According to the New York Times’ Marc Stein, the L.A. Clippers are exploring the possibility of signing both Jimmy Butler and Kawhi Leonard in free agency. The free agency period opens tomorrow at 6 PM Eastern time.
The Clippers are exploring the feasibility of signing both Kawhi Leonard and Jimmy Butler in free agency, @NYTSports has learned— Marc Stein (@TheSteinLine) June 30, 2019
Butler and Leonard are both maximum-salary players who would have identical contracts starting at $32.7M and totaling nearly $141M over four years. The Clippers have reportedly been uneasy with a maximum-salary deal for Butler, but such a contract looks significantly better next to Leonard than with Butler as a solo star.
In order to clear enough salary-cap space for both free agents, the Clippers would have to move Danilo Gallinari’s one-year, $22.6M deal. According to Dan Woike of the LA Times, there are already several teams interested in Gallinari should the Clippers need to move on:
My understanding, re Gallo, was that the Clippers have already heard from teams willing to take him on. https://t.co/4fIC1HIHB9— Dan Woike (@DanWoikeSports) June 29, 2019
Remember that while the Clippers would have little leverage in a Gallinari trade, he is still likely to be in high demand around the league. As a veteran scorer, Gallo just had the best season of his career and is on an affordable one-year deal during a high-spending summer where smart teams will look to avoid giving out contracts that they’ll end up regretting.
One possible Gallinari landing spot (among many) could be to Philadelphia in a scenario where Butler was signed-and-traded to the Clippers. Philadelphia has been rumored to be interested in sign-and-trade deals for Butler if they lose him, as they prefer to get something back rather than have him walk away for nothing. Gallo is a very good player who can step in and space the floor for the Sixers without impacting their cap sheet long-term. In order for the trade to be legal, Jerome Robinson would also have to be traded to a third team.
The advantage to a Gallinari and Robinson for Butler swap, from the Clippers perspective, has to do with salary cap space. If the Clippers trade Gallinari for nothing and then sign Leonard and Butler outright, they will have a maximum of about $12M in cap space to go pursue a power forward to replace Gallinari. However, if they use their cap space first and then take advantage of the league’s salary-matching rules to exceed the cap in the Butler trade, the Clippers could potentially sign Leonard and have around $22M (that’s Al Horford money) to use filling out their roster before executing the Butler trade.
While pairing Leonard with Kevin Durant seems like the Clippers’ Plan A (and for obvious reasons), a Leonard-Butler backup plan is one hell of a consolation prize. Especially with Durant set to miss the 2019-2020 season, a Butler move better positions the Clippers to contend for a championship immediately.