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Let's Get to the REAL Clipper Free Agency Discussion

When LeBron James says "Thanks but no thanks" and Paul Pierce re-signs with Boston and the Clippers (hopefully) pass on Joe Johnson and Rudy Gay as too expensive, what will they actually do with their $16.8M in cap space?

As a quick refresher, the Clippers could conceivably spend more than $16.8M this summer.  If they retain their Bird Rights on their nine free agents, they could keep their exceptions (mid level and bi-annual) and end up with something like $24M to spend.  BUT - in order for that to happen, they'd have to spend all of the available space on their own free agents in order to retain the exceptions.  When those players sign elsewhere, the Clippers cap number is reduced accordingly, and as soon as it drops below the magic number, the exceptions go away.

The question is, do you want to spend $16.8M on some combination of Drew Gooden, Rasual Butler, Travis Outlaw, Steve Blake, Craig Smith, Steve Novak and several lesser names?  Anyone?  OK, I'll go first.  I don't.

So that means that they have $16.8M to shop with - forget about the exceptions.

Assuming second round draft pick Willie Warren makes the team, they have eight roster spots filled.  They traditionally carry 14 contracts.  So who are the other six players they will sign?  Or more generally (since it's almost impossible to get that specific right now) what kinds of players should they be looking for?

The biggest need, even after the draft, remains small forward.  Yes, they drafted Al-Farouq Aminu, but he's 19, and while it's reasonable to hope that he'll be the starting small forward eventually, they need a starting small forward now.  There are actually a few intriguing options. 

My first choice would be Josh Childress, but it remains to be seen how much he would cost (Tom Ziller ranks JChill as the 11th best free agent of the summer, behind David Lee and ahead of Ray Allen).  Childress is restricted, so Atlanta would be able to match, another reason that he might be expensive since the Hawks might be inclined to match any reasonable deal.  If however the Hawks are seriously considering re-signing Joe Johnson for the maximum, Childress would almost certainly be available, as even a mid level salary for him would push the Hawks over the luxury tax threshold.

Another great alternative is Ronnie Brewer in Memphis.  The Grizzlies today decided not to make a qualifying offer to Brewer, making him an unrestricted free agent.  Brewer is a great wing defender and an efficient if reluctant scorer.  He's coming off an injury-plagued season, but it was a hamstring, not a knee, so there's really no reason to suspect a long term impact.  One problem though is that Brewer is more of a shooting guard than a small forward, and not a great rebounder - Neil Olshey has made it pretty clear that he's tired of disguising twos as threes.

Rasual Butler could certainly return to the Clippers.  He did an admirable job shooting the ball and defending, though again the fact that he's a relatively small three, perhaps better suited to the two, may be a problem.

Travis Outlaw would seem unlikely to return to LA.  I don't think his experience with the Clippers could be considered very positive for either party.  He seemed to press during his stint in LA, and never found his scoring groove.  I think enough teams will look at his prior work in Portland and be willing to give him a shot, so he won't need the Clippers, so as an unrestricted free agent, I think he's as good as gone.

There are still many other options at small forward -

  • Kyle Korver can stretch the floor;
  • Mike Miller can do the same (though he's mostly forgotten to take shots the last two seasons for some unknown reason) and is also a terrific rebounder and play maker;
  • John Salmons is a scoring wing who doesn't really make sense for the Clippers in my opinion.  He's yet another player better suited to the two, and he has a pretty high usage rate.  He's not so much a shooter as a scorer needs to have the ball in his hands.  On the Clippers roster as it stands right now, that's just not a good fit.
  • Josh Howard is a former All Star who could probably be had on the cheap owing to his injury problems and erratic behavior - he'd be a risk, but could pay off big time if he can return to form;
  • Richard Jefferson opted out of his Spurs contract yesterday, leaving $15M on the table.  He certainly won't get that, but how much will he get? 
  • Matt Barnes is a former Clipper and a UCLA alum who started most of last season for the Magic and has shown that he can play tough defense and make an occasional three.  He might be a very nice fit for the Clippers, though he's sure to make a lot more on this contract than the $1.6M he made last year.

So how much of the $16.8M did we spend on small forward?  For simplicity sake, let's say we're going to spend the money primarily on four players - split up about $5M, $5M, $3M, $3M.  JChill probably costs more than $5M, which means you have to spend less on other signings.  Jefferson also costs more.  Most of the rest of them probably cost less.  The Clippers have a good chance of signing a decent player from the above list, since they could offer the starting job to him, which would not be true in many other cases.

After the starting small forward position is filled, the next area of need on the depth chart is shooting guard, where rookies Eric Bledsoe and Willie Warren would be the backups today (both very young, and both very small to play the two).  Some of the names above can just be moved right down here, like Butler, Brewer and Miller.  The difference here is that you're talking to them about backing up Eric Gordon rather than starting, assuming you find someone else for the small forward job.  Still, it would be safe to assume that a wing capable of playing either spot could get plenty of minutes in the Clippers rotation next season.  It's also pretty clear that the Clippers could use more backcourt size to help cope with big guards like Kobe Bryant and Brandon Roy.

Other possibilities at shooting guard include:

  • Anthony Morrow is an unbelievably good shooter and would help stretch the floor for LA.  He'd be a great get and might come relatively cheap, but he's restricted so Golden State might match. 
  • J.J. Redick is also a great shooter.  Morrow may be a little better from range, but Redick is a better all around scorer.  The problems with Redick are that he doesn't really add much size to the two guard for the Clippers, and he's also restricted.
  • Roger Mason, Jr. fell out of San Antonio's rotation last season after being a massively pleasant surprise the season before that.  He shoots, he defends, he makes plays, he's unrestricted.  And he'll probably come pretty cheap after finishing last season deep on the bench. 

