There are three avenues to build a team in the NBA: free agency, the draft, and trades. Being in Los Angeles, the Clippers have a bigger advantage in free agency than most, but that relies on having usable cap space. That’s why one of the most relevant questions of each offseason is how much cap space the team has.
Currently, the 2022-23 salary cap is projected to be $119 million. The Clippers have more than $150 million in salary committed for next season, before accounting for any incoming free agents, which means the Clippers won’t have any cap space for the 2022 offseason. All they can do is re-sign their own free agents using Bird rights.
Here is a look at the team’s salary sheet, courtesy of Basketball Reference.
It’s early in the season, so the team’s payroll is subject to change. However, most of the contracts the Clippers have in place aren’t going anywhere. The team’s two cornerstones, Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, are both signed through 2023-24. Marcus Morris Sr. and Luke Kennard’s contracts also run through that season, and Terance Mann’s runs one year longer after his recent extension. Reggie Jackson is inked for one more year after this one.
Eric Bledsoe is the only player making eight figures who hasn’t been accounted for so far, as his contract is partially guaranteed for 2022-23, but the $150 million estimate assumes that the Clippers move on from Bledsoe, so keeping him would add more salary to the team’s sheet.
The only way the Clippers can currently get salary off their books for 2022 is by declining the fourth-year team option for Ivica Zubac. However, doing so makes little to no sense because Zubac is outperforming that value, and cutting his $7.5 million doesn’t get the Clippers below the cap line, so that move wouldn’t generate any usable space.
If the Clippers are over the cap, the only tools they have to acquire players are minimum contracts, the mini-midlevel exception worth $6.2 million, and re-signing internal free agents with Bird rights. Minimums have come in handy for the Clippers each of the last two seasons, specifically with Reggie Jackson, Nicolas Batum, and Isaiah Hartenstein.
The front office used Bird rights to re-sign Jackson in 2021 and can do the same with Batum in 2022, presuming he declines his $3.3 million player option. They can use that route to retain Serge Ibaka as well. That option isn’t available for Hartenstein this offseason, because he hasn’t been on the Clippers for two seasons, so the team will presumably have to dip into their midlevel to re-sign him if the center continues his strong run of play.
That midlevel exception is also the only tool the Clippers have to sign external free agents who will demand more than the minimum, so they’ll have to be judicious in handing out that money.
Even if the Clippers make a trade involving some of their role players and get back expiring contracts, it’s unlikely that will make a measurable dent in their cap sheet — Leonard and George will still be on the books, and with those two players combining to make $85 million, even keeping one more mid-tier salary (say, Jackson’s $11.2 million) would preclude any meaningful cap space.
This is a creative front office, so never say never. If anything changes, this story will be updated with cap information and corresponding analysis. so be sure to check back in.