After a busy opening weekend of free agency, there aren’t many remaining NBA free agents for the Clippers to look at as they round out their roster following the bombshell signing of Serge Ibaka. For a team that desperately needed to upgrade their weakest rotation spot at backup center, Ibaka is not just an average player who is solid enough to not single-handedly tank them in a playoff series–he’s a dream fit for this roster.
While the Clippers’ front office is rightfully happy to have Serge on board, their work isn’t done. As it stands, the team has 12 players penciled in for roster spots next season, and approximately $5,237,773 to spend under the hard cap (we don’t know the exact salaries for Ibaka or Marcus Morris yet, but my projections are well-informed). Here’s what their depth chart looks like:
|Point Guard||Patrick Beverley||Lou Williams||Terance Mann|
|Shooting Guard||Paul George||Luke Kennard||Jayden Scrubb (2W)|
|Small Forward||Kawhi Leonard||Amir Coffey (2W)|
|Power Forward||Marcus Morris||Patrick Patterson|
|Center||Ivica Zubac||Serge Ibaka||Mfiondu Kabengele||Daniel Oturu|
A few notes on some debatable points in the above depth chart:
- I’m putting Terance Mann as the third string point guard because the team has repeatedly said that they view his NBA position as point guard. As a rookie learning a new position, he didn’t actually see much action there–when he was pressed into depth duties due to injuries, he featured more frequently on the wing. If the Clippers sign another point guard, he’d be more of the third-string shooting guard–and at 6’5″ with good defensive instincts, he’s more than capable at that position.
- Jayden Scrubb and Amir Coffey are “4th stringers” because they’re on two-way contracts. However, Coffey in particular was solid enough in 159 regular season minutes last year to be considered a legitimate contender for third-string minutes this year. He can appear on the active roster (including games where he suits up but does not sub in) for up to 50 games on his two-way contract this year, so he’s functionally a full-time third-stringer. While I have nothing against Scrubb and actually have hopes for his long-term future, he’s a late draft pick out of junior college who likely needs a year or two before he can make a impact in rotation minutes.
- Are Mfiondu Kabengele and Daniel Oturu both centers? Is Fi a 4 and Oturu a 5? Can they both play both positions? The truth is, the argument is futile because right now neither is a capable option at either position. I’ve listed them both at center because I assume the Clippers will sign another player who can play power forward (even if not a legit PF, a 3/4 who can bump over for small ball) and their real minutes opportunities will come in competition for each other as third-string center. Oturu is almost definitely going to be a center in the NBA. Fi played center for most of his garbage time with LAC last year, but in the G-League played alongside Jonathan Motley, who is also more of a center. Fi spaced the floor for Motley’s interior scoring, but also grabbed more rebounds and blocked more shots on the other end. I have no doubt that he’d have been a 4 at a different point in NBA history, but in 2020 that means being able to guard guys who are 6’6″ perimeter scorers with quick handles. I’m betting on his NBA career coming mostly at center.
- Technically, Joakim Noah and Justin Patton are both still on the team’s roster–but as is clearly demonstrated, the last thing the Clippers need right now is two more centers. Both the 35-year-old Noah, who got passed over in favor of small ball when Montrezl Harrell was away from the team during bubble games, and Patton, who was a salary-matching throw-in to the Kennard-Shamet trade, have non-guaranteed contracts and are virtually guaranteed to be cut. Frankly, the Clippers probably don’t even have training camp spots for them considering the pair of development bigs on the roster and the inclusion of priority Agua Caliente guys Jordan Ford and Malik Fitts. There’s hypothetically value to holding on to these non-guaranteed deals for trade salary-matching purposes, but the Clippers’ proximity to the hard cap essentially takes that off the table as well.
It’s pretty clear, looking at that depth chart, where the weaknesses are in the Clippers’ depth. They obviously need a second-string small forward to complete their 10-man rotation. Patrick Patterson is the weakest second-string player; a power forward option who is more a bit quicker and more defensive-minded would be nice. They need a depth wing for injuries and load management (Mann and Coffey are factors here but you’d like another body). The team doesn’t have a real second point guard behind Patrick Beverley–who starts when he inevitably misses time? With two unproven prospects at center, there isn’t a good option to soak up minutes if Zubac or Ibaka miss games or get in foul trouble.