After adding a starting small forward and a backup shooting guard, we still have four more roster spots to fill with our $16.8M.  Let's assume the final two sports are filled with league minimum players.  Since you can always sign a minimum player regardless of the roster spot, we only have to make our money last for two more bodies.  Those bodies would likely be another big and another point guard.

The obvous choice to become the fourth big on the roster behind Chris Kaman, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan is Sofoklis Schortsianitis, MBFGC.  The Clippers still have his rights after choosing him in the second round of the 2003 draft (the same draft that produced LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and Chris Kaman, if you can believe that).  Sofo is finally out of his latest Olympiakos contract, and all parties seem ready for him to make the transition to the US.  He's still only 24 despite having been drafted seven years ago, but he's getting dangerously close to the age where European players simply don't make the leap to the NBA (Luis Scola is the only guy I can think of who successfully transitioned after 25).  I fell in love with MBFGC in the World Championships in 2006, but it's entirely possible that he's just a novelty act.  All the things he does well - he's got great footwork, quick  and soft hands, post moves - are invariably suffixed with the caveat "for a man his size."  He's huge, and not necessarily in a good way - I'd say 6'8" and 320 pounds (but that weight number has been known to fluctuate upward).  Conditioning is a concern for sure.  The other red flags are that he's a terrible free throw shooter and a very poor rebounder when you consider that he's taking up so much space near the basket.  But there's no question in my mind that he can score in the NBA - he's a legit force in the post.  He also knows how to run the pick and roll on both ends of the floor, since they run it so often in Europe.  Regardless, he's probably the most likely person not currently on the roster to be a Clipper next season - the team holds his rights, he wants to play in the NBA, and he won't cost too much.  He's already on his way to LA and the plan is to have him practice with the summer league team, and perhaps play in Vegas if any contractual issues can be sorted out.  Assuming the Clippers don't sign a maximum free agent, MBFGC is one of the players they'll spend their money on.  I'm guessing he'll get a 2 to 3 year deal worth $2M to $3M per.  If the Clippers could sign Childress and Sofo then JChill could help with the transition since they've been teammates at Olympiakos for the past two years.

I'd like to see Craig Smith stay in LA, and he happens to be one of the players who I think the Clippers have a chance to sign.  He's from LA, he had a good season in red, white and blue last year, and he would be relative bargain I think.  But he might hesitate to sign if Sofo is already in the fold, since that could push him down to third string.

Amir Johnson is one other name that caught my eye.  Detroit was very high on him when he was there, and though he's never developed any sort of an offensive game, he's a monster athlete and a good rebounder and defender.  He's also another LA kid - who's been playing in Detroit and Toronto.  As excited as Craig Smith was to get back to LA, maybe the same could be true for Johnson.

Also, don't forget that Aminu is big enough to play some minutes at the four, depending on the matchup.

Signing another point guard is tricky because you don't have much to offer beyond the salary.  The starter, who figures to play big minutes, is Baron Davis.  Then there's a 19 year old first round draft pick who will obviously be given every chance to become the point guard of the future.  So the team is really looking for a short term bakcup - not the most attractive spot.  Of course, if Baron were to get hurt, this would likely be the starter assuming Bledsoe isn't ready for that kind of responsibility, so it's an incredibly important roster spot to fill.  So it's a cunundrum.

I'll tell you who'd I'd love:  Shaun Livingston.  And it's not just the "hey let's get the old gang back together" impulse either.  Shaun played really well in Washington at the end of last season, seeming to indicate that he's almost completely back from his injury.  He's unlikely to be back in DC, after they drafted John Wall and traded for Kirk Hinrich, not to mention that they still have Gilbert Arenas.  He's a big point guard, which the Clippers need, and has the versatility to play the one through the three.  He can run a team, and is a pass first point guard and a plus defender, all traits that fit well with the roster.  The idea of Shaun throwing lobs to Griffin, DJ and AFA is enticing to say the least.  I assume that Shaun is looking for a big role somewhere, so this may not be the situation he wants - but it remains to be seen what offers he'll get.

Similarly, Steve Blake, Raymond Felton and Luke Ridnour are likely not going to be interested in the job.  They're the best point guards available this summer, and will be looking for the chance to start, which they won't get for the LAC. The pickings get real slim after that.  Will BynumSergio RodriguezJordan Farmar?

The guy who may make the most sense frankly is Chris Duhon.  After a couple of forgettable seasons in New York, he surely doesn't fancy himself a starting NBA point guard any more.  But he could step in and start if Baron were to get hurt, and can keep the spot warm while Bledsoe is developing.  He can run a team relatively well, keep mistakes down and play defense.  And he won't cost much.

The last two roster spots in this exercise go to league minimum players, probably forwards.  I'd be more than willing to give one of those spots to Steve Novak - or some other shooting specialist.  Let's give the other spot to a Skinner replacement.  Not Brian Skinner, but a veteran big like Skinner - maybe we'll even give the guy Skinner's beard.

To recap, if I were to get some of my top choices, the depth chart might look like this:

  • PG - Baron Davis, Chris Duhon (or Shaun Livingston), Eric Bledsoe
  • SG - Eric Gordon, Ronnie Brewer, Willie Warren
  • SF - Josh Chilldress, Al-Farouq Aminu, Steve Novak
  • PF - Blake Griffin, Sofoklis Schortsianitis
  • C - Chris Kaman, DeAndre Jordan, Brian Skinner's beard