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The Clippers Roster and Salary Situation After Acquiring Willie Green

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With Monday's acquisition of Chris Paul's former Hornets teammate Willie Green via a sign and trade deal with the Hawks, the Los Angeles Clippers now have 14 players under contract for the upcoming NBA season. Teams are allowed to carry up to 15 contracts, but the Clippers have traditionally started seasons with 14 contracts, keeping one open roster spot for flexibility.

The items on the team's summer "to do" list have been methodically checked off, one by one, by the triumvirate currently manning the front office, head coach Vinny Del Negro, President Andy Roeser and Director of Player Personnel Gary Sacks:

  • Extend Blake Griffin? Check.
  • Perimeter oriented big? Lamar Odom. Check.
  • Starting two guard? Chauncey Billups. Check.
  • Scoring wing with size? Jamal Crawford. Check.
  • Defensive stopper on the wing? Grant Hill. Check.
  • Front court depth? Ryan Hollins and Ronny Turiaf. Check and check.
  • Back court depth? Willie Green. Check.

One can argue that these aren't great players, that they won't be difference makers, that they are too old (and five of those guys are over 30, with Odom, Billups, Crawford and Hill all well on the downside of their careers), and it of course remains to be seen how it all works on the court, but the acquisitions have had a definite logic to them. The off season has been methodical and mostly drama free, despite Neil Olshey's defection to Portland. You have to give the front office guys credit for that at least.

Is the roster then set in stone for next season? Not exactly. Let's look at the current situation. The depth chart with the 14 players currently under contract looks something like this:

First String

Second String

Third String

Point Guard

Chris Paul

Eric Bledsoe

Willie Green

Shooting Guard

Chauncey Billups

Jamal Crawford

Travis Leslie

Small Forward

Caron Butler

Grant Hill

Power Forward

Blake Griffin

Lamar Odom

Trey Thompkins


DeAndre Jordan

Ronny Turiaf

Ryan Hollins

It's easier to slot Green in as the third string point guard on the table, but more realistically he'll get minutes at shooting guard where he's played more or less his entire career. Billups of course can play the point as well, as can Crawford for that matter in a pinch, so the Clippers have plenty of depth and flexibility in the backcourt. Green is a player who was a full time starter on a playoff team as recently as 2008, and has been solidly in the rotation wherever he's been. As the Clippers' fifth guard, he's a solid pickup. He's great injury insurance (for instance if Billups is not ready for the start of the season) and a legitimate NBA player, who the Clippers hopefully won't even need most of the time.

The roster provides some nice flexibility in general. Billups can play either guard spot, Bledsoe will be on the floor with Paul at times, Crawford can play minutes anywhere from the 1 to the 3, Hill can play either wing spot, and Butler and Odom can both play either forward spot. Del Negro has lots of options to go big or to go small depending on the situation.

According to my math (which matches Eric Pincus' math, by the way), the Green signing probably brings the Clipper payroll up to within about a million dollars of the luxury tax threshold. We're guessing that L.A. fit Green within the $1.6M trade exception from the Reggie Evans sign-and-trade by the way, since Green made about $1.2M last season and did not appear to have a significant number of suitors this summer. We'll get more details on Green's actual deal soon.

With a million to spend, the Clippers could sign a 15th player to the veteran's minimum (which represents a salary cap hit of about $850K, regardless of years of service). Furthermore, if they were to waive Travis Leslie by August 1, they could free up another half a million or so (the difference between Leslie's $762K contracts and the $250K guaranteed portion). We'll know the answer to that question soon enough, since August 1 is Wednesday.

One wonders why the Clippers would keep Leslie around this season -- he didn't show much last year, and unfortunately for all involved he was injured during summer league so he was unable to show what he could do there. Using a roster spot for a guy who doesn't appear to have any chance of playing this season doesn't make a lot of sense. But like I said, we'll find out soon enough.

Looking at the depth chart above, the team is of course thinnest at small forward. Both Butler and Hill are over 30 (well over 30 in Hill's case) and both have suffered significant injuries in their careers. Adam Morrison is a player who will be on an NBA roster next season, based on his excellent play in Summer League. The Clippers could sign Morrison and keep Leslie and avoid the luxury tax if they don't make any other moves. But if they intend to pursue Morrison, it probably makes sense to waive Leslie, freeing up a bit more cash, and more importantly a precious roster spot to use if the team gets hit hard by injuries in a particular position. (For the purposes of this discussions, you could just as easily substitute Bobby Simmons for Adam Morrison -- obviously Simmons contributed a lot more than Leslie last season, and we can probably assume that he would again this season.)

So watch for an announcement from the Clippers tomorrow regarding Leslie. If he survives into August, then the next stop will be training camp, where we'll see who gets invited (Morrison, Simmons, etc.)