The Los Angeles Clippers' charter flight to Memphis was scheduled to leave LAX today around 11 AM Pacific time, an hour before the NBA's trade deadline. The Clippers have needed a big man all season, and have a need for an athletic wing that has been exacerbated by the injury to J.J. Redick.
As with pretty much every team, there were rumors swirling around the Clippers, but it didn't look like anything had gotten too serious. A deal with the New York Knicks centering around Darren Collison and Iman Shumpert had both parties interested, but when Shumpert hurt his surgically repaired knee in Wednesday night's game, it threw a blanket on that talk. To further complicate matters, Shumpert's MRI results were trickling out about the time the Clippers were boarding their plane.
And then the plane sat there on the tarmac for awhile. Was it a weather delay? Ice storms in Memphis? Or was the front office holding the plane to find out more about Shumpert's knee and maybe get a deal done?
Sure enough, at literally the 11th hour (OK, the 11th hour before noon, but still) the Clippers pulled off a deal -- Antawn Jamison to the Hawks! I know, blockbuster, right?
As I write this, there are still no details on what the Clippers will get back from the Hawks. NBA rules require that the Hawks trade something, but really, it will be nothing. The Clippers are paying the Hawks to take Jamison into their available cap space, which will save LA about $1.4M in salary and luxury tax -- though that deal by itself still will not get them under the luxury tax threshold.
So the Clippers also dumped Byron Mullens into the cap space in Philadelphia, once again no doubt paying more in cash than the Sixers will owe to Mullens.
But the Clippers do not appear to have added anyone in this process. So the hole in the front court is still there. (It's arguably deeper, though neither Mullens nor Jamison had played meaningful minutes in at least a month, and clearly the Clippers did not want them to.) And as of this instant, the roster stands at 12, one below the NBA minimum.
Shedding two salaries gets the Clippers under the luxury tax threshold -- but probably only temporarily. I have to fire up my spread sheet and double check the numbers, but the team will have to give a contract to someone in that 13th roster spot, and depending on the deal, it will probably take them back over the tax line again. They will certainly be back over the line if they add two players, and my sense all along is that winning is a higher priority than avoiding the tax, at least this season.
So what comes next? The Clippers will look to available free agents to try to bolster their front court and the wing. And bear in mind there's always another key date in the NBA -- in another week, a handful veterans will negotiate buyouts with their existing lottery teams in order to be free agents in time to catch on with playoff teams.