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NBA Free Agency: The Clippers, falling dominoes and settling dust

The dust is beginning to settle from a flurry of free agency activity, and the Clippers have some roster holes to fill, and relatively few assets with which to will them.

Stephen Dunn

The Los Angeles Clippers targeted free agent acquisitions Spencer Hawes and Jordan Farmar early in the process. Coach/president/ominpotent-yet-benevolent-leader Doc Rivers contacted Hawes and Farmar when free agency opened on July 1, and they were among the "role player" type signings that happened while so much of free agency was clogged up waiting for LeBron James to make a decision.

The Clippers seem very pleased with their new additions, and well they should be, at least based on what we know now. They appear to be excellent fits for the team's needs, and they were certainly bargains given the prices comparable players have been commanding this summer. Farmar probably won't be as good a backup point guard for the Clippers as Darren Collison, whom he replaces. But Collison will be making $5.3M in Sacramento, compared to just over $2M for Farmar. And then again, with Farmar better shooting range, he may be an even better fit than Collison.

But now that James has returned to Cleveland, the majority of the free agency dominoes have fallen, and the dust is beginning to settle. Various players linked in one way or another with the Clippers -- Collison, Danny Granger, Paul Pierce, Trevor Ariza, etc. -- have now signed. There are very few big names left on the market, and none of them seem to be logical targets for the Clippers needs (with the possible exception of Lance Stephenson, who would be out of Doc's price range at any rate).

So where does that leave the process of finalizing the 2014-2015 roster?

The depth chart as of today looks like this:

PG Chris Paul Jordan Farmar [Crawford]
SG J.J. Redick Jamal Crawford C.J. Wilcox
SF Matt Barnes Jared Dudley Reggie Bullock
PF Blake Griffin [Hawes]
C DeAndre Jordan Spencer Hawes

It is important to note that the Clippers used their full MLE on Hawes, which imposes a hard cap at $4M above the luxury tax threshold. By my math, with a total payroll of $78,764,529.00 and the luxury tax next season estimated to be $76,829,000.00, the Clippers are already over the threshold, and only about $2M shy of the hard cap.

In other words, they don't have a lot of flexibility.

The CBA requites teams to carry at least 13 players. Barring a trade, the Clippers are almost certainly limited to adding minimum salary players at this point. (The one exception I can think of is Glen Davis, whom the Clippers could re-sign for a little over the veteran's minimum as their own free agent.)

Losing out on Pierce, whom we know Rivers had contacted and targeted as a sign-and-trade candidate, is a bit disappointing. Pierce wound up taking about $5M per season to sign with the Wizards -- an amount the Clippers could have matched in a sign-and-trade with a package of one veteran small forward (either Matt Barnes or Jared Dudley) and one young wing (either Reggie Bullock or C.J. Wilcox). Did Doc offer one of the youngsters? Did Brooklyn decide they'd rather have nothing than take on the likes of Dudley's deal? It's difficult to believe that they would not have taken a Barnes/Bullock package -- but did Doc offer that? We'll probably never know.

At this point, depending on your feelings about Evan Turner, there probably aren't any sign-and-trade candidates that would be upgrades at the small forward position. Which may leave the Clippers in the position of entering the season with Matt Barnes as the fifth starter again, and hoping that Bullock is ready for a bigger role.

There remains a more glaring hole in the roster, that being a fourth big. As of now, Blake Griffin is the only true power forward on the team, and when he's off the court the Clippers would have to play two centers (Hawes and DeAndre Jordan) or go small with Dudley or Barnes at the four.

Ed Davis is still on the market, but he's not going to take a minimum deal. Would he be worth losing one of the younger guys in a sign-and-trade package? Would Ekpe Udoh be available at the minimum? Glen Davis remains a possibility. He can certainly make more money elsewhere, but another season with the Clippers offers him at least four things that have value: a decent role, continuing to play for Doc Rivers, a chance to go deep into the playoffs, and early Bird rights next summer. It's probably not enough, but it's difficult to say what the market for Davis is. (It's worth noting also that Davis will still be receiving a salary from Orlando next season. I don't know whether there's an offset in his buyout, which would make his salary next season irrelevant and make a return to the Clippers much more realistic from a money standpoint.)

Regardless of what happens between now and opening night, it's important to remember that the Clippers added the players who logged the eighth, ninth and tenth most playoff minutes for the team (Davis, Granger and Hedo Turkoglu) after the start of the season last year. The Clippers have already become a destination franchise, and that's only going to be intensified when the ownership situation is resolved and they replace the worst owner in North American sports with the wealthiest owner in North American sports. My strong suspicion is that at least one important player will be added to the roster in February, possibly more than one.