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NBA Off-Season 2017: Here’s Where the Clippers Stand With Their Own Free Agents

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With limited spending capacity, the Clippers will have to take advantage of any opportunity to offer their own players above-minimum deals.

San Antonio Spurs v Los Angeles Clippers Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

The Clippers have a hell of a summer in front of them. Obviously, their primary focus will be the big fish—Chris Paul and Blake Griffin are both free agents who will demand maximum salaries. If they are successful in retaining both of those stars, the rest of the summer will likely revolve around the team’s pursuit of Carmelo Anthony in a trade with the New York Knicks.

Once the big issues are settled—and whether those stars end up as Clippers or not—Doc Rivers and his front office staff will have to be prepared to round out the roster. Part of the trouble behind figuring out this Clippers off-season is determining what pieces they’ll need, and what tools they’ll have—it could be a wide-open roster around Austin Rivers, Jamal Crawford, and DeAndre Jordan, or it could be a capped-out team signing minimum-salaried players around Paul, Anthony, Griffin, and Jordan.

If the Clippers lose out on their stars and end up with open cap room, the equation changes significantly, but assuming that they stay above the cap, they’ll be left with extremely limited tools to sign outside free agents—just the Mid-Level Exception and minimum-salary contracts. This lack of options makes retaining their own free agents crucial wherever it is possible. Unfortunately, their options on this front might be limited this season. A team’s ability to exceed the salary cap in order to retain their own free agents is determined by when the player last changed teams as a free agent (meaning his rights can be transferred via trade, or retained by re-signing with his prior team, but are lost when he signs with a new team):

  • Bird Rights apply to players who have gone 3 or more years without changing teams via free agency. A team can give a bird rights player any contract up to the maximum bird salary, and offer 8% raises and a 5th year that other teams cannot offer him.
  • Early bird rights apply to players who have gone 2 years without changing teams via free agency. A team can give an early bird player a raise of 175% of their previous salary, or 105% of the league average salary, whichever is greater. These contracts must run for at least 2 seasons.
  • Non bird rights apply to players who have only gone 1 year without changing teams via free agency. His team may offer him 120% of his previous salary to return, or 120% of the current minimum salary, whichever is greater.

Bird Rights

Chris Paul and Blake Griffin

The Clippers have bird rights on Paul and Griffin, their two superstars. This gives them a sizable advantage in offering more money than other suitors. For an in-depth look, check out this article on their max contract options.

J.J. Redick

The more interesting case comes with J.J. Redick’s bird rights. Paul and Griffin are obviously worth the max contracts that the Clippers, and any other interested teams, will offer them. Redick, however, will present a different dilemma—other teams will come calling, possibly offering up to $20 million a year, and the Clippers will have the ability to match by using his bird rights. The debate is whether or not they should.

Redick slowed down offensively last season, and his weaknesses an an undersized, unathletic shooting guard were more glaring on both ends of the floor. His especially dismal post-season has called into question whether a long-term contract with a massive salary is the proper move for the Clippers, especially as they seek improved defense and ball-handling from the shooting guard position.

Still, it’s a tough situation for the Clippers, similar to the decision to pony up serious cash for Jamal Crawford last summer. The Redick contract is likely to hurt in two years, when he’s 35 years old and entering the final year of this deal, but at the same time, the Clippers’ limited tools mean that they’d be stuck replacing this roster spot with a minimum deal.

Early Bird Rights

Luc Mbah a Moute

The only Clippers player eligible for early bird rights this season is Luc Mbah a Moute, who will opt out of his $2.3 million player option to become an unrestricted free agent this July. The Clippers can offer Luc 175% of his previous contract, or 105% of the league average salary. As it so happens, Luc’s low salary last season means that 105% of the league average salary is significantly higher in this case—about a $7.8 million starting salary, with 8% annual raises.

The maximum contract for Luc in this situation would be about 3 years, $25 million, or 4 years, $35 million. The Clippers could attempt to negotiate a lower rate for Luc’s services—possibly something around 3 years, $18 million—but it’s unclear what the market will be for the 30-year-old defensive forward with spotty starting-lineup credentials.

Non-Bird Rights

Raymond Felton, Marreese Speights, Brandon Bass, and Alan Anderson

These players have only been with the Clippers for one season, making them eligible for only 120% of last year’s salary or 120% of the current minimum salary. Due to the new Collective Bargaining Agreement’s substantial increase in minimum contract salaries, the latter is the better offer.

For a player like Mo Speights, this advantage doesn’t matter. His minimum salary for 2017-18 is $2,116,955—the same amount as the player option which he is declining. Sure, a 20% bump would be nice (the Clippers can offer him $2,540,346), but the extra $425k isn’t going to be enough for a player that is likely to demand between 6 and 8 million on the open market. The Clippers will need to use their mid-level exception if they wish to retain Speights, and even the taxpayer mid-level ($5.2 million) might not be enough.

For Alan Anderson, it doesn’t make a big difference either. He’s unlikely to receive any above-minimum offers, and he might not even get another opportunity to play in the NBA following a couple disappointing and injury-plagued years.

But for Raymond Felton and Brandon Bass—two veterans who have utility but aren’t going to get serious above-min offers on the open market—this is a decent advantage for the Clippers. For both Felton and Bass, who each have double-digit years of NBA experience, the veteran’s minimum for next season will pay $2,328,652. The Clippers can offer them 120% of that, up to $2,794,382, an increase of $465,730, which is notable.

I’ve heard from a few different fans that they think Felton isn’t likely to sign for the minimum, because they think he’ll get offers in the $2.5 million to $3 million range. In this case, the increased minimum salary offers the Clippers, a team with no cap, an advantage over last season, when they could not compete with offers of that caliber.