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Will the Clippers Make a Roster Move?

You may be aware that the deadline to get NBA rosters down to the maximum 15 is today at 3 PM.  However, the Clippers are probably working on a different timetable. The Clippers roster is already at 15, and has been since they waived Jake Voskuhl, Stephen Dennis and Jon Scheyer back on October 9th.  So the NBA deadline is a non-issue - they can carry the 15 currently on the roster into the season if they want to.

The fact is, few teams are carrying the maximum 15 players these days.  The NBA requires a minimum of 13 players under contract, and one way to save money in a tough economy is to pay fewer players.  There's a practical reason to be below the roster maximum as well.  If an opportunity becomes available to acquire an extra player during the season, teams like to have a roster spot open to be able to act quickly.  For that reason, few teams keep a full 15 man roster for long.

Of course, a full roster doesn't preclude that hypothetical acquisition - you can waive a player at any time to make room.  So if it's a question of waiving, say, Marqus Blakely, now or waiving him later when the situation arises, why not hang onto the kid for the time being?

The answer of course comes back to money.  Each player contract is different, and I don't know the details for all of the Clippers, but invariably there are dates by which decisions have to be made, and at which point additional monies become guaranteed. 

Again, I don't know every detail, but here's my guess as to what it will come down to for the Clippers. This much I know: there are three players on the Clippers whose contracts are less than fully guaranteed, veteran Jarron Collins, and rookies Willie Warren and Marqus Blakely. 

Collins' veteran's minimum deal probably becomes fully guaranteed if he is not waived in camp - that's sort of the boilerplate camp contract.  It's possible that the 'not waived date' is Nov. 1, but usually these camp contracts deal with the end of camp, start of the season, which is today at 3 PM.  If you're wondering about penny pinching issues and see that Collins makes more than the rookies, ($850K versus $500K), that's not really an issue.  Minimum contracts are structured such that only a portion is paid by the team, with the balance paid by the league, for this very reason.  The league and player's association don't want the higher veteran's minimum to be a disincentive to teams to keep the vets, so the team's out of pocket cost is the same for all minimum players.

Warren is actually scheduled to make a bit more than the rookie minimum this year (and even $500K, about $26K extra).  He also has a $100K guarantee in his deal.  The rest of his rookie season deal becomes fully guaranteed if he is not waived before November 1st.  So the bottom line on Warren is that the Clippers can still waive him through Halloween next Sunday.  If they do so, they'll save themselves $400K.  Warren's contract with the Clippers is for three years, but the second and third years are unguaranteed.

Blakely is on a true rookie scale deal, worth $473,604 this year.  The contract has a modest $35K guarantee.  I do not have any more information about guarantees in his deal.  It is safe to assume that, like Warren, at least some part of the first year of his deal becomes guaranteed on November 1st.  For now let's assume that the full amount becomes guaranteed on November 1st, but it's possible that there are additional milestone dates in his contract.  Our best guess is that the Clippers can save about $440K by waiving Blakely by Halloween.  Blakely's contract is for two seasons, but the second season is unguaranteed.

So the costs are similar for all three players - waive any one of them and save somewhere between $400K (Warren) and $473K (Collins).  And as far as I can tell, that money is pretty much just money - the Clippers are under the cap already, so there aren't significant extenuating circumstances to consider.  Strictly speaking, waiving a player before the guarantees kick in would allow the Clippers a little more room under the cap to make an unbalanced trade during the season - say $5.4M instead of $5M.  That's it.

From a basketball standpoint, I fully expect Collins to make the team.  He played some pretty long minutes in the pre-season, and only partly because DeAndre Jordan's strained hamstring left Chris Kaman with no other backup for a few games.  The final pre-season game was a perfect illustration of why Collins will be around.  Jordan was back in the lineup, and when he replaced Kaman at the end of the first quarter, he picked up three personal fouls and a technical in three minutes.  Collins replaced Jordan and immediately baited DeMarcus Cousins into a travel by pulling the chair on him (Collins has all the old school veteran tricks).  At the end of that game, Collins' one rebound in 14 minutes looks unimpressive in the extreme, while DeAndre's alley oop dunk probably made some highlight packages.  But Collins does the little things, and coaches like that. 

Just to be clear, I'm not sold on the need for a third big personally.  I'm beginning to think that teams get too hung up on size, and truthfully who cares that much about your third string center?  Why not trot Griffin out there at the five, or let Brian Cook use some fouls in the post (while drawing bigs away from the basket on the other end)?  If it was my roster, I wouldn't worry about keeping Collins, and I'd make do in the situations where DJ or Kaman is injured or in foul trouble.  BUT, it seems pretty clear that the Clippers feel differently and will be more comfortable keeping a third big.  Vinny Del Negro basically said as much way back at the start of camp.

That leaves Warren and Blakely as roster unknowns; and they are too.  No player on the Clippers' roster - not even Voskuhl or Dennis or Scheyer - played fewer pre-season minutes than Willie Warren (1 game, 6 minutes) and Marqus Blakely (2 games, 18 minutes total).  In Warren's case, the culprit was a strained adductor muscle that kept him sidelined most of pre-season.  Blakely is more of a mystery.  With a partially guaranteed contract, one would have thought that VDN would have wanted to give Marqus more of a chance to strut his stuff.  For the outside observer, we're left with very little to go on for either of these rookies.  Let's hope that the coaching staff has seen them enough in practice to make a solid decision.

It's possible that the team will bite the bullet and carry 15, assuming they can make a decision if and when they need the spot.  In terms of total player salaries, the $400K they stand to save is a drop in the bucket (three fourths of one percent, by my math).  I've argued in the past that with so much of their team depth dependent on rookies this year (Eric Bledsoe and Al-Farouq Aminu may or may not be ready to help right away, though they're obviously guaranteed spots on the team), it may make sense to keep a full roster, in case one of these other guys is more capable of contributing now.

Regardless, I don't expect to find out about a final roster move today.  It could be either a trick or a treat on Halloween for Warren and/or Blakely.