According to reports, the Los Angeles Clippers have signed veteran NBA big man Lou Amundson to a non-guaranteed contract in advance of training camp next week. Amundson is on a make-good deal and will have to make the team in order to earn his contract.
Amundson's name is not unfamiliar to Clipper-watchers this summer. As one of the more experienced NBA bigs who remained on the free agent market into late August, Amundson was thought to be in consideration when the Clippers signed Antawn Jamison.
In fact, in the "scoring vs. toughness" debate for those final few roster spots, Jamison and Amundson more or less epitomized the two poles of the debate. Jamison is a former all-star with a career average of close to 19 points per game and a career high season average close to 25 -- who never played much defense and can barely play any now at the age of 37. Amundson is a hard-working, hustle guy who has never been a scorer, but who will give you rebounding, post defense and toughness. Jamison, probably because he is a former All Star, could command a guaranteed contract (nonetheless at the league minimum). Amundson had to settle for an unguaranteed deal, but he could yet make the team.
Let's take a look at how the numbers break down now. You have to be very careful when talking about contracts versus guaranteed contracts -- if a player doesn't have a guaranteed contract (like Amundson or Brandon Davies or Maalick Wayns) then they are really no different from a training camp invitee in terms of making the team.
There are 16 players currently on the roster, but the aforementioned players are on unguaranteed deals (in italics below), meaning the Clippers could cut them before the season starts without any salary cap implications:
PG -- Chris Paul, Darren Collison, Maalik Wayns
SG -- J.J. Redick, Jamal Crawford, Willie Green
SF -- Jared Dudley, Matt Barnes, Reggie Bullock
PF -- Blake Griffin, Antawn Jamison, Lou Amundson, Brandon Davies
C -- DeAndre Jordan, Byron Mullens, Ryan Hollins
The Clippers are required to carry 13 contracts into the regular season and can carry a maximum of 15. There is no way -- none -- that they will enter the season with more than 14. They will want to be able to add a veteran before the trade deadline if someone enticing becomes available and/or if they develop a significant need through injury or poor performance of the existing roster. And they are too close to the hard cap ($4M above the luxury tax line for teams like the Clippers who participated in a sign-and-trade) to waste any salary at this point. That means that the 13 guys with guaranteed money will definitely be on the opening day roster, and that there is at most -- at most -- one spot for Wayns, Amundson and Davies -- or anyone else who shows up at training camp. And there might not even be one -- the Clippers could opt to start the season with 13 and hoard what little space they have left in case they need it later.
As a general rule, teams like to carry three point guards -- the position is too important, and point guards tend to be a little fragile. The emergency plan at this time other than Wayns would be to have Crawford run the point, or possibly Green. Maybe Rivers feels like that's as good an option as counting on Wayns. Or maybe he's willing to begin the season with two points and hope that the team can avoid injuries or get by with 10 day contractors when injuries do occur. Certainly Paul and Collison are more than sufficient for the position barring injuries.
At the third string power forward spot, you'd have to assume that Amundson's experience would give him a significant advantage over Davies. The only factor in Davies favor would be that he'll be cheaper -- the cap hit for a veteran's minimum deal for Amundson would be more than the deal for Davies, but not a lot more.
Clipper fans probably remember Amundson best from his run-in with Zach Randolph a few years back. Amundson, or pony-tail boy as he is known, was with the Suns at the time and had managed to get under Z-Bo's skin in just three minutes on the court, which is in fact Lou's super-power -- he can annoy the shit out of anyone. After they tangled for a rebound, Zach threw Amundson to the ground, and when he got up, Z-Bo threw a punch and was ejected -- perhaps Zach's worst sequence as a Clipper.
It's interesting to note that Matt Barnes and Jared Dudley were Suns teammates with Amundson at the time, and that all of them had their run-ins with the Clippers. They are hard-nosed, gritty players, the kind you hate when they are on the other team -- the very kind you love when they are on your team.
One thing the Clippers won't love about Amundson is his free throw shooting. A career 44 percenter from the line, the Clippers seem determined to find and employ all the worst free throw shooters in the NBA these last few seasons.
Having said that, the Clippers could do worse than to keep Amundson around -- heck, if he could just take another punch from Zach Randolph it would probably be worth the vet's min.
If Amundson does work out for the Clippers, it will be another success story for the training facility. With so many NBA players hanging out in LA during the off-season, the Clippers training facility is the best NBA pick up game in town, and Amundson has been playing there all summer. Last year Barnes parlayed a summer of pick up basketball into a career year as a key member of the Clippers -- can Amundson do the same?