The Los Angeles Clippers open the NBA season this week and there’s an argument that the team should embrace a rebuild. L.A.C. will have almost $70 million in cap space after this season. They’d also lose their draft pick if it falls outside the 1-14 range.
Yes, they finished last season with a 42-40 overall record that made them a tenth seed in the West. They were surprisingly competitive despite playing with 37 starting lineups, dealing with countless injuries and transitioning from the Chris Paul and Blake Griffin era. However, the Clippers have even less household star power than last season as both DeAndre Jordan and Austin Rivers have both moved on.
Now, they’ll build around this year’s lottery picks Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Jerome Robinson. Thus, it makes sense to add more young players that can grow with those two players. Los Angeles moving veterans currently on the roster also frees up minutes for Alexander and Robinson.
Further, the team’s biggest strength is their front office. They’ve got Doc Rivers leading the team as strictly the coach and Lawrence Frank as president of Basketball Operations. Those two have worked together for a few years and bring a ton of playoff experience. Former NBA journalist Lee Jenkins also joins a front office that already featured Jerry West in a special consultant role. Plus, money doesn’t seem to be an issue for owner Steve Ballmer. Thus, the new front office could take the team either towards a rebuild or retool.
Sure, Jimmy Butler has the Clippers at the top of his wish list. Kawhi Leonard has them on his radar too. However, it might be short-sighted to get a max player who is at the end of his 20s. The Clippers sent out Chris Paul and Blake Griffin in the same calendar year and went separate ways with DeAndre Jordan a second later. I don’t think they did that because they believed they could win now.
Those three players lead one of the greatest eras of Clippers Basketball but it is over and the team should commit to something new. Some of the current veterans have consistency and availability issues so the Clippers season could get ugly fast if they have injuries.
Either way, the Clippers might be smart to embrace a rebuild. Their draft pick is lottery protected this year and next year so maximizing that draft pick includes landing among the league’s top lottery odds. Move some of those players for more cap and some draft picks.
A rebuilding process worked for the Lakers who were terrible for more than one season before turning it around this offseason with LeBron’s addition this year. The 76ers are also notorious for their rebuilding process. The Celtics went through their own expedited rebuild too.
If the Clippers a full tank, that means they need to move some of their long-term contracts for short-term deals. Here are some sensible ways the Clippers can rebuild over the next season.
Trade Lou Williams to a contender
The Clippers could move Lou Williams contract if they want to shed more cap to add some stars next year. Williams is a bargain with $8 million owed to him this year and next which makes him one of the easiest pieces to move. The 32-year-old averaged 22.6 points and 5.3 assists in 79 games with the Clippers last year. Any number of places could use his shooting.
Philadelphia makes sense as a destination since they have expiring and young talent. Philly holds either their 2019 first round pick or Sacramento’s first round pick depending on which one is better. Boston gets whichever 2019 pick is better.
The Clippers could move one of their more desirable contracts like Lou Williams for a package around one of those picks. Jerryd Bayless is the obvious salary swap. He doesn’t bring a lot to the Clippers as the combo guard as he averaged 7.9 rebounds and 2.1 assists in 39 games last season. His salary does come off the books after this season.
Otherwise, Philly also has some young talent that might make sense for the Clippers to build around like Dario Saric. Philly will probably hold on to Saric but may they have to add him into the deal if Williams has another great year. They also are incredibly deep at the forward position so Saric is somewhat of a luxury.
It also makes sense to move Saric if Philly prefers to keep their upcoming draft picks and move somebody already on the roster.
Sure, the Philadelphia 76ers are already among the league’s elite, especially in the East. However, they could use some shooting and ball handling depending on how last year’s top pick Markelle Fultz and this year’s lottery pick Zhaire Smith develop.
Therefore, getting a combo guard like Lou Williams makes sense. Williams was drafted by the 76ers and played their until 2012 so he’s familiar with the city and what that franchise has been through. He’s got a manageable contract and thrives as a reserve.
Alternatively, Philly could demand Milos, Beverly or Johnson in the deal too. The Clippers have trade exceptions and other salary fillers that could make those deals work. Those players don’t have the same value as Williams given his ties to the franchise, playoffs experience and scoring ability.
Move Gallinari’s Contract
Speaking of salary dump, the Clippers should move on from Gallinari. He only played 21 games last year despite having a salary over $20 million. Moving him is a crucial part of rebuilding efforts for the Clippers. Trading Gallo gives them almost $80 million in salary cap which means adding two Superstars and some solid veterans around them.
The Kings are a primary trade partner because their draft pick goes to Boston or Philadelphia. Sacramento might take on Gallinari’s deal if they can get the Clippers’ lottery pick this year or next. The Kings are also one of the few teams with cap space so it is much easier for the Clippers to make the deal work salary wise.
For L.A., trading a lottery pick isn’t ideal in a rebuild but it might be necessary if they believe they can attract multiple free agents this year. They might even need the Kings to send back some of their young players to make the deal happen.
