Tyrone Wallace has earned a spot on the Clippers’ 15-man roster.
After signing his two-way contract with the L.A. Clippers and their NBA G-League affiliate, the Agua Caliente Clippers of Ontario, in early January, Ty was eligible to spend 25 days of the season on the Clippers’ NBA roster. He’s used all of them, making 21 appearances, starting 12 games, and averaging 10.1 points, 3.4 rebounds, and 2.5 assists in 27.7 minutes per game. He’s impacted games on the defensive end by guarding three positions, using his 6’6” frame and 6’10” wingspan. In transition, he’s been a phenom, sparking the Clippers’ attack and employing that same athleticism.
At 23 years old and in his first NBA season, whether or not Tyrone Wallace deserves to remain with the Clippers is beyond doubt—the real question is if it will be on a rest-of-season deal, or a multi-year deal.
When a player on a two-way contract reaches the end of his allowed days with the NBA club, the team maintains control over the player. Ty is not a free agent and cannot negotiate with any other teams right now. The Clippers are 100% in control of the situation, and they control whether or not Ty will play again this season (he is technically allowed to join the team after the G-League season ends without his deal being converted, but he would not be playoff eligible). To the best of my knowledge, they have four options:
- Convert Ty to a rest-of-season minimum-salary deal, as allowed under the two-way contract. Ty would then be a restricted free agent this summer.
- Use their exclusive negotiating rights with Ty to sign a multi-year deal, bypassing free agency this summer.
- Leave Ty in the G-League for the rest of the season. Ty would then be a restricted free agent this summer.
- Waive Ty, making him a free agent. He’d be able to sign with another team to get playing time for the rest of the season, but the Clippers would lose the long-term control that comes with restricted free agency.
So, while option 4 is technically an option, it clearly isn’t a practical one. It’s the only of the four where the Clippers willingly cede long-term control over an exciting prospect. Meanwhile, option 3 involves Ty not playing again for the Clippers this year, which is clearly less than ideal (it’s still fine, because they have control over him this summer, but they maintain long-term control with options 1 and 2 as well, making option 3 clearly inferior).
It comes down to options 1 and 2—what’s better: converting Ty to a rest-of-season min deal, and then dealing with the uncertainty of his restricted free agency this summer, or locking him up to a multi-year deal now? The Clippers also have autonomy when deciding whether or not to convert Ty’s deal, while signing a new deal would require negotiating a mutually agreeable deal. It looks like the team, at least for now, has chosen to pursue the second option.
Whether that’s good for the team depends, of course, entirely on what the multi-year deal looks like. According to Tomer Azarly, the Clippers offered Wallace a four-year, non-guaranteed, minimum-salary deal. This is, quite literally, the worst contract that the Clippers could have offered. It’s as simple as this: the rest-of-season salary for this year, the first of four, is fully guaranteed, as mandated by league rules. But, for the final three seasons of the deal, they reportedly offered both the lowest salary possible (the veteran’s minimum) and the lowest salary protection possible ($0 guaranteed). And, to clarify, even the amount of years is a negative—each additional year is another year where the Clippers can let Ty go for nothing if he isn’t playing well, but where he can’t seek a better deal in free agency if he is playing well. He’d be, at best, locked into making the minimum for his age 24, 25, and 26 seasons.
So, it’s not surprising that Ty’s camp didn’t take this deal. I’m also not ready to be super critical of the Clippers for offering it (at least until we know more). It’s really hard to gauge what fair value is in the NBA these days, especially with the two most inflated free agency markets in NBA history coming in the last two years, but much tighter pockets on the horizon this July. And, of course, it’s always hard to handle the risk of a player like Ty, who has only played 21 games at the NBA level. You want to keep a 23-year-old, talented guy in the system long-term, but are you willing to commit long-term guaranteed money to a guy with such a short track record? From the player’s perspective, opportunities to play in the NBA are few and far between (Ty was in the G-League all of the 2016-17 season without a call-up), and the $500,000 in guaranteed rest-of-season salary (the remainder of the Clippers’ pro-rated mid-level exception, which would be used to offer a four-year deal) is significantly more than the roughly $175,000 Ty would receive if his contract was converted. But locking yourself in to a long-term, cheap deal could end up costing you millions of dollars in the long run.
That’s what makes these negotiations difficult. Based on what we know, I feel safe drawing a few tentative conclusions. The first is that the Clippers want Tyrone long-term. If they just felt like they needed him for the next month, they would convert him and worry about the rest later. That they are pursuing a long-term deal shows they like him as a prospect. The second is that I feel like neither camp really knows the market for Ty. I don’t think the Clippers came in this low because they felt like it was a fair offer—I’d guess that they just wanted to get the ball rolling in negotiations, and didn’t know where to start, so they went as low as possible. It wouldn’t surprise me if Ty’s representatives didn’t even counter the Clippers’ offer in an attempt to draw a better deal out of the team.
Meanwhile, as the negotiations play out, the Clippers are without an important rotation player—and they’ve felt Ty’s absence in recent games. It hasn’t cost the Clippers a game yet (I’m not buying an argument that Ty puts them over the top against the Rockets), but the longer this drags out, the more likely it is that the team’s playoff push will be adversely affected by his absence.
A fully-guaranteed minimum deal for next season might be attractive to Wallace’s camp, but frankly, it’s easy to reason that Wallace wouldn’t be interested in a multi-year deal at all. Why lock himself in at the minimum for next season if he feels that he can get more in free agency this summer? The $375k difference in salary this season is notable, but Ty’s minimum salary for next season will be in the $1.4 million range. If someone even offered him a one-year/$2 million deal, it would be worth passing up on the Clippers’ deal—and that’s if the Clippers adjusted their offer to make next season fully guaranteed and dropped the final two non-guaranteed years.
With that being the case, the Clippers absolutely need to go back to option 1—converting his rest-of-season deal. The team doesn’t need to negotiate with Ty in order to convert his deal. The front office has unilateral control. They could file the paperwork today and it would be a done deal. Ty would get around $175,000 for the final few weeks of the season, the Clippers would get an important player back on the court, and the franchise would control Ty’s future in restricted free agency this summer.
It isn’t the ideal, dream scenario that a long-term, bargain contract would be. But it’s practical, easy, and mutually beneficial. I understand the decision to chase a long-term, team-friendly deal. But it would be really embarrassing for the front office to force the team, in the middle of one of the most heated playoff races in recent memory, to go without one of their more valuable pieces for the rest of the season just because of stubborn contract negotiations. That’s only exacerbated by the fact that the long-term situation is the same whether they convert him or leave him in the G-League: he’ll be eligible to be a restricted free agent in July either way.