At first glance, the Los Angeles Clippers' trade of Jared Dudley and a 2017 first round pick to the Milwaukee Bucks for Carlos Delfino and Miroslav Raduljica looks like a bit of a head scratcher. Yes, Dudley was the only significant payroll deadwood on the roster, and yes they were dangerously close to the hard cap and lacking options. But the combined salaries of Delfino and Raduljica ($4.75M) is actually MORE than Dudley's price tag ($4.25M) so it's not like the team salary went down. Furthermore, it's far from clear that Delfino and Raduljica are that much more useful -- Delfino missed all of last season with an unexpected surgery, never a good sign, and Raduljica is a project center at best. So what did the Clippers get out of it? And was it worth a first round pick.
As usual, the answer is, we'll see. But there are always reasons, and there are plenty of interesting ones here.
First of all, in a very real sense the Clippers did in fact decrease their payroll. Before the trade the Clippers had 12 players under contract, and the NBA requires that teams carry 13 contracts. So there was going to be another player signed at some point. The Clippers can only sign players for the NBA minimum of $915K, so Dudley plus unknown player 13 was actually going to cost MORE than Delfino plus Raduljica. In addition, Dudley had some incentives in his contract that would have taken his deal to $4.5M if the team makes a deep playoff run, which of course they'd like to do. This deal gets the team to the required 13 contracts more cheaply than the alternative of keeping Dudley and adding a minimum contract. (This is all deep dive CBA stuff, but if you want even more on the pre-trade situation while Dudley was still on the payroll, you should definitely read this excellent post by a Heat blogger who loves this sort of minutiae.)
Second of all, we don't know exactly what the Clippers gave up besides Dudley, who, based on last season, was not a big loss. A first round pick three years into the future -- for a team that is expected to be very, very good for at least three years (remember that Chris Paul and Blake Griffin are both signed through 2018) -- does not have a ton of value. As Lucas Hann points out, a second round pick, who will not have a guaranteed contract, is in some ways preferable for a team in the Clippers' situation. So maybe losing the 2017 first rounder hurts -- maybe it doesn't. At least from a basketball standpoint.
(It definitely hurts to use that pick from a future flexibility standpoint. The Clippers lost their 2015 first rounder in order to get Doc Rivers from the Celtics, and now they've given up the 2017 pick. The Stepien Rule prevents teams from trading future first rounders in consecutive years -- which means that if the Clippers want to make any other trades involving first rounders, they'll be stretching into 2019, which is getting pretty ridiculous. Bottom line, this was their last decent "deal sweetener" pick.)
On the surface, Delfino isn't much of an upgrade over Dudley. In a way, he's kind of the player (good shooter, good teammate, decent defender) the Clippers THOUGHT that they were getting in Dudley -- but it didn't turn out that way. Delfino would be better than Dudley was last year if he's anything close to what he once was. But coming off an injury, who knows if that will be the case.
But all of that misses the point.The point of this trade for the Clippers is flexibility.
Sam Amick of USA Today reports that the team COULD decide to use the stretch provision in the CBA to waive Delfino and spread his salary out over the next three seasons. Some have asked why the Clippers wouldn't just stretch Dudley's salary if they're considering doing that for Delfino; after all, Dudley's cap hit this year is $4.25 while Delfino's is $3.25 -- not a huge difference. But Dudley has two more years left on his deal, while Delfino has just one -- so in fact for Dudley the Clippers would be stretching two years into three -- saving just a third of the salary. For Delfino, they'd save two-thirds of a lower salary, so it's more worthwhile.
Going back to the minutiae of the salary cap situation, the Clippers MIGHT want to waive Delfino, stretch his salary and sign two veteran minimum players between now and the start of camp. Why? Because if you have 14 players on your roster, you can sign additional camp invitees to a special type of unguaranteed contract. With only 13, the Clippers are at risk of a Maalik Wayns type injury pushing them over the hard cap.
I personally doubt that the stretch provision is what they have in mind (again, we'll see) but the years remaining are still VERY significant here. When the trade deadline comes around, moving Delfino -- a single prorated year at $3.25M -- is easy. Teams will line up to do that deal, especially since Steve Ballmer's checkbook can include up to $3M in any deal. Just as the Clippers did with Byron Mullens and Antawn Jamison last season, paying teams under the salary cap to take the final few months of an expiring deal (Delfino's contract is unguaranteed for next season, and Raduljica is in the final year of his deal as well) is relatively simple. Moving Jared Dudley and ANOTHER season at $4.25M is an entirely different matter.
In fact, the Clippers have a VERY different situation projecting forward to the trade deadline this season than they did last February. Matt Barnes, Delfino and Raduljica are all in the final year of their deals, giving the Clippers a lot of options to send out expiring deals.
So what did the Clippers get in this deal? They got some flexibility. Maybe they waive Delfino and use the stretch provision. Maybe they keep him and he proves to be useful. Maybe they move him at the trade deadline. Maybe Raduljica pans out, maybe he doesn't -- he's movable also.