Thinking Ahead: Clippers could have ~$7.6 million in space next summer


Even with the 2015-16 season having yet to kick off, it’s never too early to start looking toward the future. For this particular post that future equates to scoping out how flexible cap space can/will be for the Clippers come the summer of 2016, and per Eric Pincus of the Los Angeles Times and Basketball Insiders, the team could have close to $7.6 million available to spend on team upgrades.

As usual when dealing with the salary cap, things are a tad-bit complicated, unless you’ve read enough of Pincus and Larry Coon to classify oneself as an expert — I’m comfortable with being a work in progress in the regard. Before going into the crazy, let’s start with the simple — so without digging too deep into how cap holds and draft holds and other things of that nature work out, we’ll work with the figure Pincus presents.

After the ’15-16 season, of the 16 players currently under contract with the Clippers only five will be unrestricted free agents: Josh Smith, Chuck Hayes, Pablo Prigioni, Nikoloz Tskitishvili, and Jamal Crawford; the first four were all signed to one-year deals this past summer. Another three of the sixteen, Austin Rivers, Cole Aldrich, and Wesley Johnson, all have player options; another two, C.J. Wilcox and Lance Stephenson, have team options; and Branden Dawson, 2015 second-round pick, is non-guaranteed.

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The presumed go-to method to create cap space in 2016 for this Clippers group would be allowing Jamal Crawford to walk, though the Clippers may need to do little as his intentions to be elsewhere in the future have been heard loud and clear this summer. The other is declining Lance Stephenson’s $10 million team option, a factor that played big in the team trading for the maligned shooting guard this summer. Outside of those two, it’s easy seeing Smith, Rivers, Aldrich, and Johnson all leaving to seek bigger contracts on the market, especially if all four play well in ’15-16.

Regardless of who stays and who goes, the Clippers’ needs going into the summer of 2016 will reflect those similar from 2015, without the dying need to re-sign the franchise center, 2014, and 2013: signing a wing. Two or three years ago, close to $7 million in freed space would’ve been the perfect amount to place the right wing between Chris Paul and Blake Griffin for the starting lineup — Pierce’ll likely be a bench player at this point of his career, if not prior to. In 2012, Trevor Ariza made just north of $7 million as a member of the Washington Wizards, and Kyle Korver, just under seven, both who’d be described as above-average role players for their respective position. But in 2015, when the cap hikes for the second consecutive season, $7 million may be just enough to lure smaller 3-and-D players. For example, Jae Crowder, who averaged 5.8 points on 41% shooting for his career, is set to be paid $6.086 by the Boston Celtics this season. Corey Brewer, a similar player to Crowder who averaged 11.9 points on 42% shooting in Houston’s free-flowing offense, is set to be earn $8.2 million in 2015. And lastly, Iman Shumpert, who averaged 7.2 points on 41% shooting in Cleveland last year and is quite injury prone, is set to earn $8.988 million in 2015.

With a rising cap, the pressure once again sits on the shoulders of Doc Rivers to make things happen, again if all offseason additions picked up this summer meet expectation with the Clippers in 2015-16, a factor that may or may not be measured by if the team is carrier of the Larry O’Brien trophy come June of 2016. As there was in 2015, there’ll be a talented player like Josh Smith who’ll settle for money less than his market worth for the opportunity to win to play with superstars like Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, live in California, and compete for a NBA championship. Scanning the list of players who could reach the free agent market in 2016, some names who come could fit that mold includes Jordan Hill, Marvin Williams, O.J. Mayo, Luol Deng (this one is up in the air), and Joe Johnson.

As stated in the opening ‘graph, thinking about who the Clippers will have signed or let walk a year from now is thinking way ahead. A lot could change now, with the biggest change being the franchise winning a championship, something many believe the franchise is equipped to do after an overhaul of the bench, the team’s achilles heel these past two seasons.

Hopefully Rivers and co. are up for the test when the time comes, or it’ll be another long year for Clippers fans.