The Clippers are one of the few teams in the NBA with an avenue for paying Shawn Marion more than the Mid Level Exception. And of the other teams who could conceivably do so, none have shown much interest, leaving the field virtually wide open.
By announcing that they plan to sign Hedo Turkoglu, the Raptors have created quite an interesting situation with Marion. Free agents generally have a handful of options on the open market. Most teams have no more than the MLE to spend, so good players usually have their choice of destinations if they are willing to sign for the MLE or less. But if they hope to make MORE than the MLE, their options become more narrow. First and most obviously, there are the teams with enough cap space to make a higher offer. After that, the only option is a sign-and-trade transaction, which can be complicated to complete.
In Marion's case the prospects don't look particularly good for either. With Memphis and Detroit having used their space, only Portland and Oklahoma City are left with enough cap space to make a serious offer - and those teams have shown no interest in Marion thus far.
As for the sign-and-trade route, it's virtually impossible for the Raptors to trade Marion for another player. In order to land Turkoglu tomorrow when the moratorium ends, they have to clear every cent of payroll they can - that means no salary on their books for Marion, nor for any replacement for Marion. Dallas has an incredibly useful trade chip in Jerry Stackhouse, with a $7M cap number, but only $2M guaranteed. But even a S&T with Stackhouse would be $2M more than the Raptors can afford. According to Marc Stein the Mavs and Raptors are looking for a third team to help facilitate the transaction because "this will be a difficult deal to complete without a third team to help make the salary-cap math work." But "difficult" is not really the word I would use. I'm a pretty smart guy, and I'm hard-pressed to figure out how Marion gets his Dallas payday AND the Raptors clear their cap space even with a third team involved.
So Marion will just have to settle for the MLE, right? Maybe not.
I said above that it's virtually impossible for the Raptors to trade Marion for another player. But the Raptors can meet their cap-clearing needs by trading for a trade exception. As it happens, the Clippers have one of those - and at $7.3M, it is (a) more than the MLE and (b) right in the price range that the Mavs are apparently offering Marion (Stackhouse's $7M). As far as I know, only the Clippers and the Nuggets (from the Marcus Camby deal) have a trade exception in hand larger than the MLE, and with the Nuggets right on the cusp of the luxury tax, I don't expect them to use theirs (not to mention that they have Carmelo Anthony already).
Eric Pincus recently said that the Clippers were not interested in Marion. But I'm wondering if this unique opportunity is too good to pass up. If, for instance, Marion were willing to sign a one year deal with the Clippers for $7.4M (the value of their exception plus $100K being the maximum they can offer under the collective bargaining agreement), that would be a no-brainer, right? To get a one year rental on Shawn Marion AND still preserve 2010 cap space. And Marion might actually consider it as a do-over on free agency, taking his chances in the hopefully more liquid 2010 market. A multi-year deal would be a much tougher call for the Clippers - is Shawn Marion the player for whom you want to sacrifice that delicious 2010 max offer space?
And what about the player? Well, in many ways Marion is the all-purpose small forward that we've been pining for in Clips Nation - the quintessential glue guy. My Detroit buddy Timmy T, who is a sometime though not regular citizen, recently asked me for a definition of 'glue guy'. If you've been reading the Clipperblogger Summit, you know that it's not an easy question to answer. But as I thought about it some more, I think I realized the key element. Glue. Glue holds things together. There is no need for glue when you've only got one thing - so to me, the distinction of the glue guy is in the attributes that have little to do with his individual performance. It's true that a great individual player can also be a great glue guy - LeBron James and Tim Duncan come to mind - but we tend to use the term to describe players that don't at first appear to be great at the individual aspects of the game, especially scoring. So a 'glue guy' should be able to do everything else well and should be happy doing so: defense, rebounding, spacing, hustle, passing - the things you do without the ball in your hands.
Shawn Marion is a great rebounder - one of the best rebounding small forwards in the history of the league. He's a top defender, capable of defending four positions on the floor. He fills lanes and spaces the floor, and generally gets his points without ever having a play called for him. If indeed the Clippers are intent on running this season, he would be almost the ideal starting small forward. And with Al Thornton sliding into the microwave position as the first scorer off the bench, it would be easy to keep Marion's minutes down and hopefully keep him fresh and healthy.
But there is a downside to this idea to be certain. Marion is 31. A one year rental does little or nothing for the team in the long term. You could argue that Marion could be a mentor for Thornton - but you could just as easily argue that he could be an obstacle to his development. And it goes without saying that a multi-year deal, while representing a longer term view of Marion's service with the team, has it's own problems - dependence on an aging former star, and loss of future cap flexibility.
The clock is ticking on this idea. When the moratorium ends tomorrow, the Raptors will start the ball rolling on their Turkoglu transaction. They'll have to resolve their Marion situation before they can sign Hedo, and the most likely resolution is to simply renounce Marion - ending any possibility of a sign and trade and taking the Clippers' trade exception out of the picture.
It's an intriguing situation, and one that arguably falls into the category of "great value" which a team insider described to Kevin Arnovitz on Clipperblog recently.
So what would you do?