The Clippers had a little bit of uncertainty this offseason.
After putting together their most successful postseason campaign in franchise history, the Clippers had to deal with three of their top seven rotation players entering free agency. Although they were favorites to re-sign each of them, there was nevertheless a possibility that one or two could have been poached, which is what transpired with the coaching staff.
Instead, the team retained the entirety of its core. Not only did every player come back, but each made it seem like they didn’t entertain other options.
Those options certainly existed for Nicolas Batum, who was courted by the Warriors and Heat, among other teams. Not only did Batum waste no time in re-upping in Los Angeles — while in the middle of a gold-medal push, no less — he settled for a smaller contract than he could have gotten, showing a real commitment to what the Clippers are building.
“It was a pretty easy decision,” Batum said at the team’s media day. “When I played last year, to me, when I came in, I had no expectation about myself. Turned out pretty great, individually and collectively. So it was a pretty easy decision for me to come back. I know everything, I know everybody now, coaching staff. I’ve got more confidence about the new project. So all good, easy.”
Reggie Jackson had a similar experience in his free agency. He told reporters at media day that he considers L.A. home now; he didn’t even leave the city for a month and a half after the season was over, instead going to the Clippers practice facility every day to work out.
Jackson’s stock was pretty high after the playoff run he put together, and he could have had a larger role on another team. But being on this team, one that saved his career, and playing with his best friend Paul George meant more to him.
“I could make something up, but no, this was an easy decision for me,” Jackson told reporters. “Sat down with my brother, my agency, actually talked to this guy (George) a little bit figuring it out, what may be out there. But honestly, for the most part, I felt like a kid waiting on Christmas. Just hurry up and figure it out and get it done. Get the years out there, whatever it is, the numbers, my agency and front office. I was like, hurry up. Please figure it out.”
“Unless they didn’t want me here, I think I was going to be a Clipper,” Jackson added. “Even then, I was just going to bring my bags and sit on the front door and ask for anything. No, it was never really that much of a thought about me being elsewhere. It was please hurry up and figure it out, and let’s get this on the road. I couldn’t wait for this day, really for tomorrow to get back to it, but I couldn’t wait for this day to be back.”
Batum and Jackson’s decisions were an endorsement of the team’s culture. They chose to be Clippers again, and there weren’t any second thoughts. It made the franchise’s offseason objectives easy to accomplish. Not only was the front office able to retain the rotation, but they could also add younger talent (a.k.a. Justise Winslow) with the financial flexibility Batum afforded them by sacrificing a bigger contract.
“We wanted to bring back the core of the roster, and for Reggie and Nico both to want to be back, and that we were able to bring them back, again, it just validates a lot of the things that this entire organization, what we’re about, and the people involved,” Lawrence Frank said last week. “It was really, really gratifying to see that we can bring the core of the team back.”
Both of the veterans have chosen stability in their NBA careers: Batum played for Portland for seven seasons and then Charlotte for five, and Jackson spent four years in OKC before playing five more in Detroit. So maybe the Clippers were always overwhelming favorites to retain them because of inertia.
Then again, each player could have made a different choice and could have sent the Clippers’ entire offseason plans up in flames. Without Kawhi Leonard, this team isn’t a ready-made championship contender, and they could have found such an opportunity elsewhere.
Instead, Batum and Jackson are both running it back, giving the Clippers confidence both in what they did to retain them and in the team’s future potential with those two players still around. Having them both remain Clippers is, undoubtedly, the best possible outcome.