WELP. The darkest timeline has happened and DeAndre Jordan has indeed chosen to go home to Texas and the Dallas Mavericks rather than rejoin the Los Angeles Clippers. Take a minute. Get out your frustrations or grab a pint of ice cream to try and eat away the sadness. Or both. But after you're done grieving, make sure to thank DJ for all his time and continued effort as a Clipper. Then start to move on to Plan B.
But what Plan B is out there? Our fearless leader Steve said on the radio yesterday there is no Plan B for the Clippers if Jordan were to leave, but the reality is that the Clippers can't just sit in bed for the next couple of months with broken hearts and the Notebook on repeat. There is still an upcoming season and they still have Blake Griffin and Chris Paul, two of the 10 best players in the NBA. While many others are ready to call this a lost season already, I refuse to capitulate. I know most of this offseason's big men are gone. Tyson Chandler and Brandan Wright and Robin Lopez are all gone while Osik and Ajinca are heading back to New Orleans. However, with steely resolve and an overly optimistic streak, here are a couple different Plan Bs the Clippers could be looking at.
Trade Jamal for a Center
Jamal Crawford, even with his contract fully guaranteed, is still the sexiest trade asset the Clippers have. Doc and the team have been very upfront about their willingness to move him if the right deal came along, and now with huge holes to fill in the roster, they may need to be a bit less choosy. Ideally you would want to trade Jamal to a team with a surplus of big men and a dearth of scoring and shooting at guard. Luckily there are two such teams out there in the Grizzlies and Bucks.
Kostas Koufos has long been one of the best back up men in the league for Memphis giving quality minutes whenever Marc Gasol or Z-Bo hit the bench. Koufos has starter potential and would be a good bet for the Clippers to try and nab, the only problem is he's a free agent currently and the Clippers have little cap room, around $2 million left of the MLE. Woj recently reported the Grizzlies would be willing to facilitate a sign and trade deal for their big man as they already have his replacement in Brandan Wright. (I highly doubt Wright would back out of his Memphis deal to come start for the Clippers, but nothing is official in the moratorium technically). If the Clippers sent Jamal to the Grindhouse, he would give them bench scoring and shooting, something they've long coveted, and the Clippers could bring Koufos back on a deal starting around $7 million, more if they were to throw in fillers like C.J. Wilcox, Jordan Hamilton, or Lester Hudson. They could offer up to about $11 million for Koufos if really needed, which could be enough to sign him. Clips benefit while Memphis gets Jamal for nothing.
With the Bucks signing Greg Monroe to a max offer this free agency, they suddenly have a surplus of centers in Zaza Pachulia and John Henson and a lack of scoring and shooting from their guards. Jamal could fill a lot of needs for the Bucks and further help them compete in the East. Jamal for Zaza works straight up, and Zaza is a competent NBA big man, and likely better than most of the options left in free agency. The real prize would be snaring Henson, who is still on a rookie deal. Henson has long been a bench big many have fallen in love with for his production in short minutes. He could give a lot of the same things DJ was best at: athleticism, rebounding, and rim protection. The Bucks may be looking to move either of their centers, and the Clippers should be calling about both.
S&T Jordan for a TPE
One simple option for the Clippers would be to sign and trade Jordan to the Mavericks for nothing. This would give the Clippers a Traded Player Exception for about $11.4 million to which they could absorb another player's contract, say Koufos in a sign and trade with Memphis. The only problem with this is it's likely wishful thinking. Dallas has no real incentive to do a S&T for Jordan when they can just take him into their cap space. Baller could send Cuban about 3 million dollars, but that's pocket change to billionaires. Unless Jordan feels really bad about leaving the Clippers and forces a S&T, or the Clippers throw in future picks (they shouldn't) this option probably isn't going to happen.
This trade rumor floated around basketball Twitter for a little while because it kind of makes sense. The Pacers don't want Hibbert, the Clippers need a center. The Pacers are getting Monta Ellis, who used to play for the Mavs, and DJ is going to Dallas. In theory it could work, but reality is often much more complicated.
First of all, as Lucas has previously explained, DJ's salary in a sign and trade only counts for $11.4 million, not the max he just signed for 18.9 million. Hibbert makes about $15.5 million, which is more than 125% of DJ's $11.4 million. To add to the problem, Hibbert has a 15% trade bonus which means whatever team gets him is actually taking on $17,872,185. In order for the Clippers to send out enough salary to match this, they would have to trade either DJ/CJ/Hamilton/Hudson or DJ/Jamal, obviously the first is more preferred. Technically Hibbert can waive part or all of his trade bonus to make a deal work, but I'm not expecting it.
From there the deal would look like: Pacers get Ellis/CJ/Hudson/Hamilton (they can cut Hudson and Hamilton), Clippers get Hibbert, and Dallas gets DeAndre. This deal works financially under the cap, but again the problem lies with the Mavericks. What incentive do the Mavs have to help the Clippers facilitate a trade? None in this deal, so let's spice it up a little for Dallas.
With Jordan and Wes Matthews and Richard Jefferson, Dallas will have 7 players on contracts at a guaranteed salary of about $64,861,628 not including Dwight Powell. This means the Mavs will only have the $2.8 million room exception and minimum contracts to fill out their entire roster. Something less than ideal when your team consists of: Dirk, Parsons, Wes off an Achilles injury, DJ, Raymond Felton, Richard Jefferson, and Devin Harris. The Mavs are going to be looking to create more cap space somehow.
If you were to take the previous deal and add Felton going to the Pacers, that would free up more space for the Mavs. From the Pacers's perspective, they unload Hibbert for Ellis and Felton, leaving them with about 12 million in cap space. Boom there's your Dallas incentive. If Felton is even too much of an obstacle for Indiana, the Clippers could even take him back by sending out DJ/Jamal/Hamilton. Is that a heavy price? Yes, but better than nothing.
Upside for the Clippers in getting Hibbert would be staying competitive this year, as Hibbert can play defense and protect the rim even if he is slow footed. He can also make free throws and the occasional mid range or hook shot. Most importantly, Hibbert is on the last year of his deal, meaning next offseason when the cap jumps the Clippers will have loads of space, enough to offer Durant the max.
Sign a Center for the Rest of the MLE
If the Clippers can't manage any trades, either through Jamal or a sign and trade, they are left with very little options. With Pierce taking up about $3.376 million (barring a Pierce sign and trade to the Clippers) the team would have only about $2 million left of the MLE to spend on a center. Maybe Biyombo comes for that. Or JaVale McGee. Either way, with this option the Clippers have very little to choose from. Next they would be left with bringing back Austin and Big Baby, then minimum contracts for the rest of the roster (options they will likely have no matter what happens).
By its nature, Plan B is always worse than Plan A and no one left in free agency will replace what Jordan brought. But the Clippers don't have time to waste a season with Chris Paul in his aging prime. While they will likely play more small ball with Blake at center, that's not sustainable for 82 games. The Clippers need a Plan B.