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What should the Clippers do in NBA Free Agency?

Negotiations with free agents (legally) begin at 6 p.m. ET on June 30. Who and what should the Clippers be looking to add once the alarm bells sound?

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New York Knicks v Los Angeles Clippers Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Kyrie Irving is with Brooklyn. Kevin Durant, for now, is too. Deandre Ayton, Jalen Brunson, and other middling free agents await their fates with free agency sitting just beyond the horizon. Just how might the Los Angeles Clippers get involved? Let’s take a nice long look.

When does free agency begin?

Don’t tell Adam Silver or literally anyone familiar with the NBA’s legal proceedings, but about four weeks ago. And I am low-balling.

In all seriousness, teams are technically allowed to contact free agent players starting on Thursday at 6 p.m. ET (3 p.m. PT). So, expect to be hearing a lot from the newsmaking brass — Woj, Shams, Haynes, Fischer, others (more on this later) — starting at approximately 6:01. Or 5:59. I’m sure there’s a prop somewhere on DraftKings or the dark web. Have at it.

That’s when you’ll find out about quite a few deals; most will be announced soon after it becomes legally appropriate for them to be first discussed. But contracts cannot be made official until July 1. That’s why you hear so much about July 1 being when free agency begins.

Get it? Got it? Me neither. Good.

In terms of financial particulars, what are we looking at moolah-wise?

Here’s how ESPN’s NBA Front Office Insider — and Marist College alum; go Red Foxes — Bobby Marks outlined everything back in April:

The trade with Portland to acquire Norman Powell and Robert Covington added not only long-term payroll but also an additional $19 million luxury tax penalty.

The trade also showed that despite limited draft assets, there are other avenues to improve the roster. The Clippers have four players next season who will earn $11.2 million to $16.8 million (Powell, Reggie Jackson, Luke Kennard and Marcus Morris). They also have two valuable trade exceptions of $9.7 million and $8.3 million.

The Clippers have $160 million in salary and have a tax bill of $17.9 million before free agency begins. They will have the $6.4 million tax midlevel exception.

And here’s what other resources the Clippers have that can help them build out the roster:

  • Trade exceptions: $9.7M and $8.3M
  • Exception: $6.3M tax midlevel
  • 7 second-round picks in the next 7 years
  • Cash: $6.3M to send or receive in a trade

What’s happening on June 29? Aka today?

Forward Nicolas Batum has until this date to exercise the $3.3 million player option in his contract. Naturally, sources have said that Batum plans to decline his option, but wishes to remain with the Clippers. Now, if the option is declined, he can sign a new contract for up to $10.9 million, but it has to be at least a two-year contract and the second year cannot come with an attached option.

Also required to happen by June 29: Tendering Jay Scrubb ($1.8M) and Amir Coffey ($1.9M) a one-year qualifying offer. Scrubb was selected in the second round of the 2020 NBA Draft — 55th overall, notably three picks ahead of B-Ball Paul Reed — and has missed over 90 games because of two surgeries on his right foot.

Coffey, on the other hand, has Bird rights and the Clippers do not have to dip into their tax midlevel exception in order to find a long-term deal. Coffey was a nice surprise in 2021-22, starting 29 games and averaging 12.6 points while shooting efficiently. He should be back. Scrubb? Who’s to say.

What have the Clippers done already?

Let’s go one by one here, detailing all of the parameters and reasons for the moves that have at least been reported thus far, in the order they were reported.

June 28: Ivica Zubac reportedly agreed to a three-year, $33 million extension. “The Clippers declined a $7.5 million team option on Zubac’s contract, clearing the way to negotiate a new deal for Zubac, who is the longest-tenured player on the roster,” wrote ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. “Zubac had his most productive NBA season for the Clippers a year ago — averaging career bests of 10.3 points and 8.5 rebounds.”

Zubac, as you might recall, was the prize acquisition in a fleecing of the in-town rival Lakers, and in 2021-22, he averaged 10.3 points, 85. rebounds, and 1.6 assists per game. The deal, for all intents and purposes, was a given: his team declined their own option to bring him back with a pay raise.

Per The Athletic’s Law Murray, “He has been praised for his leadership as well as his potential by teammates, coaches and front office personnel. The only surprise may be the fact that the Clippers committed more than $10 million a year to a player who may get adjusted off the floor in the money season, or even to regularly close games. But Zubac has earned this contract with his durability, steady improvement on the floor and strong intangibles in the locker room.”

So, yeah. Hard not to extend a guy who has been a staple on the roster for four seasons, and the Clippers’ brass, by all accounts, loves the big in the center of their frontcourt. Now, if only they could only find him another backup.

June 27: After agreeing to a buyout with the Houston Rockets, John Wall reportedly plans to sign with the LA Clippers.

Uhhhhhh... I think I heard 29 other teams shouting, “Objection, your honor?”

Well, it’s difficult to explain, but when it comes to buyout guys, these deals can get done rather quickly. Yes, there were behind the scenes discussions only Woj can uncover via his sources. He even tried to hedge some things in a follow-up tweet.

This is a fancy way of saying, “I pressed send a bit too earlier. It’s not done yet, I promise. But it will be when it’s allowed.” Which is exactly what cost the Miami Heat a second-round pick due to their handling of the Kyle Lowry signing last summer. But c’est la vie in la NBA.

“Wall, who was due $47.4 million from the Rockets after exercising the player option for the final year of his contract, agreed to take $6.5 million less to become a free agent, a source told ESPN. That is roughly the amount of the taxpayer midlevel exception, which Wall could receive once he is able to negotiate a deal with the Clippers,” Wojnarowski wrote.

Wall will make for an immediately intriguing fit in this Clippers’ scheme, despite the fact that his last close-to-full season came in — checks notes — 2016-17. Yikes. But placing Wall alongside L.A.’s two stars is at the very least a salivating idea. Let’s see how it goes.

What are their biggest needs?

The good news for the Clippers? They don’t have many real needs. Their roster is a championship contender on paper; it’s always been a matter of health, ever since Kawhi Leonard and Paul George arrived. Maybe a second backup center, a true point guard, or an added scorer would serve as a jolt to an otherwise unexciting offseason. But sometimes, it’s best to be boring. Lord knows they’ll be anything but once next season begins.

How will they address these needs? Better yet, can they?

Honestly, the ideal course of action for the Clippers might be to stand pat beyond what they’ve reportedly done already. If they can somehow bring back Nicolas Batum and Amir Coffey (both of which are likely), you can consider the offseason a win.

Bringing back Isaiah Hartenstein, however, should be priority number-one. He had a breakout season last year coming off the bench for the Clippers and made a splash in the team’s shortened rotation as the season waned on. He averaged 8.3 points per game and shot 62.6 percent from the floor, turning what was previously a journeyman’s narrative on its head as he blossomed into a prominent backup big.

The issue: L.A. only has Non-Bird rights — which doesn’t allow the team to exceed the salary cap to re-sign him — on Hartenstein, so bringing him back could be a tall order. Even taller than he is. The Clippers could use its $6.4 million taxpayer mid-level exception to make him a competitive offer. But if they choose to forego their individual room with Hartenstein, they’ll be looking at a mid-level target on the market.

The Clippers weren’t planning on being much of a player this offseason, so it’s not worth fretting about who’s coming or going, as in all likelihood, their activity is muted. Losing Hartenstein may be the biggest gut punch, should it happen. But a championship — something they have within their grasp, if all breaks right — is the best medicine in basketball.