As the Clippers head into the start of free agency on July 1st, expect plenty of speculation regarding their defensive stalwart DeAndre Jordan. While there already has been plenty of talk about potential rifts between Chris Paul and Jordan, his limited offensive role in the team, and his All-Star aspirations, as Lucas previously covered, don't hit the panic button quite yet. Tough decisions can often come down to the simplest of reasons, and the Clippers can not only offer their center the most money, 5 years and about $108 million compared to 4 years and $80 million, but also the best opportunity to win. Free agents usually are about winning or money, and the Clippers can offer the best of both worlds.
But, let's take an imaginary jaunt down the darkest timeline (everyone put on your menacing goatees) in the event that DeAndre Jordan decides to leave for browner pastures with the Mavericks, or even worse, the Lakers. Where does that leave the Clippers cap wise and what tools would they have to replace their center and recruit others.
A couple quick notes, the salary cap next year is supposed to be at about $67.4 million, the tax at about $81.6 million, and the apron at about $85.6 million. Right now, the Clippers are standing on a guaranteed salary total of $60,534,065. That number includes the salaries of 5 players: Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, Lance Stephenson, J.J. Redick, C.J. Wilcox, and $1.5 million of Jamal Crawford's salary assuming he is cut. NBA teams need to carry a minimum of 13 players on their rosters, so disregarding player cap holds and trying to gain maximum cap space with only minimum contracts, the Clippers would have no cap space.
Where does that leave the team?
Scenario 1: Keep the full MLE
So if DJ does leave, let's run through some of the Clippers's likely moves. They bring back Jamal Crawford, though technically this decision needs to be made before DJ tells them if he's coming back; we'll know if Jamal gets traded in the next 4 days, but until then we'll assume he's returning. They resign Austin Rivers at his full limited bird rights salary $3,110,796 (they could probably bring him back for less but lets imagine Doc is a softie). Big Baby gets a minimum contract and Branden Dawson makes the team as a fifth big on the minimum. Right now the team is sitting at $69,714,413 in guaranteed money with a roster of 9 players.
Barring bringing back Hedo Turkoglu, Ekpe Udoh, or Dahntay Jones for more than the minimum, all that the Clippers would have left in their arsenal would be the full Mid-Level Exception and minimum contracts. Adding a MLE player in at $5,464,000 and three minimum contracts at $947,276, the Clippers salary for 13 players would be $78,020,241. This puts them below the tax line of $81.6 million and far below the apron of $85.6 million. The Clippers would be left with $7,579,759 of wiggle room below the hard cap, leaving them able to bring on other minimum contracts to fill the 15 man roster, or possibly take someone back in a sign and trade.
For instance, let's say for some reason the Mavericks signed DeAndre to a max contract but the Clippers manage to finagle a sign and trade out of the deal. Best case scenario would be for Tyson Chandler to be convinced to sign for about $7,000,000 and go to the Clippers in return.
The worst case scenario would be that the Jordan decides to leave, the Clippers can't procure a sign and trade deal as he walks out the door, and the Clippers are left to minimum contracts and the MLE in order to try and find a starting center and small forward and fill out the bench.
Scenario 2: Use the mMLE
If the Clippers don't care about using the full MLE and are ok with resigning themselves to a smaller free agent at about $3.3 million, the team doesn't have to be burdened by the hard cap and plenty of other different sign and trade scenarios come into play. Dream scenarios: Would the Pacers give Hibbert and C.J. Miles for Jordan? Would the Spurs give Splitter and Diaw for Jordan? None of these teams are on the Jordan's radar as reported, but if the Bucks, whom reportedly want Jordan, were willing to do a sign and trade, could they Clippers get back a haul of Zaza Pachulia and Jerryd Bayless/Jared Dudley? (probably not) From then the Clippers would be left to resign all of their own players with different forms of bird rights and then use the mMLE to bring in a free agent.
There are some unlikely scenarios in which the Clippers come out not as badly scathed as others, and one silver lining may be the use of the MLE if Jordan walks, but all of this may be just putting kid band-aids on an axe wound. In both scenarios, losing DJ would likely leave the Clippers greatly crippled from their current status as title contenders (even if only an fringe contender in some opinions) and a bottom tier playoff team in the Western Gauntlet. But don't panic just yet, because DeAndre Jordan is coming back and the darkest timeline will never see the light of day.