Either way, Sacramento might make a deal happen if they can clear up some playing time in their front court. Trading Koufos and Randolph for Gallinari alone opens up playing time for Marvin, Bagley, Willie Cauley-Stein and Skai Labisseire as well as get them some shooting. Getting a draft pick is a welcomed bonus especially since they don’t have one in the upcoming draft.
On the other hand, the Clippers first round pick could make them demand Cauley-Stein or Labisseire. Either way, the Clippers need to find a way to get Sacramento to take their bad contract.
Trading Avery Bradley to Houston
Avery Bradley just re-signed with the Clippers in the offseason but nobody will be safe if the Clippers fully embrace a rebuild. Bradley has two years left on his deal at over $12 million each. Moving Bradley alone would give the Clippers more than $70 million in cap space but trading him and Gallo in the same season frees up enough space for three superstars.
As for trade partners, the Clippers should focus on surprising young teams and underachieving teams that are desperate for a midseason move. Houston makes sense as they continue to push for the second contending spot behind the Warriors.
Look, we know a team like Chris Paul and James Harden can score the ball. They proved that last year. However, they could do well to add some perimeter defense and Bradley fills that need. Brandon Knight didn’t even play all last season so we don’t even know what the Rockets are getting and giving up. Knight could thrive as another backup guard in that high-octane offense but he could continue to miss time too as he is already dealing with an infection in his surgically repaired knee.
Thus, a player like Bradley makes sense for the Rockets. He can guard a team’s best guard regardless of position. His handling and spot up shooting should compliment either Harden or Paul depending on the rotation.
Plus, Houston has a draft pick in this year’s first round they can send the Clippers in this trade. Sounds like a win-win for both teams.
Ultimately, this deal couldn’t get done until the New Year because both players were part of transactions this offseason.
Move Tobias Harris for something
Harris was key component in the Clippers deal of Blake Griffin last year. However, his deal is up after this year. He already turned down and $80 million extension and it is unclear if the Clippers will build around him long-term. Therefore, it makes sense to move him for something now than get nothing later.
Of course, the Clippers were unwilling to trade him in the Jimmy Butler trade so far. Perhaps, they would move him for some young players and cap relief though.
Here’s what that trade would look like, at least in terms of potential players and money:
Insert the Blazers as a team who might be desperate enough for a playoff berth to tape a chance on Harris’ expiring contract. They need some front court scoring and rebounding too. There are also many ways the Blazers can make the contracts work and they own their draft pick.
For the Clippers, they could get some lottery picks from a couple of years ago with Caleb Swanigan and Zach Collins. Adding veterans like Mo Harkless or Meyers Leonard isn’t ideal because they have two years left on their deals. However, it is the cost of doing business if the Clippers want added draft picks.
Here’s yet another potential looking trade in which the Clippers do business with the Blazers:
Either way, the deals are too tempting for the Blazers not to consider if they want to prepare for the playoffs.
Getting the draft pick back from Boston
Finally, it doesn’t hurt to get limitations lifted from your draft pick during a rebuild. Sure, it won’t matter if the Clippers finish in the lottery the next two seasons. However, it takes pressure off losing if the Clippers can stop owing Boston their pick.
Listen, the Celtics don’t have a lot of weaknesses and they have plenty of draft picks. Nonetheless, the Clippers could try to get their pick away from the Celtics. There’s a variety of ways they can able to do that.
On the other hand, the Clippers have plenty of expiring deals they can package for young assets who might benefit from a change of scenery and draft picks. They can use that to create a three-way deal that might appeal to Boston. Not to mention, the Celtics will be more willing to deal if they have an injury in their rotation. The Clippers have some veterans on expiring deals that might appeal to Boston.
Marcin Gortat, Harris, Patrick Beverly, Milos Teodosic, Boban Marjanovic and Luc Mbah a Moute are some of their very movable expiring contracts that might net some draft picks or young talent to rebuild around. Montrezl Harrell has two years left on his deals but he proved himself as a versatile rotational player last year. Harrell probably has the most upside in that group. Perhaps, a swap of him for Marcus Morris is a fair deal.
Either way, the Clippers will do what they can to move all of those guys when they embrace a rebuild. Expect them to call teams asking for anything for those veteran players. At some point, they might even just offer Boston some cap or money to lift the hold they have on the Clippers’ upcoming draft pick.
How can the Clippers tank?
Whether or not the Clippers decide to embrace the tank really depends on how their season goes. They’d be smart to tank if they find themselves at the bottom of the West again. It is much easier to rebuild with a top-five lottery pick than it is to rebuild with a ton of picks from the teens.
Added, L.A.C. has enough cap in the offseason that they could easily turn around their fortunes by adding two key free agents to a roster of lottery picks. Tanking now lets the young players on the team develop too. That way a star comes to a team with young players who have playing experience.
Ultimately, the Clippers have several ways they can tank if they find themselves in the bottom tier of the Western Conference. The blueprint starts by moving some of their long-term money like Lou and Gallo for draft picks and flexibility. It continues with trading whatever expiring contracts they have for more draft capital.
Find out if the Clippers decide to start rebuilding when their season starts and continues now through the end of the year.