Let me give the short answers to each of these problems. They need to sign a backup small forward. Ideally, that guy can play both forward positions to reduce your reliance on Patterson. You need, at least, another depth wing or a depth point guard–take the best player who is the best fit and let the multi-positioned players already on the roster shift around as needed. At center, either Kabengele or Oturu is going to need to be at least replacement-level. Using another roster spot there would be an indictment of the front office that not only drafted those players, but in each case traded future assets in negative-value deals to acquire the picks they used on them.
The Clippers have a number of ways to acquire guys to fill those holes, and three roster spots with which to attempt to do so (they must add at least 2 players to reach the minimum roster requirement of 14, adding a 15th is optional). They still have their bi-annual exception, capable of giving out a one- or two-year contract worth $3.6M this year and an optional $3.8M next year. The veteran’s minimum can be given to any player, costing the team $1.6M (the players get paid slightly more based on their years of experience, but the cap hit is $1.6M regardless). They can add guys via sign-and-trade, either using their expendable non-guaranteed deals or a trade exception (the team has three, worth $3.6M, 2.1M, and 1.4M). Reggie Jackson can be re-signed to an above-minimum deal up to $2.9M using his free agent rights.
The tricky part, though, is that the Clippers can only spend the aforementioned $5.2M below the hard cap. There’s no crossing that line, at any point, under any circumstances, until free agency opens next off-season. Not only is it a limit on their spending as they fill out the roster this week, but they can’t do any trade deadline move or buyout season addition that takes their total team salary for the year above that line. That means that moves made this week also have account for the doors that they could close later on. The team could sign two players, one with the bi-annual exception and one with the minimum, and have a solid 14-man roster that is essentially at the hard cap, but they wouldn’t even have enough flexibility to sign a guy to a ten-day contract as temporary injury relief down the line. Money can always be saved later via trade–when you trade someone, their entire season salary is removed from team salary, like when the Clippers dumped Derrick Walton Jr.’s $1.5M contract to the Atlanta Hawks at the deadline last year. But such a move will always cost something, at least cash and sometimes a second-round pick, as happened with the Lakers moving JaVale McGee to create hard cap space this weekend.
So, as we consider targets for the Clippers to round out their roster, they might be a little more cautious than simply saying “get the best player available using the most money we can offer.” Minimum deals will be easier to dump in a trade if needed than a bi-annual deal. Non-guaranteed contracts don’t even need to be traded–the team can simply cut a guy mid-season and only owe him for the games he’s played (through February 27th, when all deals become guaranteed for the remainder of the year), freeing up money to sign rest-of-season deals. That means that not only could the Clippers potentially forego using their bi-annual exception to add an above-minimum free agent, but they might be unwilling to offer guaranteed contracts as they round out their roster. That would explain the team’s inactivity since adding Ibaka–with other teams offering guaranteed minimum deal, LAC could be waiting to see who slips through the cracks and is willing to take a non-guaranteed deal.
We’re getting close to “slipped through the cracks” territory. Normally this is the second week of free agency, but free agency is only one week this year and many teams are done handing out guaranteed money–20 of the league’s 30 teams have 14 or more guaranteed contracts on their books already. Yes, more players will get guaranteed contracts, but many of them will be guys who don’t overlap with the pool of available free agents LAC will be looking at–guys like Brandon Ingram and Dario Saric, who are unsigned restricted free agents that will negotiate new deals with their previous teams. Let’s look at the options:
Best Remaining Free Agent Point Guards
- Reggie Jackson is the devil you know on a frighteningly thin group of free agent point guards. Realistically, he’s either the best or one of the best PGs available at this stage. Personally, I take that as a sign that it’s time to consider Terance Mann and Luke Kennard as emergency point guard options and pursue depth on the wings instead.
- Langston Galloway isn’t really a point guard, but he gets listed here by nature of being just 6’1″. A capable and willing defender, he’s unspectacular at this point in his career but won’t kill you on that end. Offensively, he isn’t a creator but has a track record as a solid three-point shooter in high volumes. He’s also been credited as a positive locker room presence in Detroit, and the Clippers can use all of the good locker room guys that they can get. They could do worse at 5th guard, and the Piston’s chaotic off-season included adding guards Killian Hayes (with the 7th overall pick) and Delon Wright (via trade). His familiarity with Kennard is an added bonus–the two had a 0.0 net rating in 415 minutes together, compared to the team’s -3.5 net rating overall.
