Who can blame Doc Rivers for wanting a quieter summer this year?
Last summer, the Clippers lost their starting center DeAndre Jordan to a verbal agreement with the Dallas Mavericks, and it sent them scrambling towards sub-par alternate options: Amar'e Stoudemire and JaVale McGee, among others. Then, days later, Jordan re-opened talks with the Clippers and they pounced, sending Chris Paul, J.J. Redick, Paul Pierce, Blake Griffin, Doc Rivers, and Steve Ballmer to Jordan's house in Houston to make sure they brought the big man back. In one of the most riveting free agency dramas in the history of sports, it worked, and Jordan not only returned to the Clippers but won the All-NBA First Team selection at center. He'll now be the only Clipper representing the team at the Olympics, as Chris Paul and Blake Griffin nurse their respective injuries.
Even aside from that chaos, the Clippers had an unusually busy off-season: they traded starting small forward Matt Barnes and Spencer Hawes for Lance Stephenson, they traded into the draft to choose Branden Dawson, they signed Paul Pierce with their taxpayer mid-level exception and added Pablo Prigioni, Wes Johnson, Luc Mbah a Moute, Josh Smith, and Cole Aldrich at the league minimum. Newcomers made up over half of LAC's roster and played a total of almost 8,000 minutes.
The Clippers did their due diligence this summer--they sniffed around Kevin Durant--but ultimately Doc's plan was always to bring back as much of the core as possible, and that's just what he ended up doing. Here are all of the details for the Clippers' new contracts this summer:
Jamal Crawford was signed using bird rights:
*Crawford's 2018-2019 season only has $3,000,000 guaranteed.
Austin Rivers was signed using bird rights:
*Rivers has a player option for 2018-2019.
Wesley Johnson was signed using the non-taxpayer mid-level exception:
*Johnson has a player option for 2018-2019.
Luc Richard Mbah a Moute was signed using the bi-annual exception:
*Mbah a Moute has a player option for 2017-2018.
Brice Johnson was signed to the full 120% of his rookie cap scale:
*The Clippers have a team option for the 2018-2019 season. For a rookie scale option, the team must make a decision by October 31st, 2017.
**The Clippers have a team option for the 2019-2020 season. For a rookie scale option, the team must make a decision by October 31st, 2018.
***Brice Johnson will be eligible for restricted free agency if the Clippers tender a one-year, $3,673,564 qualifying offer in the summer of 2020.
Marreese Speights was signed using the minimum salary exception:
*Speights has a player option for the 2017-2018 season.
With those signings in the books, the Clippers' depth chart is finally starting to take shape with 12 guaranteed contracts:
|Point Guard||Chris Paul||Austin Rivers|
|Shooting Guard||J.J. Redick||Jamal Crawford||C.J. Wilcox|
|Small Forward||Luc Mbah a Moute||Wesley Johnson|
|Power Forward||Blake Griffin||Brice Johnson||Paul Pierce|
|Center||DeAndre Jordan||Marreese Speights|
The Clippers other three pieces are Branden Dawson's non-guaranteed salary and the draft rights to second-round picks David Michineau and Diamond Stone. Dawson is scheduled to make $874,636 in 2016-2017, but none of that money is guaranteed if the Clippers decide to part ways with the young forward. Michineau and Stone are both unsigned but they will likely have a chance to fight for a spot in training camp. Doc Rivers has said that he expects both players to be on the roster next season.
If the Clippers were to end up signing Michineau and/or Stone and then cutting them, they would lose their exclusive rights over the prospects, allowing them to sign with any team. As long as Michineau and Stone are unsigned, the Clippers own their draft rights indefinitely. In this sense, it makes sense to wait and not sign these prospects until the rest of free agency shakes out.
As far as any potential additional moves go, the Clippers could clearly use help at point guard and on the wing. They're probably fine down low, with four solid big options, and the SG tandem of Redick and Crawford has been strong for years. With Austin Rivers as the backup point guard, the Clippers could pursue a steady-hand style veteran to play spot minutes, like Pablo Prigioni did last season. On the wing, the Clippers lose the depth and versatility provided to them initially by Lance Stephenson, and then by Jeff Green after a mid-season trade. Another serviceable option would solidify the SF rotation, open the door for small-ball rotations with a wing at the power forward position, and hopefully minimize the usage of three-guard lineups.
By opening night, however, the Clippers will have to trim their roster down to 15. With the current players and picks, they're already at 15. If Paul Pierce retires, the Clippers get a free spot to add one veteran, and a second addition would require not carrying one of the young players. If Pierce plays another season, the Clippers would have to lose a young player for each veteran they wish to add.
The most vulnerable of these players is likely Branden Dawson, the second-year player from Michigan State. He was picked 56th in the 2015 draft after the Clippers bought the pick to select him. At 6'7", he has the size of a small forward but none of the skill, and the Clippers are rumored to not be especially pleased with his development. Dawson could fall victim to roster size limitations and the fresh faces taken in the early second round in the most recent draft.