Ever since Blake Griffin's fist got a little testy with Matias Testi (no apologies for that terrible pun) in and outside of a Toronto restaurant, there have been endless columns about the possibilities of trading Blake Griffin. While I joked about the idea of what the Clippers could get for Blake with Caden Kinard here, and many others have tried to speculate what the Flyin' Lion could be worth, ultimately most sane people come to the conclusion they Clippers should keep Blake. Not only is Blake one or, if not the main reason, for the most successful run in Clippers's franchise history, but it is almost impossible to get equal return for what was one of the two or three best players in the NBA last postseason.
But then we get to the Blake for Durant trade idea and everything goes out the window. Kevin Durant is one of those few people who even the most ardent Blake Griffin fans would think long and hard about trading Griffin for because he simply that freaking good. Add in Durant's impending free agency and Blake conveniently being from Oklahoma, and a Blake for Durant swap seems somewhat logical, and it could keep Durant from going to the Warriors and destroying basketball. Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports and the Vertical wrote this about the possibility of the the Clippers and Thunder swapping stars in his article on Durant to the Warriors today:
Outside of those well-known suitors – Washington, Houston and Miami – there’s another California team determined to make a bid for Durant, league sources tell The Vertical: The Los Angeles Clippers. If the opportunity comes to move Blake Griffin and replace him with Durant, the Clippers won’t hesitate, sources said.
Teams are calling on Griffin trades now, but Clippers president and coach Doc Rivers seems determined to play the year out with Griffin and see how far the team advances in the playoffs. Eventually, the Clippers will determine how intrigued Durant might be in becoming a Big Three with Chris Paul and DeAndre Jordan.
The Thunder would resist a sign-and-trade deal until the very end – until they were sure Durant was leaving them – but Griffin, an Oklahoma native, could be a fascinating part of that scenario.
If the Clippers completed a sign-and-trade with the Thunder swapping Blake Griffin for Kevin Durant, what would that do to the Clippers's roster, and what cap flexibility would they have left? Let's take a look.
The first cap details we should discuss in this scenario is that a Blake Griffin for Kevin Durant trade straight up doesn't even work. With the Salary Cap projected to be around $90,000,000 next season, that means a Durant max contract would come in at about $25,310,042. According to the trade rules, you can bring back 125% + 100,000, Blake Griffin's contract in 2016-2017 is just short by a couple hundred thousand dollars of the money it would take to bring in KD. The Clippers will have to throw in another contract to make the math work, and with OKC have an already crowded front court, let's imagine that player is C.J. Wilcox. So Blake and Wilcox for Kevin Durant.
Ok now Durant is swapped for Blake on the Clippers's roster, with Wilcox jettisoned, so let's take stock of their options. The Clippers would have only 5 players on guaranteed contract for the 2016/2017 season, Paul/Durant/Jordan/Redick/Pierce. Factoring in roster slot holds, the max amount of cap space the Clippers could create would be $4,532,774. That's less than the full MLE for next season, $5,625,000, so let's just say the Clippers won't be trying to chase players through cap space. What options are left for them?
If you're not trying to create max room, then the Clippers could pick up Lance Stephenson's option (if he's still on the team) of $9,405,000. In this scenario, Lance would hopefully, and likely, be the starting small forward for the Clippers rounding out a first five of Paul/Redick/Lance/Durant/Jordan.
The next tools the Clippers would have for free agents are the full MLE ($5,628,000) and the BAE ($2,203,000). Using both of these exceptions trigger the hard cap or "apron", which is a restriction $4,000,000 above the tax line that the team cannot cross at any time, but the Clippers will already be hard capped through receiving Durant in a sign-and-trade. With a projected $90 million dollar cap, the tax line will be about $109,288,750 and the apron at about $113,288,750, the number the Clippers must stay under.
Who could the Clippers get for the MLE and BAE? Hopefully the Clippers could keep Cole Aldrich, who's been great in his backup role, for the BAE. With the MLE, the Clippers will probably want to continue their never-ending search for competent wings, with Courtney Lee, Kent Bazemore, Evan Turner, Chase Budinger, James Johnson, and Matt Barnes all being possible free agent targets this summer. If Doc wants to go after another big, players like Mirza Teletovic, Marvin Williams, and Darrell Arthur could be fits. Doc could also split the MLE for smaller pieces, though that seems unlikely with how watered down the MLE will be with the cap jump. After the BAE and MLE, the Clippers will be at about $98,898,929 in guaranteed money over likely 8 players.
After expending the MLE and BAE, all the Clippers would be left with are their draft picks, bird rights candidates, and minimum contracts. As the Clippers will be trying to stay under the apron, let's guarantee Branden Dawson's $874,636 contract because it's cheap, and he provides potential front court depth. Assuming the Clippers finish outside the top 5 teams this season, which is likely with Blake out for the next 6 or so weeks, the Clippers will be able to swap 2nd round picks with the Nets. Thus, the Clippers will have a late first round pick of their own and an early second rounder to add on to their roster next season, which is good when you want cheap, rookie-scale players. After Dawson, 1st rounder, and a 2nd rounder, the Clippers will stand at about $101,342,736 with 11 players.
Now comes Bird rights candidates and minimum contracts. The Clippers will have full Bird Rights for Austin Rivers and Jamal Crawford this summer, and can offer them theoretically any contract they want. Let's put Jamal aside for now and deal with Austin. Austin has shown flashes this season from being anywhere from a good to fringe NBA player; he brings good to great defense with a shaky jump shot, but impeccable finishing. Because he will only be 23 years old and will likely get better, I think the Clippers should bring him back on a contract of about $5-6 million per year starting ($6 million for the purposes of the coming math); that seems fair. Add in fan favorite Pablo Prigioni for another minimum contract, and the Clippers will have a roster of 13 players with a team salary of $108,323,167.
That leaves the Clippers with $4,965,583 to play with to fill out the rest of the roster. Now let's go back to Jamal Crawford. He's the only other player that the Clippers could give substantially more than the minimum to as a free agent, and I'm not really sure what Jamal will want or command this offseason. He will likely be looking for a raise, but I'm not sure he's really worth it or will receive it from a team. There's been enough talk about all the pros and cons to Jamal's game on this blog, but if he wanted to come back for $3-4 million a year on say a 3 year deal, I wouldn't be mad about it. It would leave the Clippers with enough space to pick up a 15th player, or to pick one up during buyout season as well. However, the arguments for ditching Jamal could be enticing as well. Without Jamal, the Clippers could avoid the luxury tax, something that becomes more important as they would avoid the repeater penalty, and it would also leave the Clippers with a lot more wiggle room for in season trades, as the hard cap remains no matter what.
Or maybe the Clippers with Durant could have veteran players willing to take a pay cut in a market flush with cash in order to come win. In that case maybe Dawson isn't brought back, and the Clippers try to find the next David West with minimum contracts from old guys chasing a ring. But it's hard to predict those kind of signings.
So after a KD for Blake sign-and-trade, the Clippers roster could potentially look like this:
Paul/Redick/Lance/Durant/Jordan -- Starters
Pablo/Austin/Bazemore/Pierce/Aldrich/Dawson/1st rounder/2nd rounder/Jamal/vet mins? -- Bench
Feel free to switch around Bazemore and Lance for the starting 3, or any other combinations with signings you want, but it's something more concrete to chew on.