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NBA Free Agency: Clippers “Still Engaged” With Luc Mbah a Moute

They may not have enough money to keep the defensive forward.

NBA: Playoffs-Utah Jazz at Los Angeles Clippers Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

According to Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN, the Clippers are still engaged in negotiations with Luc Mbah a Moute, who started at small forward the last two seasons:

In his second season with the Clippers, Mbah a Moute improved his offensive numbers from 3 to 6 points and 32.5% to 39.1% from three, all while providing elite defense across multiple positions.

Following the acquisition of Danilo Gallinari, the Clippers would not be able to offer Luc his starting role—instead, he’d compete for backup minutes with the likes of Sam Dekker and Brice Johnson. Mbah a Moute also declined a player option for $2.3 million, and a minimum-salary deal would only pay him $2.1 million next season.

The Clippers could pay Mbah a Moute more than the minimum using his early bird rights, but it would cost them in the luxury tax, especially with the potential long-term repeater tax penalties that would come with being a taxpayer team this season.

As currently constructed, L.A. can avoid the luxury tax by cutting the non-guaranteed deals of Kyle Wiltjer and DeAndre Liggins, and replacing them with two minimum-salary players, who would each carry cap hits of $815,615. Mbah a Moute would be one of these minimum slots, while the other would go to either Sindarius Thornwell or Jamil Wilson. This would leave them with 14 players and around $300,000 of wiggle room for 10-day contracts and/or a free agent during buyout season.

If they choose to pay the tax in order to keep Mbah a Moute, the Clippers can pay him, at most, about $6,300,000 this season—though this would leave them at the hard cap with 14 guaranteed contracts and almost no in-season flexibility. Luc’s early bird rights allow for a greater salary (closer to 8.5M) but the Clippers’ hard cap won’t allow for that unless they find a way to shed salary in a trade.

So, there are the Clippers’ options—dodge the tax by keeping Mbah a Moute for the minimum (or losing him because the minimum isn’t enough), or pay the tax to keep him. Woj’s note of the Clippers’ “financial limitations” implies the former. It’s likely that Mbah a Moute is waiting to see if he will get any above-minimum offers. If he doesn’t, he could return to the Clippers. If he does, it would be hard to blame him for taking some well-deserved money.

Should Mbah a Moute choose to move on, veteran options on the wing could include Arron Afflalo, Gerald Henderson, Mike Dunleavy, Jr., and Martell Webster. The team could also opt to simply keep Thornwell and Wilson and enter the season with a 14-man roster.