According to Andrew Grief of the LA Times, the LA Clippers have extended a qualifying offer to Amir Coffey, making him a restricted free agent, while declining to do so for Jay Scrubb and Xavier Moon, who will both become unrestricted. Spotrac’s Kieth Smith was the first to report on Coffey’s qualifying offer.
With the $2.1M qualifying offer extended, Amir Coffey will now enter restricted free agency. Since the Clippers have Coffey’s bird rights, they are now able to match any offer sheet he signs with another team to retain him using their right of first refusal. Their willingness to do so will depend on the price point and what else the team is up to in the coming days. As it now stands, Coffey is far down an incredibly deep LAC depth chart on an incredibly expensive roster with a luxury tax bill for 2022-23 that will make even Steve Ballmer blush. If another team offered Coffey their non-taxpayer mid-level exception worth $10M+ next season, it’s possible that even the seemingly-infinite-spending Clippers would balk at paying several times that in tax penalties to keep around their 13th man. But other teams have no guarantee that they won’t just be wasting their time should Ballmer be willing to match. And if roster moves bump him up to 11th on the depth chart, and the offer sheet is $6M, it becomes both much more financially palatable to Ballmer to keep him and a bigger on-court loss to let him walk. Amir was a quality rotation player in over 1500 minutes last season, starting 30 games as the team went the entire season without Kawhi Leonard and much of it without Paul George. With those two star wings healthy again, Coffey will have to compete for second unit minutes with more established players likeNorman Powell, Luke Kennard, and Terance Mann, with few options for reprieve by sliding over to point guard (Reggie Jackson, John Wall) or power forward (Marcus Morris, Nicolas Batum, Robert Covington).
However, restricted free agency itself can serve to depress or entirely eliminate a player’s market, especially if teams feel as though pursuing a player is futile because their offer sheet will get matched at any price they are comfortable with. Restricted free agents do get lured away–it seems as though the Knicks will give Jalen Brunson a 4-year/$110M offer sheet this week that the Dallas Mavericks will decline to match–but they far more often stay home. Take, for example, Montrezl Harrell’s restricted free agency when he was a Clipper: Trez was coming off of a great season and surely plenty of teams would have been interested in signing him, but they were hesitant to go over the mid-level exception due to his limitations as a player and knew that the Clippers would match mid-level offers. In the end, Harrell never even signed an offer sheet, negotiating a 2-year, $12M deal directly with the Clippers. If teams feel that the Clippers will simply refuse to let a quality player walk away for nothing, luxury tax be damned, then they might be entirely unwilling to pursue Coffey (who, while a very solid and versatile player, isn’t going to be at the top of free agency boards the way Jalen Brunson is).
Lastly, interested teams could always buy off the Clippers’ right of first refusal by negotiating a sign-and-trade transaction. If they can agree to terms with Coffey but are worried that the Clippers will match their offer sheet, they could offer the Clippers an asset to sign-and-trade Amir to them instead. This can also scare teams off if they have similar players on their free agent target lists that they wouldn’t have to give up additional assets to acquire, but a team might surrender 1 or 2 second-round picks if it meant securing Coffey’s services without concern over the Clippers’ matching ability. Without getting too into the weeds, it’s worth noting that the base year compensation rule limits what Coffey can count for in trade salary matching in such a deal (it doesn’t limit what he can make, just what the Clippers can bring back), so it’s most likely that the team would either just get draft picks back (or perhaps a young prospect on a cheap deal). They could also make a deal work by absorbing a higher-paid player into one of their existing TPEs even though a one-for-one swap for Coffey would be illegal on its own.
As far as Scrubb and Moon go, the Clippers’ decision to pass on making them restricted isn’t wholly unexpected. Xavier Moon brought good vibes as a fill-in emergency point guard last year, both during COVID outbreaks and late in the year after Eric Bledsoe had been traded. But it always seemed likely that the team wouldn’t have a need for him this year, as Jason Preston will be available after missing all of last season due to injury and the team will look to invest as many depth guard minutes as they can into the 33rd pick from the 2021 NBA Draft. If the writing was already on the wall for those reasons, the rumored signing of veteran point guard John Wall cemented Moon’s departure by making point guard minutes even harder to come by.
I think that the Clippers would have likely taken Scrubb back on a two-way deal again for a third season next year, but Law Murray of The Athletic reported that Scrubb wasn’t on board with the arrangement and wanted to try to make the 15-man roster instead. Such is his right: after two years on two-way deals, players are eligible for restricted free agency but only with a qualifying offer for a full NBA deal. If his team doesn’t extend that QO–and the Clippers didn’t–the player enters unrestricted free agency. It’s unclear where Scrubb will end up next year, whether it’s with the Clippers or another NBA team, in training camp or on a two-way, or somewhere in the G-League or Europe, but he will get to choose. The first step: showcasing himself in Summer League with the Clippers in Las Vegas, but with the flexibility to join any team on a two-way deal or in training camp afterwards instead of being locked in to the Clippers.