Since the Clippers successfully shipped Blake Griffin’s hefty contract to Detroit around this time last year, the goal of the team’s front office has been clear: Shoot for the moon in the summer of 2019.
The decision to offload Griffin’s lengthy deal was a signal to some that the Clippers were ready to embrace a full-on rebuild. However, everything the team has done since then has shown that Steve Ballmer and co. have no plans to tank for lottery picks. If the Clippers happen to miss out on the playoffs this year, fine. If not, fine. Whatever happens this season will likely not impact how the team approaches the upcoming summer. Their goal is to get right back into the upper echelon of the league as quickly as possible, and all indications are that they’re going to be aggressive players in free agency.
The Clippers will have the ability to sign two players to max contracts once the calendar flips to July. Whether two max guys want to come to L.A. to play for the Clippers remains to be seen. Still, you can bank on LAC sniffing around on the likes of Kawhi Leonard, Kevin Durant and the like. They might even be the favorites to sign one of these guys at some point.
While the big dogs will garner all of the attention, there is quite a bit of depth in the upcoming free agent class. Obviously, it’s no guarantee that the Clippers get the guys at the top of their wish list. Who are some quality lesser-known options the Clippers should consider?
You may remember Noah Vonleh as the guy with freakishly big hands from the 2014 draft class. The Hornets nabbed him with the No. 9 overall pick that year before unceremoniously shipping him to Portland in the Nicolas Batum deal after his rookie campaign. Vonleh spent two-and-a-half anonymous seasons with the Blazers before being dealt to the Bulls to finish out last season. The Knicks plucked him off the free agency wire this past summer on a one-year deal worth the minimum.
If you haven’t watched much Knicks basketball this season, I can’t blame you. One of the few bright spots amid the gross 9-29 start, though, has been Vonleh. The former Indiana Hoosier has gotten some actual playing time for New York with Kristaps Porzingis sidelined, and he has taken some massive strides in the process.
Since starting the season on the fringes of David Fizdale’s rotation, Vonleh has become a regular cog as the team’s starting power forward. Fizdale’s rotations have been insanely inconsistent all season, so it’s tough to be impressed by Vonleh’s modest averages of 8.6 points and 8.7 rebounds per game. He has battled the occasional foul trouble, and Fizdale has seemingly been shuffling guys in and out at random all year long.
Vonleh’s physical attributes have never been an issue. He’s 6’9” with bulk on his frame and a wingspan of nearly 7’5”. He definitely looks the part. This season, the 23-year-old has impressed as a guy willing to do the dirty work. Vonleh has the length and strength to guard bigs along with enough horizontal quickness to hang with swingmen on the perimeter. Offensively, he has shown polish around the rim with legitimate range out to the three-point line, from where he’s shooting 39.7% so far this season. He’s athletic enough to give you a boost on the boards, too.
Giannis Antetokounmpo is basically impossible to guard, but Vonleh held his own against the Greek Freak in a couple of recent matchups. Get a look at Vonleh’s insane recovery athleticism here. Giannis beats him to the rim, yet Vonleh is quick enough to get off his feet and rise up to swat him at the rim. There are very few players in the game capable of making that play.
Here’s another similar play in the very next game. Rather than just hacking Giannis as he rumbles toward the rim, Vonleh absorbs the contact and has enough verticality to get up and swat him away. Again, Giannis just doesn’t get blocked on these plays, yet Vonleh was up to the task.
The Knicks would be silly to let Vonleh get away as a free agent this summer considering he looks like a guy that would serve as a perfect complement to Porzingis. I don’t necessarily think he’s a guy that would single-handedly cure the Clippers’ rim protection woes, but he has shown enough this season to where I think he’d be an incredibly shrewd addition that may not come at a crippling cost.
The Clippers have been down this road before. LAC reportedly met with Kentavious Caldwell-Pope when he was an unrestricted free agent last summer before KCP eventually just decided to return to the Lakers on a one-year deal.
Caldwell-Pope’s playing time has predictably been slashed in his second campaign with the Lakers. After averaging better than 33 minutes per game a year ago, KCP is playing just 22.8 minutes a night thus far this season. His long-term role with the Lakers isn’t exactly secure. The team is already prioritizing the younger Brandon Ingram and Josh Hart ahead of him on the depth chart. KCP’s role could obviously elevate if one or both of those guys is traded at some point, but for now Caldwell-Pope is pretty low on the totem pole.
His stock has dipped since he signed a one-year deal worth $18 million with the Lakers in the summer of 2017, but it’s easy to forget that he’s still only 25. KCP showed strong 3-and-D tendencies during his first few years with the Pistons, which is how he was able to work his way into that aforementioned lucrative deal with L.A.
With so many players set to hit free agency this summer, KCP is almost surely going to go overlooked again. He’s still a capable defender capable of stretching the floor. Obviously, guys like that are in high demand these days.
KCP’s position could complicate matters for the Clippers. As we know, they have no shortage of guards. That said, that may not be the case heading into next season. Patrick Beverley will also be a free agent, while fan favorite Avery Bradley has a team option. Lou Williams also comes with a very movable $8 million salary for next season. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander isn’t going anywhere, but there could be some guard minutes up for grabs for LAC in 2019-20.
Caldwell-Pope is on the books for $12 million this season, and there isn’t much reason to believe (at this point, anyway) that he’ll be in line for much of a raise once he hits the open market again this July. You can never have enough worker bee types on the wing, and the Clippers would do well to arrange another meeting with KCP again this summer.
I’m a card-carrying member of the Bogdan Bogdanovic Fan Club, but let’s not forget about his somehow-not-related NBA cohort, Bojan. Bojan Bogdanovic may well be the most underrated player on the league’s most underrated team these days. The 29-year-old is quietly in the midst of a career year for the under-appreciated Pacers, and he’s set to hit the market as an unrestricted free agent this summer.
Bogdanovic is connecting on 45.7% of his three-pointers this season, which certainly jumps off the page. That’s good for the sixth-best mark in the league, a hair behind local hero Danilo Gallinari. He’s never going to be an offensive focal point, but he’s surprisingly nimble off the dribble with the ability to finish a number of different ways around the basket.
He’s not overly quick defensively, but he can move his feet enough to where he can at least hold his own against fellow wings. Bogdanovic is at least passable defensively when forced into post situations, as well.
He’s just a quality player, and the type of contributor that every contender would love to have. That sounds cliché, but the Pacers wouldn’t be 13 games north of .500 and hovering around the top of the Eastern Conference if Bogdanovic were replaced by a league-average player.
Bogdanovic would be a more-than-suitable replacement if Gallinari were to get traded before the start of next season. If the Clippers happen to strike out on some of the bigger names, they could do worse than looking toward a quality rotation piece like Bogdanovic.