- Shabazz Napier did better for himself last season than earlier in his career, likely enough to earn another NBA shot that may not have come if he hadn’t stepped his game up. He’s not a good shooter, but he’s willing to put them up, and he did a good job creating good looks for others when pressed into duty due to injuries in Minnesota last year. Next to Lou Williams, the lack of size and defense would be brutal, but he’s shown to be a competent emergency option.
- Speaking of pressed into duty in Minnesota, Jordan McLaughlin probably showed even better than Napier, and he’s just 24 years old. Again, the size makes a fit with Lou less than idea, but for a depth spot that isn’t a primary concern–and Jordan could stay around for a few years after Lou retires, anyway. McLaughlin is a restricted free agent coming off of his two-way deal with the Wolves, but his qualifying offer is another two-way deal, meaning that Minnesota has not committed to putting him on the 15-man roster. In fact, with a glut of guards, they might be forced to let him walk if a team like the Clippers offered him an NBA contract. Offer sheets must run for at least two seasons before any option year, though non- and partial-guaranteed deals are allowed.
- Evan Turner has the size and ball skills to help the Clippers’ depth at multiple positions, though he isn’t a shooter. The team worked him out as a potential buyout candidate last February but he never became a free agent. He isn’t going to be an impact player now or grow into one later, but on a one-year vet’s min he can help things stay on track when there are injuries ahead of him.
- Tyler Johnson is a scoring combo guard who had several good years before injuries derailed his career. He was atrocious in Phoenix last year, but better in the bubble with Brooklyn. If he’s returned to form as he’s gotten healthy, he’s an above-minimum talent–but he doesn’t really solve any of LAC’s needs in terms of a potential fill-in for Patrick Beverley or defensive depth on the wings. Firepower just isn’t something LAC needs more of.
- Chris Chiozza, like McLaughlin, is an undersized point guard who showed some value on a two-way contract last season. He’s similarly restricted with a two-way qualifying offer from the Brooklyn Nets, and it’s similarly unclear whether Brooklyn would commit a spot on the 15-man roster to matching an offer sheet.
- Derrick Walton Jr. has his obvious limitations, but he played well in this exact role for the Clippers last year. It wasn’t enough to earn a permanent spot with the team, but it might be enough to get him a non-guaranteed deal to compete for a roster spot again in training camp this season.
- Jeremy Lin is reportedly eyeing an NBA return after starring in China last season. Starring in China doesn’t really mean a lot in terms of translating into NBA quality, but it’s a sign that Lin was at least healthy enough to play a full slate of games at big minutes. At 32, would he be able to be better than he was at 30 when he wasn’t good enough to stay in the league after falling to the end of Toronto’s bench?
Best Remaining Free Agent Shooting Guards
- Shaquille Harrison was rather inexplicably not given a qualifying offer from the Chicago Bulls, and the 6’7″, 27-year-old guard has made positive impacts in depth roles over the last few years. I don’t watch enough Bulls games to be certain that he’s the choice here but he’d definitely be a prominent name on my list.
- Courtney Lee may have finally reached the end of his career, as the 35-year-old rarely featured for Dallas last season, making just 24 appearances. I don’t think you can expect a lot from him defensively at this age, but as long as his athleticism isn’t totally gone his smarts and three-point shooting will give you serviceable minutes.
- Troy Daniels made 36% of his threes in a fringe rotation role with the Lakers last season before being cut in March to make room for Dion Waiters. He was good enough with the Lakers to get picked up by the Nuggets, so he could get another minimum deal here, but he doesn’t excite me.
- Speaking of former Lakers who don’t excite me, I’ll pass on Dion Waiters and J.R. Smith.
- If Andre Roberson is actually healthy, we know he can make a defensive impact on the wing–and he’ll only turn 29 next month, meaning a full recovery should be possible. But without some kind of assurance of that, it’s hard to invest limited resources.
- Ty Wallace and Sindarius Thornwell are recent former Clippers who would likely both take non-guaranteed deals after each have struggled to find teams since being cut by LAC a year ago. Wallace was claimed off of waivers by Minnesota but cut before the season started, then claimed by the Atlanta Hawks and cut in December after 14 appearances. He looked really promising in a brief run with LAC but has been quite bad since, and there seemed to be some sour grapes with the way the Clippers handled his contract. Thornwell, on the other hand, still seems to be invested in the organization on social media. We only have 35 minutes with New Orleans in the bubble to look at since he left the Clippers, but they were 35 solid minutes and LAC knows firsthand that he is a high-character guy who will always work hard and can provide defensive utility at multiple positions in a depth role.
