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Lowe: Avery Bradley’s Deal Only Partially Guaranteed in Year 2

It seems as though our collective hunch was right.

NBA: Los Angeles Clippers at Boston Celtics earDavid Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

According to Zach Lowe of ESPN, the second year of Avery Bradley’s reported 2-year, $25 million contract with the Clippers is only partially guaranteed. We don’t know the exact terms of Bradley’s new contract, but with Lowe reporting that a total of $14 million is guaranteed, we can finally take a decent stab at guessing.

My immediate reaction to the reported two-year deal was a hunch that this would be the case—but with the details unconfirmed, I was driving myself a little crazy worrying that it could be fully guaranteed for both seasons. Thankfully, it took Lowe less than 24 hours to track down the partial guarantee and share it with us.

Because of NBA rules that limit raises (or decreases) in bird rights contracts to 8%, the Clippers and Bradley have a narrow range across which the $25 million in this deal can be distributed. The contract can start at $12 million and be raised to $12.96 million in year two (essentially totaling $25 million), in which case $2 million of the second-year salary would be guaranteed to meet the reported $14 million total. Or, the Clippers may have shrewdly decided to do the reverse, paying Bradley $13 million in year 1 and $11.96 million in year two, making the final season only $1 million guaranteed. That would even further mitigate the downside of adding a partial guarantee. A third option would be a flat contract at $12.5 million in each season, in which case $1.5 million would be guaranteed in year 2. Those terms remain to be seen, as well as what Bradley’s guarantee date is on the second year of his contract. If his deal becomes guaranteed before free agency, the Clippers would need to make a decision blind ahead of free agency, but if his guarantee date is in mid-July, LAC could choose to hang out to Bradley until they were certain they had a better use for that money.

A couple days ago, I wrote about some of the Clippers’ different options with Bradley’s bird rights, including this section on re-signing him to a short-term deal:

Bradley’s bird rights allow the team to re-sign him to a mutually agreeable contract in addition to using their mid-level exception and bi-annual exception on outside free agents at positions of need. That means that the real opportunity cost here isn’t financial, it’s in terms of minutes and roster spots. We’re assuming that Patrick Beverley and Lou Williams will be back in major roles next season, so keeping Avery around will make all of the Clippers’ young guards compete for one rotation spot, basically meaning that only one of Gilgeous-Alexander and Robinson will be able to earn minutes. It also makes it incredibly unlikely that all three of Jawun Evans, Sindarius Thornwell, and Tyrone Wallace will be able to be on the roster next season—the team can carry 7 guards if they have to, but carrying eight would make for an irresponsibly unbalanced roster. For those reasons, I don’t expect the Clippers to keep Avery around on the sizable multi-year deal that he’s going to want. But, if he doesn’t find that kind of contract elsewhere, he could very well end up stuck with only mid-level exception offers. The Clippers can beat that on a one-year deal where Bradley can rebuild his value for next summer’s free agency. If he plays well, he’ll have positive trade value at the deadline, and if he doesn’t, he can come off the books next summer.

The upsides and downsides of this deal remain the same—although the more team-friendly Bradley’s contract is (guarantee amount and guarantee date), the better. The partial guarantee on the second season essentially functions as a team option, which adds a lot of value for any team acquiring Bradley in a trade—he is neither a half-season rental nor someone they have to make a multi-year commitment to. The Clippers were able to use Bradley’s bird rights to beat out the MLE offers he was getting from other teams, and negotiate a higher salary in exchange for the team-friendly partial guarantee in year 2. Bradley is likely going to be the team’s starter at shooting guard, which is a helpful talent boost to have if the Clippers are able to land Kawhi Leonard via trade this off-season.

There’s some downside to the move, though. Generally speaking, the minor guaranteed money next summer is negligible. While every small bit of money adds up, especially when the Clippers are trying to potentially open two max salary slots, between $1-2M of dead money on Avery Bradley will almost certainly never impact the Clippers’ free agency plans. For a price tag that small, even if no team wants Avery on their roster, the Clippers will easily be able to send Bradley’s contract to be waived by a team with cap room along with cash to cover the guaranteed portion of his salary and a second-round pick for eating that money as a cap hit. So the worst-case cost of this deal is that the Clippers have to send out a cash and a second-round pick next summer, and only if they fail to move Bradley at the deadline and are lucky enough to lure the kind of free agents that would require opening two max salary slots next summer.

However, Bradley has downside in some other areas. The Clippers now have three entrenched veteran guards in Bradley, starting point guard Patrick Beverley, and reigning sixth man of the year Lou Williams. That leaves limited minutes available for guard prospects like Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Jerome Robinson, Tyrone Wallace, Jawun Evans, and Sindarius Thornwell. Not only does it deprive those players a chance to develop in games, but Bradley’s presence also likely makes the Clippers better, hurting their chances in the NBA Draft Lottery. Even if they are able to trade Avery to a playoff team at the deadline for a late first-round pick, will it be worth the potential hit at their own selection? It’s impossible to quantify, but the combination of the Clippers’ decisions to prioritize Bradley, Mike Scott (30 years old), and Marcin Gortat (34 years old) this summer seems likely to make the team win at least a few more games than they would have with younger, high-upside players.

Ultimately, we’ll have to wait and see what comes next to determine if this deal ends up being successful. Do the Clippers land Kawhi? How well does Bradley play? What return, if any, does the team get at the deadline? Is he a part of the team’s plans for 2019-20? All of these major questions will be answered in due time, but for now we can rest easy knowing that the potential impact on next summer’s cap space is mitigated.