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Clippers Off-Season 2016: The Diminishing Value of Exceptions

The Mid-Level is the Clippers' best tool, but it's less valuable then ever.

Jamal Crawford is the Clippers' most notable Mid-Level Exception signing.
Jamal Crawford is the Clippers' most notable Mid-Level Exception signing.
Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

As the Clippers head into the off-season, they have the same two goals of every team every year: bring back your own free agents, and add good players from other teams.  For the Clippers, their tools have been very limited to accomplish these tasks in recent years, and this year is no different.

Apart from their six returning players (Chris Paul, J.J. Redick, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, C.J. Wilcox, Branden Dawson, and Paul Pierce), the Clippers have just bird rights on a trio of free agents, draft picks, and exceptions to add players.  Austin Rivers, Jeff Green, and Jamal Crawford are the three incumbents that the Clippers can sign without much worry cap-wise (as long as they don't end up over the apron and lose their exceptions).  They'll also have the ability to sign whomever they select at #25 and #33 in the NBA draft.  Beyond that, it's just the Mid-Level Exception and Bi-Annual Exception before the Clippers are left to fill out the roster with minimum-salary players.

The issue is that the mid-level exception, while increasing marginally in monetary value each year, will have a severe drop in purchasing power.  The bi-annual exception, a much less powerful tool, will remain just above the league minimum in a year when there figures to be less minimum players in the league than normal.

Here is the proportional value of these exceptions since 2011-2012, when the new CBA was signed:

Year Salary Cap Mid-Level $ Value MLE Value (% of cap) Bi-Annual $ Value BAE Value (% of cap)
2011-12 $58,044,000 $5 Million 9.99% $1.9 Million 3.27%
2012-13 $58,044,000 $5 Million 9.99% $1.975 Million 3.4%
2013-14 $58,679,000 $5.15 Million 8.78% $2.016 Million 3.44%
2014-15 $63,065,000 $5.305 Million 8.41% $2.077 Million 3.29%
2015-16 $70,000,000 $5.464 Million 7.81% $2.139 Million 3.06%
2016-17 proj. $92,000,000 $5.628 Million 6.12% $2.203 Million 2.39%

Exception values from Larry Coon's

Salary Cap values from RealGM.

The numbers speak for themselves: the purchasing power of exceptions in the NBA has slowly declined, leading up to a plummet this season.  The $5.628 million Mid-Level exception is now the equivalent of $3.55 million in the 2013 market, which should provide a decent idea as to how diluted these exceptions truly are.  This, combined with the fact that many teams will have cap room far exceeding these exceptions, makes the Clippers' full MLE essentially as valuable as the mini-MLE would normally be, leaving the team to target a lower level of players.  $24 million over 3 years is the new Mid-Level Exception, and enough teams have the room to give it out that players like Cole Aldrich are likely to receive it.  Something like $26 million over 4 years, which is what the Clippers will have to offer, will turn into an amount that lands the Clips a veteran taking a pay cut, or a player who they believe will be a diamond in the rough..

The Bi-Annual exception has always had such little value that this doesn't effect it as much.  Before, it was a tool to get players at a price point just above the league minimum, and now, it's... still a tool to get players at a price point just above the league minimum.  The only difference is that teams are less likely to find quality minimum players this year, making quality bi-annual players more scarce as well.  Overall this is a marginal tool that could be used to retain a player like Luc Richard Mbah a Moute or Wesley Johnson.

Doc Rivers clearly has his work cut out for him this summer, as he has to work with little money to complete a roster.  The exploding market makes the purchasing power of his money even weaker.  It's going to be a very interesting summer and the Clippers might need some gambles to pay off if they're going to have a quality second unit.