Best Remaining Free Agent Small Forwards
- Glenn Robinson III might be the best player on this entire list. He was quite good on both ends for the Warriors last season (though they were essentially a G-League team) before fizzing out on a Sixers team where seemingly no individual player could play well last year. He was formerly Paul George’s teammate in Indiana and could back up the star wing again in LA. Robinson is definitely a 2/3, not a 3/4, so he’d fit the bill for depth behind Leonard but wouldn’t do anything to mitigate the team’s reliance on Patterson.
- Solomon Hill is a different story. The strong, defensive-minded veteran can play both forward positions but has particularly thrived at power forward. A career 33.4% shooter from deep, the “3” has never shown up as consistently as the “D”–but he’s unafraid to shoot them and made a career-best 36.8% last season. If he hits 37% from deep again, he’d be a steal at the minimum.
- Nicolas Batum was a favorite of mine earlier in his career–who doesn’t love a do-it-all 6’9″ wing that defends, shoots, and distributes–but he was miscast as a star with a huge contract in Charlotte and has nearly played his way out of the league. Turning 32 in December, he’s probably got one more chance to prove to the league that he isn’t totally washed up and still has the skillset to contribute as a role player who can hit shots, make smart passes, and guard multiple positions. It’s a high-risk, high-reward play, and the Clippers’ hard cap margin for error is small enough that a non-guaranteed deal here might be as much as they’ll commit.
- Kyle Korver and Marco Belinelli warrant mention as still-elite shooters, but their age and all-around declines make them liabilities overall and the Clippers’ second unit already features four good-to-elite shooters.
Best Remaining Free Agent Power Forwards
- Dario Saric and Frank Kaminsky (who might be more of a center if he isn’t sharing a team with Deandre Ayton) are both technically still on the market, though Phoenix should be able to keep both if they want to. Saric, who is far more interesting as a free agent, is restricted, so Phoenix would have to renounce his qualifying offer in order for him to actually be attainable.
- Markieff Morris played well for the Lakers during their title run, and there’s the obvious connection with his brother Marcus starting for the Clippers. However, his bubble performances don’t really match up with his career output. He’ll give you more defensively than Patrick Patterson but he’s a worse shooter, and he can’t play across positions as well as Marcus.
- Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist are both defense-first forwards who are nominally power forwards because of their lack of perimeter offensive skills, but in reality are played for specific defensive matchups moreso than a traditional role. MKG was used situationally by the Mavericks against the Clippers in the playoffs, while the far better RHJ actually had a really good season for the Toronto Raptors guarding players across multiple positions. He’d do a good job of covering for Williams and Kennard with cross-matching on the second unit.
- Ersan Ilyasova was waived by the Bucks after making above-minimum contributions as a backup power forward last season. I’d be inclined to have interest if LAC hadn’t retained Patrick Patterson’s services, but as it is he feels redundant.
- Wilson Chandler, DeMarre Carroll, and Anthony Tolliver are very typical vet’s min ring-chasing types, and all of them were good and versatile defenders at their best. Chandler was briefly a Clipper a couple of years ago and Tolliver was seemingly sought after by Doc Rivers every deadline and free agency window for years. At this point, though, these guys are all two years past doing what you’d like for them to do, and it’s probably time to look younger.
Best Remaining Free Agent Centers
- Hassan Whiteside and Alex Len are both going to end up going to places where they can get consistent playing time, which isn’t happening behind Zubac and Ibaka in LA.
- Guys like Kyle O’Quinn, DeWayne Dedmon, and Ian Mahinmi are more reliable emergency depth centers than the Clippers’ prospects, but I just don’t see them using another roster spot on a big man.
- Skal Labissiere, Ante Zizic, and Thon Maker all represent a bit of upside–but again, the Clippers already invested resources in trading for and drafting two young big men.
Lucas’ Top 10 Remaining Free Agents (For LAC)
That is to say, guys who are realistically available and fit a need.
- Solomon Hill
- Glenn Robinson III
- Rondae Hollis-Jefferson
- Langston Galloway
- Jordan McLaughlin
- Shabazz Napier
- Nicolas Batum
- Derrick Walton Jr.
- Shaquille Harrison
- Evan Turner
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