Jerome Robinson

Getty

Doc Rivers as Clippers look to free agency: ‘This is the start of something great here’

4 Comments

LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles Clippers overcame low expectations and a roster without any current or former All-Stars to win 48 games, make the playoffs and push the two-time defending champion Golden State Warriors to six games.

Now they’re ready to go shopping. A blockbuster list of free agents comes on the market this summer.

The Clippers have depth and a cohesive bunch of players who fight to the finish – comeback wins of 31 points in Game 2 against Golden State, 28 points at Boston, 25 points at Detroit and 20 points at Charlotte – and that should help catch the eye of big-name talent.

They went 48-34, extending a franchise record with their eighth consecutive winning season. Their 13-2 mark was the NBA’s best in March.

“We did more than most thought we could,” coach Doc Rivers said. “This is the start of something great here.”

After missing out last year, they returned to the playoffs for the seventh time in eight years. As an eighth seed, they lost in 4-2 in the first round to Golden State, but not before their Game 2 comeback – the biggest in NBA playoff history.

“That’s a beautiful basketball team,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “They’ve got a bright future.”

Some things to watch:

IMPACT ROOKIES: Two of the team’s three rookie guards made a big impact. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander started 73 of 82 games at the point, averaging 10.8 points, 2.8 rebounds and 3.3 assists during the regular season. He scored a Clippers rookie playoff record 25 points against the Warriors. Landry Shamet joined the team in February in a trade from Philadelphia, where he played his first 54 games. He finished fourth all-time in 3-pointers made (167) by a rookie during the season, when he shot 42 percent. Jerome Robinson showed promise while struggling to find minutes in a crowded backcourt, dealing with a nagging foot injury and going back and forth to the G League. The trio’s presence could help make the Clippers an attractive free-agent destination, knowing their youngsters can make plays in big games and have huge upside. “They were complete pros,” Lou Williams said. “They took every challenge that we had for them, on the road, in practice.”

GETTING A STEAL: C Ivica Zubac came over from the Lakers in a steal of a deal at the trade deadline in February. The 7-foot-1 center started 12 of 33 games for his new team, averaging 8.5 points and 4.9 rebounds. He had a playoff career-high of 18 points and 15 rebounds against Golden State. Zubac and Montrezl Harrell formed one of the best center combinations in the league. Zubac, a third-year pro, can become a restricted free agent after the season.

OFF THE BENCH: Harrell and Williams, a candidate for his third Sixth Man of the Year award, proved a lethal combo off the bench. They notched the highest combined scoring average of any reserve duo in NBA history at 36.9 points. Williams led the league in bench scoring at 20.1 points (also tops on the team) while becoming the No. 1 bench scorer in league history. Harrell was fourth at 16.8.

FRONT OFFICE: The Clippers have a solid front-office to pursue free agents. President of basketball operations Lawrence Frank presides over general manager Michael Winger, assistant GMs Mark Hughes and Trent Redden, and consultant Jerry West. Winger is so committed to seeing the franchise build a long-term contender that he took himself out of contention for Minnesota’s basketball ops job. Under Frank, the team traded its highest-scoring players each of the last two seasons (Blake Griffin and Tobias Harris) for multiple draft picks and other players while freeing up room under the salary cap to offer maximum deals to free agents this summer. Coach Doc Rivers is locked in for what’s to come, having said in March he’s working out a long-term contract extension.

Clippers biding their time until star hunt

Getty Images
Leave a comment

NBCSports.com’s Dan Feldman is grading every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there.

Lob City is the proudest era in Clippers history. Really, it’s the franchise’s only proud era since moving to California. After reaching the playoffs just four times in the first 33 years post-Buffalo, the Clippers qualified all six years Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan played together. In that span, only the Spurs and Thunder won more games.

And now it’s over.

