One of the nice surprises this season has been the play of Derrick Walton Jr. Signed to an Exhibit 10 deal after a strong showing in Summer League, Walton stuck on the Clippers roster after an equally competent preseason, earning the Clippers 15th roster spot on a non guaranteed minimum deal.
After sitting on the bench for all but four garbage time appearances in October and November, Doc Rivers turned to Walton as the Clippers’ injury issues mounted. Walton responded well, playing a solid, mistake-free brand of basketball mixed with some outside shooting (albeit on low volume), and legitimately helped the Clippers win a couple games. He’s played in all but three games since the start of December (though several of those appearances were quite brief) and has won over the affection of fans along the way. Therefore, his making it past the 5:00 PM ET deadline yesterday unscathed was well-deserved, a nice recognition for a player who has massively exceeded expectations this season.
That does not mean that Walton is a lock to remain on the roster for the rest of the year, however. The Clippers are making a push for the NBA championship, and have been rumored as potential participants in the trade market several times in recent weeks. While Walton himself is unlikely to be included in a deal due to his small contract and comparative lack of value, it’s possible he gets waived if the Clippers trade for or pick up a veteran point guard. If the Clippers do add a backup to Pat Beverley (or even a star like Jrue Holiday who would push Walton to the bench), Walton’s value as a steady backup would be diminished, and the Clippers could add a deep bench player at a weaker position. The other possibility is that the Clippers make a trade for multiple players and need to waive a player to make the deal work. In that case, due to his small deal and lack of guaranteed money in future seasons, Walton would be the most likely candidate to be waived. Such a deal is unlikely though, as the Clippers are more probable to send out more players than they receive in a trade this season.
However, at the moment, Derrick Walton Jr. has a guaranteed contract and is set to be a Clipper for the rest of the season. While he’s only appeared in 19 games, and is unlikely to play in many more if the Clippers can maintain reasonable health for the rest of the season, Walton is a nice player to have on the roster. If need be, the Clippers can throw him out there for a handful of minutes in a game, and Walton will get the offense into sets, play energetic defense, and hit open shots. Considering he’s the 15th player on the roster, Walton has already done more than what was expected of him this season. While it would be great if he wasn’t called upon to such an extent the remainder of the season, he has absolutely earned the opportunity to do so.