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Clippers Off-Season 2016: The Puzzle Pieces

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How will everything fit together?

Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

Preceding a more in-depth breakdown of the Clippers' financial situation, here are some key ideas to keep in mind going into the off-season:

  • The salary cap and tax line are both going to jump tremendously.  The Clippers will most likely NOT have any cap space (it's technically possible but would involve renouncing several key players), but they will also most likely avoid being tax payers, giving them access to the full mid-level exception.  It's not much, and its value is diluted by the sheer amounts of money available in the NBA landscape this summer, but it's something.
  • The Clippers have five surefire returners on guaranteed contracts: Chris Paul (22.9 million), DeAndre Jordan (21.2 million), Blake Griffin (20.1 million), J.J. Redick (7.4 million), and C.J. Wilcox (1.2 million).
  • Paul Pierce has a guaranteed deal for 3.5 million but could very well end up retiring.
  • Branden Dawson has a non-guaranteed contract for under $900,000 next season.  Unless the team decides to use that roster spot on someone else, he's a safe bet to return.
  • A little over $1.4 million of the Clippers' cap sheet will still be dedicated to the stretched contracts of Carlos Delfino, Jordan Farmar, and Miroslav Raduljica.
  • Three Clippers have player options for next season: Austin Rivers (3.3 million), Cole Aldrich and Wesley Johnson (1.2 million each).  We will hear more in the coming weeks, but I expect all three to opt out and seek more money.
  • The Clippers own full bird rights on three players: Austin Rivers, Jamal Crawford, and Jeff Green.  This means that they can sign any of these players for any amount regardless of their positioning in regards to the cap.  All three of these guys seem to be priorities for Doc, and they should all be re-signed: overpaying doesn't hurt, and letting NBA-caliber players who you can keep for free walk away isn't a good move.
  • As Larson Ishii points out in the comments below, the Clippers have early bird rights on one player: Glen Big Baby Davis.  Since they never had to renounce his cap hold to do maneuvering, and he never signed with a new team, the Clippers can still sign him for anywhere up to the league average
  • The Clippers have non-bird rights on the remainder of their players: Wesley Johnson, Cole Aldrich, Pablo Prigioni, Luc  Richard Mbah a Moute, and Jeff Ayres.  They can only use non-bird rights to sign these players to up to 120% of their previous salary.  Prigioni and Ayres are both likely to be available for the minimum, but they have to be considered low-priority depth signings to be saved for the latter stages of the summer.  Mbah a Moute and Johnson are trickier--neither was spectacular this year, but both proved themselves as NBA-caliber and there will be lots of money thrown around.  Neither are high priorities for the Clippers, so if they are available for the minimum they're sure to be welcomed back, but otherwise I don't see Doc utilizing his exceptions on them (maybe bi-annual if one has other offers above the minimum).  Cole Aldrich is obviously the most valuable of the bunch, and he'll be paid as such.  The Clippers' full MLE might not be enough to retain him (it would be in a normal year), and it might not be wise for them to utilize their best free agency tool on a backup who can only play C behind their max-contract guy who can only play C.
  • The Clippers will have two draft picks, #25 and #33.  The 25th pick has a rookie scale salary of just over $1 million.  Rookies can sign for up to 120% of scale, so if the Clippers are doing any maneuvering, they will wait to officially sign that draft pick until after the free agent dust has settled.  The 33rd pick will likely be signed to a non-guaranteed contract for the league minimum.
  • Aside from the above-mentioned free agent rights, the Clippers will have three exceptions with which they can sign players: the Non-Taxpayer Mid-Level Exception (also known as the full MLE), the Bi-Annual Exception, and the Minimum Salary Exception.  For the 2016-17 season, the full MLE has a starting value of $5.6 million and can run for up to four years with modest raises.  The BAE has a starting value of $2.2 million and can only run for two seasons.  The minimum exception can be used by any team at any time to add players for the league minimum salary.  These guys are typically the leftover scraps, but the Clippers did well last season, finding players like Wesley Johnson and Cole Aldrich with this exception.
So what would you do?  How to you take the puzzle pieces above and build a roster?  There's a lot of flexibility, but no matter what you do, every realistic scenario involves gambles and weak points.