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Of Clipper Rosters and Settling Dust

On this last day of June 2009, we have a slightly clearer picture than we did a few days ago.  Most of what I wrote over the weekend is still true - although in my opinion the Clippers caught a major break when Brian Skinner opted out of the second year of his Clippers deal.

There were status changes today on five players from last season's team:

  • Skinner had a player option for $1.3M with the Clippers, which he decided not to exercise.  Presumably he did this because he believes he can find a better situation elsewhere.  It's clear that with three players making 8 figures on the squad, plus the first overall draft pick, plus another promising 20 year old prospect, Skinner was unlikely to get decent minutes with the Clippers.  I'm just worried for him that he won't get picked up, but hopefully he and his agent have some reason to believe otherwise (more than a hunch, I'm saying).  At any rate, he did the team a favor, and they now have eleven contracts more or less on the books.
  • The Clippers extended a qualifying offer to Steve Novak.  This was essentially a no-brainer, and doesn't necessarily mean that Novak will be back.  His contract was so minimal that the QO is like no more than the vet's minimum (which goes up for him now that he's got three year's of service).  The QO means that he's a restricted free agent, and the Clippers can match any offer he receives from another team.  Also, since the Clippers have his full Bird rights, they don't have to use any portion of their mid level exception to sign him.  It's up to the NBA marketplace to set his value, which the Clippers can then decide whether they want to match or not.
  • Alex Acker is now a free agent, as the team did not exercise their option on him (frankly, I didn't even know they had an option on Acker).  I honestly don't know if Acker restricted or unrestricted, if he's a Bird FA or an early Bird or what (he was a second round pick, and he played two years in Europe between his two years of NBA service, so he's far from your normal NBA story).  OK, if I think about it, I know he's unrestricted (teams have to exercise options and extend QOs to preserve their right of first refusal) and they probably have his early Bird rights (he's a two year NBA vet).  But the truth is none of that matters - he has not shown himself to me more than a minimum player in the NBA, and he'll be delirious if he can simply catch on somewhere.  I don't expect that somewhere to be with the Clippers, even though in some ways he's what they need (a combo guard with decent size who can defend) - they just want someone with more experience for that roster spot.
  • Ricky Davis will be with the club one more year (or at least his contract will).  Or until he is traded.  This is not news - we'd gotten word that Davis was going to exercise his option for this season a week ago, and we knew he would long before that since he has no hope for signing for as much with any other team.  But it's official now.
  • As of today, Fred Jones is an unrestricted free agent.  This is not news - he only signed a one year deal with the team when he stuck with them in January, so he was always going to be a UFA.  Unfortunately, the Clippers do NOT have his Bird rights, since he was signed as an FA and was only with the team one season (less than, in fact).  This means that if the Clippers wish to sign him for anything over the minimum, they have to dip into their mid level exception or their bi-annual exception to do so.  I don't actually expect Fred to command more than the min in the seller's market this off-season, but we'll see.
  • The current eleven man roster breaks down positionally as follows (I'm counting Griffin, who is technically not yet signed, and Mike Taylor, whose contract is not guaranteed, in the eleven):

    • Centers - Chris Kaman, Marcus Camby, DeAndre Jordan
    • Power Forwards - Zach Randolph, Blake Griffin
    • Small Forwards - Al Thornton, Mardy Collins
    • Shooting Guards - Eric Gordon, Ricky Davis
    • Point Guards - Baron Davis, Mike Taylor

    Obviously, some of these players could slot into other spots.  For simplicity sake, I'm putting Collins at the three, Ricky at the two, etc.  Having players who can play multiple positions is a good thing. 

    The Clippers chose not to try to shore up any of these postions via the draft (backup shooting guard being arguably the most glaring weakness above, if you agree with me that Ricky Davis is nothing other than a trade chip or a buy out at this point).  That leaves free agency (or of course trades, which I'm willfully ignoring for the time being) as the avenue for adding players.

    The path of least resistance is probably to re-sign Novak and Jones, assuming each can be had on the relative cheap.  That then gives the Clippers only one more spot to play with.  Novak is 6'10", and actually works best defending against non-scorers for the opposition (which are more likely to be bigs than wings) - so while he doesn't really have a great natural position given his various shortcomings, I'll call him a 4.  At any rate, between the five guys that need minutes, plus Novak and a pretty big Al Thornton who can play the 4 in a pinch, let's say the the roster is set up front.  Jones meanwhile can play either guard position, and couple with the versatility of Collins, that gives the Clippers four guys who can play the point, and a few who can play shooting guard.  So small forward is the most obvious problem to be addressed in free agency, it would seem.

    But this all presents another dilemma - specifically, are any of the backups at either of the guard positions really the level of quality that you'd like?  Ideally, the Clippers would like to find an inexpensive free agent combo guard who's an upgrade over Fred Jones.  Easier said than done.  Suggestions, anyone?

    As for the small forward, we looked at this question a little over a month ago, and we've been talking about 'glue guys' a lot.  (We're still ignoring trades for now.)  The team has up to the MLE to work with.  Who can they target?

    Here are some names we've talked about at one time or another - or maybe I'm bringing them up for the first time, who knows:

    • Josh Childress - may command more than the MLE if he decides to return to the NBA - he remains an RFA, so the Hawks would likely match as well;
    • Trevor Ariza - likely priced himself out of the MLE range with his Finals performance, and the Lakers seem quite interested in signing him as well;
    • Jamario Moon - an RFA, it's unclear how he figures into Miami's plans; the Heat are REALLY close to the luxury tax threshold, so they are unlikely to go very high to sign him;
    • Matt Barnes -former Clipper, former Baron Davis teammate;
    • Quinton Ross - former Clipper, great defender, terrible shooter;
    • Desmond Mason - good athlete, good defender, one of the worst shooters in the history of the NBA;
    • Anthony Parker - Candace's big bro, and a really good player.  I like this idea that I just came up with.  He's more of a two than a three, but I would put him in the 'glue guy' category.

    In the bigger free agency picture, it's interesting that Boozer ended up taking my advice and stayed with the Jazz one more season despite his pretty firm belief that he deserves a bigger payday.  It tells you a lot about the economic reality of the NBA right now.