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The Clippers' Cap Hell This Summer

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Doc Rivers has hinted he wants to run the team back, if they do the Clippers will be in a very very tight spot cap wise this summer.

Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

This is summer is going to be a doozy for NBA Free Agency; the salary cap is jumping about $22 million and almost every team will be flush with close to max level cap room -- think something out of the Wolf of Wall Street for the spending that is about to happen once July 1st hits. Unfortunately, the Clippers aren't going to be able to join in on the party (or the quaaludes).

While this past summer Doc hinted at the idea of breaking up the core of this team if they failed again and started to feel stale, since their early elimination from the playoffs, every indication from Doc has been that the team is going to try and run it back with close to the same cast of characters. Barring a deviation from that plan that would include trading someone like Blake Griffin, Chris Paul, or DeAndre Jordan, the Clippers don't really have much room to work with.

This summer, the Clippers are equipped with the following tools to sign players: Bird Rights to Austin Rivers, Jeff Green, and Jamal Crawford (which means they can sign them to any amount theoretically), the Mid-level Exception at $5,628,000 if they remain below the apron, the Bi-Annual Exception valued at $2,203,000, the 25th and 33rd draft picks, and minimum level deals. Even if the Clippers were to renounce all of those exceptions to try and open up as much cap room as possible, it would only get them about $10 million (maybe 13 if Paul Pierce retires). That's not worth losing Austin and Jeff and Jamal and the MLE and BAE for 1 player in this surging market.

We all knew the Clippers were going to be hamstrung with those options, really only working around the edges to try and hit home runs. What I didn't really expect until doing the math of the Clippers options is that they are much much more restricted in their flexibility than even I originally expected. Let me explain.

The salary cap next year is projected to be $92 million, which means the tax will be about $112/113 million and the apron will thus be about $116-117 million. Keep those numbers in mind.

Let's assume the Clippers are going to use all of the options they have laid out above. Watch what happens to their team salary:

Clippers Projected Salary 2016-2017
Chris Paul $22,868,827
DeAndre Jordan $21,165,675
Blake Griffin $20,140,839
J.J. Redick $7,377,500
Paul Pierce $3,527,920
C.J. Wilcox $1,209,600
Pick #25 (assuming signed) $1,061,600
Branden Dawson $874,636
Pick #33 (assuming signed) $543,471
MLE $5,628,000
BAE $2,203,000
Stretch Money (Dead Money) $1,412,964
Total

$88,014,032

So right now assuming the Clippers are using the BAE and full MLE, they're at $88,014,032 in team salary already for 11 players with Austin Rivers, Jamal Crawford, and Jeff Green still to sign with through their Bird Rights. But, remember that apron number before of about $116 million? If the Clippers use the MLE and BAE, it becomes a hard cap for them, so they cannot go above that number at any point in time. So $116 million minus $88,014,032 million = $27,985,968.

$27,985,968, or let's go with about $28 million (if Pierce retires you get closer to $31 million). That's how much money you have to spend on Jamal and Austin and Jeff. Is that enough? Maybe? Probably? It's pretty hard to project what free agents are going to sign for this summer, but let's guess a little bit.

While some people think Austin Rivers may reach into double digits, I think an $8 million salary is probably more realistic. Jeff? Who knows. The league has kinda realized he's never going to hit his potential, but Kent Bazemore might get $15 million this summer. Let's go with something like $12 million (which could go up to 15 million). And then there's Jamal, who will likely want to get paid this summer. I would probably say he gets paid somewhere between $5-8 million, similar to the contract J.R. Smith got this summer. So with Austin at $8 million, Jeff at $12 million, and Jamal at $7 million, that's $27 of the $27,985,968 million available. That also puts the roster at 14.

That leaves the Clippers with $985,968 of wiggle room for the entire rest of the year. That means they can barely add a 15th man as the season goes on. That means that they can't really take back any salary in a mid-season trade like they did with Jeff Green for Lance this year. That means that IF they were to do a trade with Blake for different pieces, they couldn't take back a lot of larger contracts; Blake for Melo and pieces wouldn't work under this scenario. Being this close to the apron just really really limits the flexibility and options that a team has at it's disposal (and can make them do dumb things ala the Dudley trade).

If the Clippers really want to get the band back together by bringing Cole Aldrich back for the MLE (he may be too expensive), and Wes or Luc or a similar type player back for the BAE, and resign Jamal, Jeff, and Austin for the above projected amounts they can do it, but it's going to be really really tight. Is bringing everyone back an upgrade? There aren't many options otherwise.

In summary, the Clippers don't have the flexibility to create any substantial amount of cap room. But if they use their available tools, they're going to end up very very close to the apron and lose almost all of their flexibility. Barring any major trades the Clippers are in cap hell without many options. HAGS.