The Clippers moved the final remaining link from their 2012-2017 teams by trading Wesley Johnson yesterday. That’s historic turnover, as the roster is completely remade just two years later. Since the early 1950s, only the 1996 Mavericks and 2003 and 2004 Hawks completely changed their rosters within two seasons.

L.A.’s flux comes with big eyes. The Clippers are trying to lure star free agents, which means closely monitoring situations elsewhere. Entering the season with the Raptors, Kawhi Leonard reportedly favors the Clippers. Jimmy Butler is unhappy with the Timberwolves – ideal for the Clippers, who want to avoid another pleasing team landing his Bird Rights. Though Kevin Durant rumors are focused on the Knicks, talk of him leaving the Warriors could mean L.A. is at least in the mix.

The Clippers project to be able to unilaterally open about $63 million in cap space without stretching players next summer.

Creating so much flexibility required stinginess this summer. The only free agents signed to multi-year guarantees were Montrezl Harrell (two years, $12 million) and Avery Bradley ($12 million this season, just $2 million of $12.96 million guaranteed next season).

The Clippers also gave multi-year deals to their first-round picks, No. 11 pick Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and No. 13 pick Jerome Robinson. I’m much more bullish on Gilgeous-Alexander. Those two rookies could be important in building back up, because for the second straight summer, the Clippers lost their best player.

After Paul engineered his way to the Rockets last summer – with Griffin traded to the Pistons between – Jordan left for the Mavericks this summer. His fit in L.A. had become awkward, and though he was willing to take a one-year deal (at least with Dallas), everyone seemed ready to move on. This seemingly wasn’t about maintaining flexibility. It was about turning the page.

The Clippers will miss Jordan on the court next season. They replaced him with Marcin Gortat, acquired in a trade for Austin Rivers, but that’s a downgrade.

Gortat (like Rivers) is on an expiring contract. So are Luc Mbah a Moute – a Lob City contributor returning after a stint in Houston – and Mike Scott, who each signed one year, $4,320,500 deals for half the mid-level exception.

The Clippers look deep and feisty after all this tinkering around Tobias Harris, Lou Williams, Patrick Beverley and Danilo Gallinari. They probably won’t make the playoffs in a loaded Western Conference, but they should remain competitive enough to stay on the radar of free agents.

Remember, though, the Clippers entered the summer coming off a winning season and with plenty of 2019 cap space. They were always setting up to make a big splash next summer. They just took a small step back this summer, which will be no problem if they make their desired leap in a year.

Offseason grade: C-

Report: Suns’ top point-guard target is Clippers’ Patrick Beverley

AP Photo/Jae C. Hong
Leave a comment

The Suns were reportedly targeting the Clippers’ Patrick Beverley, Pacers’ Cory Joseph and Nets’ Spencer Dinwiddie.

One of those point guards apparently stands above the others.

Stadium:

Shams Charania:

I’m told they’re targeting Clippers guard Patrick Beverley. He’s been at the top of their list.

The issue is price, asking price. Phoenix has only been willing to give up second-round picks in all their discussions for a veteran point guard, which they’re trying to acquire. And the Clippers, just like every other team that knows Phoenix needs a point guard, wants a first-round pick.

The Suns trading for Beverley could make sense. Phoenix badly needs a point guard, and Beverley could fit with high-scoring Devin Booker like he did with James Harden. L.A. has plenty of players capable of being lead guards – Beverley, Lou Williams, Milos Teodosic, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Jerome Robinson, Jawun Evans and Tyrone Wallace – and has already gone toward taking a step back to this season to position for the future.

But a second-rounder if far too little for Beverley. If that’s all the Suns will offer, there’s nothing realistic about this.

On the other hand, an unprotected first-rounder would be too much for Phoenix to surrender.

Perhaps, there’s a middle ground – a protected first-rounder (with Troy Daniels used to match salary). It’s just a matter of negotiating the protections and determining whether there’s common ground.

