Late Monday night, news broke of the Clippers’ attempt to swing a sign-and-trade deal for veteran forward Danilo Gallinari. While the trade isn’t finalized yet, it’s highly likely that Gallinari will join the Clippers as one of their biggest free agent acquisitions ever. With Gallo in the fold, and Blake Griffin returning, how do the Clippers’ smaller pieces fit around their two newly-signed forwards?
Well, the Clippers presently sit with $110,282,592 committed to ten players. They need to carry at least 13 on the roster, and the luxury tax line is just above $119 million. Acquiring Gallinari in a sign-and-trade deal also hard caps the Clippers at just above $125 million.
Their present lineup looks like this:
PG: Patrick Beverley
SG: Austin Rivers, Lou Williams
SF: Danilo Gallinari, Sam Dekker, Wesley Johnson
PF: Blake Griffin, Brice Johnson
C: DeAndre Jordan, Montrezl Harrell
The tools are as follows:
Mid-level exception: $8.4 million
TPE for $7.27M
Early bird rights on Luc Mbah a Moute (up to $8 million)
Non-bird rights on Raymond Felton, Alan Anderson, Brandon Bass, and Marreese Speights (up to $2.8 million)
With just $15 million to navigate under the hard cap, the Clippers will find it impossible to both utilize their mid-level exception and take advantage of their trade exception while remaining under the hard cap. This means that acquiring Cole Aldrich—and the first-round pick that Minnesota is offering along with him—is impossible unless the Clippers clear some cap room.
Fortunately, it’s probably possible to build a decent roster without taking advantage of all of those options. Simply using the MLE on one substantial free agent and then completing the roster with minimum players would take the Clippers into the luxury tax, but allow them to enter the season with a reasonable margin under the hard cap. If they wish to avoid the luxury tax, they can simply use a portion of the MLE—maybe offering a $6 million deal instead of the full $8.4.
While the Clippers could use a little depth on the wing and a veteran backup big man, their most obvious need is at backup point guard. Second-round pick Jawun Evans is likely to play in the D-League this season, and Patrick Beverley is sure to need help. The Clippers were interested in Darren Collison with their mid-level exception, but he agreed to a deal on Monday to take more money and a starting role with the Indiana Pacers. They’ve also been linked with Rajon Rondo in a predictable rumor: Doc Rivers reuniting with the point guard from his Boston Celtics championship team.
Some other options could include Tyler Ennis, a 23-year-old guard who provides more long-term upside than most unrestricted free agents, and a return for Raymond Felton, who was solid for the Clippers last season. Ennis would require a portion of the mid-level exception while Felton could return for a slightly-above-minimum deal using his free agent rights.
In my opinion, the most worthy mid-level target left on the market is C.J. Miles, a remarkably solid veteran wing who can play both the shooting guard and small forward positions. He’s a capable defender and a knock-down shooter who gives the Clippers valuable depth. While Miles would be a reliable option at small forward if (when?) Gallinari misses time with injury, his full-time role would likely be as backup shooting guard. This makes Lou Williams expendable, which is convenient because Williams is already the player on the Clippers roster that is the right combination of expendable and movable. At 30 years old with an expiring contract, he doesn’t figure to be a part of the Clippers’ long-term plans, but he’s still an effective player and that contract makes him attractive to other teams in need of short-term help. Kevin Pelton of ESPN suggested after the Chris Paul trade that Williams could fetch a valuable future early 2nd round pick—perhaps one of Brooklyn’s.
Moving Williams’ deal would also give the Clippers the wiggle room they need under the hard cap to also utilize their TPE to get Cole Aldrich. In short, the upgrade from Williams to Miles could, in addition to an improved team, also net the Clippers a first round pick, a second round pick, and a veteran center.
From there, the Clippers would simply need to fill out the roster. Felton, Rondo, Ennis or a handful of other point guard options are acceptable options at the minimum (you might even want to sign another point guard for the depth chart—veteran Beno Udrih?). Bass or Clipper target Zach Randolph are suitable veteran big men for depth. Beyond that, the team could pursue an additional combo forward to give them shooters in small-ball settings—assuming that we can safely say that Wesley Johnson isn’t that guy. Omri Casspi or Luke Babbit are viable targets in that scenario.
A finalized roster could look like this:
PG: Beverley, Felton, Udrih
SG: Rivers, Miles
SF: Gallinari, Dekker, Casspi, W. Johnson
PF: Griffin, Bass, B. Johnson
C: Jordan, Harrell, Aldrich
There’s your 15-man roster, budgeted safely within the hard cap so long as you sign Bass to the minimum (rather than his free agent rights). And if you’re worried about guard depth, remember that PG Jawun Evans and SG Sindarius Thornwell will likely be on two-way contracts with the Agua Caliente Clippers of Ontario, ready to step onto the real LAC roster for stretches of the season if there are injuries.
And next summer, the Clippers would have their own first-round pick as well as Oklahoma City’s, giving them the opportunity to add two rookies, package for a better selection, or use one or both as sweetener in a later trade.
That’s just one path they could go down in the next week. They could also keep Lou Williams, split the mid-level exception between better options at point guard and power forward, and forget about Aldrich altogether. Somehow, even after spending big on Gallo, the Clippers will complete this summer with more flexibility than they’ve had for entire off-seasons in recent years.
It’s not a bad spot to be in.