The 2015 NBA free agency derby is less than 24 hours old, and it is already completely out of control. When former Clipper Al-Farouq Aminu, who signed a one-year deal (with an option for a second) for the NBA minimum less than a year ago signed a $30M contract in Portland straight out of the gate last night, it was a pretty clear signal that this was anything but a normal market.
I don't dislike AFA as a player by any means, but here's all you need to know about this contract: Aminu had as good a regular season in New Orleans in 2014 (after which he signed for the minimum) as he did last season in Dallas (which he parlayed into $30M). Basically, he turned a couple of good playoff games into a long term deal at $7.5M per.
(For somewhat older NBA fans, this reminds me so much of Calvin Booth in 2001. He looked good in a couple of playoff games for Dallas in the 2001 post-season, signed a 6yr/$34M contract in Seattle, and was a cap anchor the rest of his career. All things considered, 14 years later, as bad as AFA's contract looks, this is obviously nothing new.)
As of this moment, this frenzy looks like a disaster for the capped-out Clippers -- they need to sign a small forward and a point guard and a backup center (while of course not losing DeAndre Jordan), and literally no one on their radar appears to be anywhere close to their price range, at least so far.
Look at this list of small forward signings so far --
- AFA 4yr/30M
- DeMarre Carroll 4yr/$60M
- Mike Dunleavy, Jr. 3yr/$14.5M
- Kyle Singler 5yr/$25M
- Jonas Jerebko 2yr/$10M
The Clippers can offer around
4yr/$12M 3yr/$10M if they spend all of the mMLE in one place. All of these guys are getting more (usually a lot more) than that. So that's it right? No way the Clippers are getting a decent three for the mMLE in this market.
It's no mystery why all of this money is getting thrown around: the new TV deal kicks in next season, and when it does and the salary cap jumps an unprecedented $20M to somewhere around $90M per team in 16-17 and up closer to $110M in 17-18, these deals are going to look very, very different.
But the situation for the Clippers may not be as dire as it at first appears. The salary cap has not yet actually spiked -- it's still about what it was with a decent annual increase, somewhere between $67M and $69M by most estimates. Which means that teams don't actually have more money to spend, they're just spending like they do. At some point, most other teams will run out of options for spending, joining the Clippers who never had those options to begin with.
The thing about the Clippers small forward situation is that they can't be looking for the last DeMarre Carroll -- they need to be looking for the NEXT DeMarre Carroll. Carroll was a late first round pick in 2009 who was a fringe NBA player as recently as two seasons ago. He was waived by the Rockets in 2011; he was waived by the Nuggets in 2012. The Hawks signed him for 2yr/$5M two years ago, he stepped in as their starting small forward -- and today he's the highest paid basketball player in the entire nation of Canada.
When the frenzy is over, many players will be forced to sign table scrap deals -- mMLE deals, Bi-annual exception deals and minimum deals -- because that's what teams will have to fill out their rosters. And some of those guys who sign those deals will turn out to be very, very useful. The trick is finding the useful ones, which is much easier said than done (and happens to be something the Clippers have not been very good at in recent years).
Now, some of these guys would already signed seem to be those types of 'maybe he'll turn into something' players. $25M for Kyle Singler? The dude's PER last season was 8.5. But there are others.
Forget about Jae Crowder and Gerald Green -- anyone who has done anything in the league or whose stock is on an upswing is almost certainly out of the question. Instead, think Jeff Taylor or Landry Fields -- players who showed promise once and might work in the right system -- or perhaps K.J. McDaniels, very young players who have done absolutely nothing so far. Someone along those lines will sign this summer for less than the mMLE and be a useful player on a good team.
Of course, the Clippers have another avenue available to them which not every team has: they can hope to lure a proven veteran who wants one more shot at a title. Paul Pierce is the most obvious example of this, but there could be others like Tayshaun Prince. The Clippers can offer a very good role, a very good team, and a players' coach to those guys -- which might be worth more than more money to some players.
So don't despair quite yet. There is still a long way to go on free agency. I still firmly believe that DeAndre will be back (frankly he'd be stupid to leave). The Clippers, unfortunately for them, are simply going to have to wait for the dust to settle a bit and then look over what's left. If they can sort through those options and find the hidden gems, the off-season won't have to be a disaster.