In surprise move, Clippers match offer sheet to Tyrone Wallace

Getty Images
1 Comment

Most around the league expected the Clippers to move on from Tyronne Wallace when the Pelicans gave the restricted free agent a two-year offer sheet. They liked his play last season, but Wallace would give the Clippers 17 guaranteed contracts on the roster, meaning they would have to pay two people not to play (they already were going to have to do that with one). Plus, the Clippers are loaded at the guard spot Patrick Beverley, Milos Teodosic, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Avery Bradley, Lou Williams, Jerome Robinson, and Sindarius Thornwell.

The Clippers are going to match the offer anyway, a story broken by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

That has since been confirmed by the Clippers.

“We identified Tyrone as a versatile, competitive and tough-minded player who adds to the organizational culture,” Clippers head of basketball operations Lawrence Frank said in a statement. “Ty worked hard with our staff at Agua Caliente and Los Angeles, and his growth has been a reflection of his commitment to getting better. Together with our team’s player development program, Ty demonstrated impressive improvement and contributed meaningfully to our team last season. We are excited to welcome Ty back to the Clippers.”

Expect the Clippers to try and make a trade to cut their costs in the coming weeks, although that will come at the price of draft picks most likely.

Wallace was in camp with the Clippers last season but was cut and signed with their G-League team in Ontario, then in January got bumped up to a two-way contract. However, with all the injuries and roster changes in Los Angeles last season, Wallace got thrown into NBA action quickly — he played 31 minutes in his first game for the big club. Wallace ended up playing in 30 games for the Clippers, becoming a steady part of the rotation near the end.

Wallace looked like a guy ready for the NBA. He fits the modern game in that he’s a versatile player who can be put in at either guard spot and can defend spots one through three. He moves well without the ball. The rest of his offensive game needs work — he doesn’t have enough shooting range yet, his ball handling and decision-making need to get better — but he impressed the Clippers enough they are going to keep him.

How many minutes he can get in that rotation remains to be seen, but this is a win for Wallace because he’s getting paid.

Reversing reported course, Clippers fully guarantee Milos Teodosic’s salary

Josh Lefkowitz/Getty Images
1 Comment

The Clippers reportedly wanted to move on from point guard Milos Teodosic.

Teodosic opted in anyway, guaranteeing $2.1 million of his $6.3 million salary. Why not get as much money as possible on the way out?

But apparently Teodosic isn’t leaving L.A., as his contract became fully guaranteed yesterday.

Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times:

The Clippers are expected to keep guard Milos Teodosic despite their crowded backcourt, according to an NBA official not authorized to speak publicly.

The Clippers traded guard Austin Rivers for center Marcin Gortat since the initial report, but that hardly ended the backcourt logjam. Patrick Beverley, Avery Bradley, Lou Williams, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Jerome Robinson, C.J. Williams and Jawun Evans remain at guard.

The bigger logjam is with the overall roster, though. The Clippers now have 17 players on standard contracts, two more than the regular-season limit. That doesn’t bode well for Williams, whose salary is unguaranteed. Without another trade, Evans or Sindarius Thornwell could get cut.

Why the change of heart on Teodosic? Perhaps, he’s progressing better than expected medically. The 31-year-old missed 37 games last season with a foot injury, and there was concern about his long-term health. But when on the court, he’s a dazzling passer and long-distance shooter. Being slowed won’t help his already-woeful defense, though.

The Clippers were already over the cap, and they’re in little danger of entering the luxury tax. So, the only costs of guaranteeing Teodosic are owner Steve Ballmer’s real money, a roster spot and him potentially blocking playing time of L.A.’s lottery-pick guards. But the Clippers could even cut Teodosic in the preseason if someone else emerges as more deserving of the roster spot, and Doc Rivers can choose whether to play Teodosic or Gilgeous-Alexander and Robinson.

So, the biggest development is the roster spot. Teodosic is now extremely likely to hold it into the season, which means monitoring who gets dripped.