The Clippers' summer league roster was announced a few days ago (hat tip to Citizen Paper Clip for posting it in the FanShots where it belonged). As I've mentioned on a couple of occasions, I've actually been given a credential by the NBA to cover the Las Vegas Summer League this year, so I will be at the team's first couple of games. I can't tell you how excited I am to see them play. One could argue that Eric Gordon and Blake Griffin are the Clippers two best players NOW - obviously they are the cornerstones of the future of the franchise. How many teams will have two players that good together in summer league? None.
In addition to Gordon and Griffin, Clipper sophomores DeAndre Jordan and Mike Taylor will be playing in Vegas as well. Essentially, the Clippers will have two starters and two key reserves playing together next week, and those same four kids (20, 20, 20 and 23) will no doubt appear on the floor together in an NBA game early in the season. The idea of those four and Al Thornton maturing together as a unit is intriguing to say the least.
The trade of Zach Randolph to Memphis has an interesting influence on my summer league viewing. Obviously, there's more urgency to seeing Blake Griffin in an NBA uniform - the guy is going to be counted on to produce sooner rather than later. But the future cap space bonanza that was the biggest benefit of the trade has a bearing as well.
The Clippers suddenly have a world of salary flexibility.
- They have the mid level exception.
- They have a $7.3M trade exception.
- They have over $20M in expiring contracts.
- They COULD have $20M+ under the cap next summer.
But the only way to preserve the 2010 cap space is to avoid big, multi-year contracts - and one way to do that is to find a good young player in summer league.
The Clippers regular season roster already has 11 players on it, leaving three spots open. Steve Novak would have to be considered a front runner for one of those spots, the Clippers having extended him a qualifying offer last week to secure their right of first refusal. And Fred Jones may be a candidate for a roster spot as well. He has at least three things in his favor - (1) he played relatively well for the team last season; (2) he provides needed depth at both guard spots; (3) he fits the 'stability is good' plan that the Clippers have been espousing. But either Novak or Jones could price themselves off the team if they can get more money (or crucially more years) somewhere else.
That leaves the Clippers with from 1 to 3 roster spots to fill, probably on the cheap. Could one or more of the summer league invitees also be a Clipper in the fall?
Sometime-citizen D.J. Foster profiled the entire squad on Clipperblog a couple days ago, and I won't replicate his work here. I will say that the guys who aren't already under contract are big time long shots to make it to the NBA. But there are two players I will be watching with particular interest next week.
Dionte Christmas was the leading scorer for Temple the last three seasons. He is a great shooter, who is long enough to get his shot off. At 6'5", with a 6'9" wingspan, he has good size for an NBA two guard, something the Clippers lack in their starter. Christmas was projected as a second round pick in the draft, but did not hear his name called on June 25th. One suspects that the obsession with youth, not to mention the tendency of teams to pick Europeans they can leave overseas until the economy improves, worked against the college senior. But if you're looking for someone to come in and make some NBA shots sooner rather than later, Christmas may be your man.
Sean Banks is the other player of interest for me. Banks was a big time recruit to a big time college program (Memphis) where he led the team in scoring his freshman year. Unfortunately, he was unable to remain academically eligible and left the team as a sophomore. He was first team all D-League a couple seasons ago for the LA D-Fenders, averaging over 21 points per game, and he spent last season in Turkey. He's a prototypical small forward at 6'7", and he's super long, with a 7'1" wingspan. The Clippers could use some youthful depth at the three with Ricky Davis and Quentin Richardson both in their 30s and suffering from nagging injuries. When he was at Memphis, he was thought to have lottery type talent. Did he just need to mature? Has four years of bouncing around basketball's minor leagues done that?
My apologies if you're a big fan of Kevinn Pinkney, or Kyle McAlarney, or Marcellus Kemp, or Nic Caner-Medley, but I just don't see any of them having much of a shot at the big time. Maybe I'm wrong - they'll have their chance to try to prove it starting next week.