Tampering season arrived in full this year. While several deals were agreed upon in the days leading up to the start of free agency today, it seemed like a dozen signings were announced almost as soon as the clock hit 6:00 PM Eastern. As the smoke clears around seven hours later, nearly every big free agent is off the board. For the Clippers, potential running-mates for Kawhi Leonard are nearly all gone: Kevin Durant, Kemba Walker, Kyrie Irving, Al Horford, Harrison Barnes, and Tobias Harris are signing, and Jimmy Butler’s deal to the Heat seems like it will find a way to happen. What else is left?
Interestingly, two of the Clippers’ own free agents, Pat Beverley and JaMychal Green, who seemed sure to be snatched up somewhere else, are still available. And now they are two of the top guys left on the market, with not a ton of money available. Neither are game-changers that might draw in Kawhi Leonard, but at this point, if Kawhi is still considering the Clippers, it’s for his belief in their organization, culture, and long-term future, not their ability to win a championship next year. Along Kawhi-related lines, longtime teammate Danny Green also remains a free agent, and his decision is apparently going to be tied to Kawhi’s. If the Clippers can land Kawhi and Danny Green, and bring back one of Beverley or Green, they should still be in very good shape for the 2019-2020 season.
If they don’t get Kawhi and Danny... there’s not much left outside their own guys. The two biggest free agents left on the board would be DeMarcus Cousins and Marcus Morris, both of whom have been tied to the Clippers, and could theoretically slot in at the vacant starting small forward and center positions (though Morris is more of a power forward now). However, both guys are presumably looking for longterm deals, especially Morris, and it wouldn’t make a ton of sense for the Clippers to give one to either. On the other hand, with so much money and so many teams gone already, perhaps Morris and Cousins would settle for shorter deals to hit free agency again in 2020 or 2021.
After those guys, the Clippers free agents like Beverley, JaMychal, Ivica Zubac, and Rodney McGruder are some of the best players available (check out the full list here). Therefore, if the Clippers miss out (or don’t want) any of the top handful of unrestricted free agents, they could either run it back, or try to pay for some of the restricted players and hope their teams don’t match (Kelly Oubre, Tomas Satoransky, Maxi Kleber). The teams with big restricted free agents still have room and aren’t pressed for roster spots, so it seems unlikely the Clippers could force a rejection. It’s at least worth a shot, though.
Really, it all comes down to Kawhi. If Leonard goes to the Lakers, or returns to the Raptors, the Clippers seem likely to run their squad back. Unfortunately, if Leonard takes too long to decide, Beverley and JaMychal could be gone as well, and the Clippers would really be in a lurch. There’s also the lurking possibility that Jimmy Butler could still be available, but it’s tough to count on him when he already declared that he wanted to be a member of the Heat. If the Clippers miss out on everyone... well, they will have a lot of cap space, and will need to spend it on someone. It’s unclear who that someone(s) would be, but maybe the Clippers pull off a big trade. Right now, the future is murky.