surely they're not entertaining releasing Paul Davis or Aaron Williams with Brand hurt.  (Waiving Williams after Brand comes back might be a possibility simply to regain some flexibility in the roster.)  Finally, a trade is of course another way to change the math.  Trading a player for a pick, or swapping 2 for 1, would of course alleviate the squeeze.