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NBA Trade Rumors: Clippers “Monitoring” Danilo Gallinari’s Availability in Denver

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Any time a starting-caliber forward is on the market, the Clippers have to be interested.

NBA: Denver Nuggets at Los Angeles Clippers Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

According to ESPN’s Marc Stein, the Clippers are among the teams carefully monitoring Danilo Gallinari’s availability in Denver. Gallinari, Stein reports, could decline his player option for $16.1 million next season, seeking a higher salary in free agency. The Nuggets, however, are unsure of making that large of an investment in a player that hasn’t taken them to a .500 record since Ty Lawson led the Nuggets in scoring in back-to-back post-season trips in 2012 and 2013.

If they decide to move Gallinari at the deadline, rather than losing him for nothing in free agency, the Clippers join the Raptors as the two teams Stein names in connection to the Italian forward.

Gallinari makes a ton of sense for the Clippers, who are continually looking for a two-way combo forward that can both start at small forward and slide over to power forward alongside DeAndre Jordan when Blake Griffin rests. Gallo is a strong scorer and high-volume three-point shooter, and he’s definitely a capable defender when engaged even if he isn’t at the same level as Luc Mbah a Moute. At 6’10”, he’s more than capable of playing power forward and has done so with regularity in his career. His rebounding numbers are nothing special (varying between 5.2 and 5.7 per 36 in the last five years), but DeAndre Jordan rebounds enough to cover for him.

The issues come off the court. I haven’t heard anything about Danilo causing locker room issues, but he seems to have an affinity for the training room (maybe that’s something over which he can bond with the Clippers’ current stars). After missing the entire 2013-14 season, Gallo has sat out 23 and 29 games in the two years since, and he’s currently out with an injured left groin. Even before that 2014 season, he’s been plagued by injuries throughout his career.

Gallinari’s current injury also complicates the short-term ramifications of such a trade. While the Clippers only have three games between the All-Star Break and the end of February, there’s no guarantee that Danilo will return by March 1st, and with Chris Paul already sidelined, the Clippers would be severely impacted by trading a rotation piece (or two) for an injured player.

The other big problem is Gallo’s contract status—the same reason the Nuggets might be looking to trade him. If he’s really going to decline that $16.1M player option, it means he’s looking for a new contract with a higher base salary. The Clippers already have to pay Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, and J.J. Redick this summer, causing the payroll (and luxury tax bill) to skyrocket. It isn’t exactly safe to offer $18 or $20 million for Gallinari, who will turn 29 this summer and likely ask for a 4 or 5-year deal that will carry the injury-plagued player well into his 30s.

Despite those caveats, Gallinari is undeniably worth monitoring. The question, when considering what he brings to the table—and the risks of acquiring him—is what would the Clippers give up?

The two obvious salary pieces that make sense are Austin Rivers and Jamal Crawford. Crawford makes enough to (barely) allow the Clippers to take back Gallinari’s current $15 million salary, while Rivers would require the inclusion of a couple million of additional salary from L.A. But do the Nuggets want either of those players?

Crawford’s contract, which has $14 million guaranteed next season, has proven difficult to move for the Clippers, and both he and Rivers play shooting guard, where the Nuggets are deep with young talent. With Will Barton, Gary Harris, Malik Beasley, and Jamal Murray already on the roster, it’s unclear what use Denver would have for either of the Clippers’ guards unless something else was at play—a separate trade where Denver moved a couple of guards, draft considerations from the Clippers, or a third team taking Rivers or Crawford and sending something to Denver.

It’s possible that the Nuggets would eat Crawford’s salary in exchange for a first-round pick, but it seems like they’d be able to do better for Gallinari than that return. I think the most likely scenario is that the Clippers would have to send Austin Rivers (along with Paul Pierce’s retiring salary) for Gallo, with Rivers ending up on a third team. That third team could send some combination of assets to the Nuggets.

Is it likely? No. It seems like a long-shot, especially since other teams are sure to be calling about the Italian forward.