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Markieff Morris reportedly cleared to return; Rockets, Lakers among teams interested

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Markieff Morris has been sidelined since Dec. 26 after suffering a potentially serious neck injury. That hasn’t kept him out of the news: First the Wizards traded him to New Orleans in the Wesley Johnson deal, and then the Pelicans waived him, making Morris a free agent who would be valued on the open market.

Before talking to teams, Morris wanted to see a specialist and make sure his neck was healthy. He did just that, and his agent told Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports that Morris has now been cleared and suitors are lining up.

Free-agent forward Markieff Morris has been cleared to play after recovering from a neck injury and has garnered interest from the Houston Rockets and Los Angeles Lakers, his agent, Rich Paul of Klutch Sports, told Yahoo Sports.

Morris is a stretch four/five (he played 65 percent of his minutes with the Wizards at center this season) averaging 11.5 points and 5.1 rebounds a game, and he has shot 33.3 percent from three. He is a solid rotation big man coaches can count on, and that has real value in this league. Especially on teams looking at playoff runs.

The Lakers and Rockets are looking for frontline depth and shooting, and they are not alone, other teams will be interested as well. Morris will have landing spots to choose from, depending on what he prioritizes.

Report: Wizards dodging luxury tax by trading Markieff Morris to Pelicans

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Whether they trade him or shut him down, the Pelicans might be without Anthony Davis for the rest of the season.

New Orleans just got a serviceable big man in case.

David Aldridge of The Athletic:

Last year was the first time the Wizards ever paid the luxury tax. Teams pay the repeater rate only when in the tax for the fourth time in the last five years. Washington was in no real danger of paying the repeater rate.

This move simply gets the Wizards out of the tax this season. They’ll not only avoid the cost of the tax, they’ll also receive the share of tax payments distributed to non-taxpaying teams. This was clearly the goal after Washington traded Otto Porter to reduce payroll earlier today.

Markieff Morris is better than Wesley Johnson. I’m not sure how much that matters to New Orleans, which appears content to tank until Davis can be traded to the Celtics this offseason.

The Pelicans are now on the hook for the $877,544 difference in remaining salary between Morris and Johnson (assuming the trade is officially completed Thursday). The prize is the second-round pick. Maybe Morris can be flipped to a team that can use him.

The Wizards are left to hope Bradley Beal can drag a further-depleted roster into the playoffs. Obviously, it’s not the primary focus in Washington right now, but in a dreary Eastern Conference, the postseason remains in reach.

Clippers biding their time until star hunt

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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: Clippers trading Wesley Johnson to Pelicans for Alexis Ajinca

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The Chris PaulBlake GriffinDeAndre Jordan era already ended in L.A.

Now, the Clippers are losing the very last player from their 2016-17 team (just two years ago!) – Wesley Johnson, who’s being shipped to the Pelicans for Alexis Ajinca.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Johnson ($6,134,520) has a slightly higher salary than Ajinca ($5,285,394) with both players in the final year of their contracts. As long the Clippers have to waive a player, they’d rather drop the cheaper one.

The Clippers actually had to shed two players before the regular-season roster deadline. They’re also releasing Jawun Evans, the No. 39 pick last year. The point guard just didn’t acclimate to the NBA quickly enough to beat out Sindarius Thornwell and Tyrone Wallace. Though waiving Evans was probably the right move now, I wouldn’t write him off entirely.

Ajinca, on the other hand, has no place in a shrinking NBA. The 7-foot-2 30-year-old can’t stay healthy and hasn’t been productive when on the court.

Johnson fell out of favor with Clippers coach Doc Rivers, but the Pelicans desperate for a small forward. Though Johnson wouldn’t be an exciting addition for most teams, he’s worth the low cost – the $849,126 difference between his and Ajinca’s salaries – to New Orleans, where he might actually be a significant addition.

Report: Clippers’ Wesley Johnson opts into $6.1 million next season

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We don’t know if DeAndre Jordan is going to be back with the Clippers next season. Same with Avery Bradley. Heck, there are even questions about Doc Rivers’ return as coach.

However, we do know that Wesley Johnson will be back in Los Angeles next season, thanks to Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

Wise move. In what will be a tight financial market for free agents, Johnson wasn’t going to find more money from another team.

Johnson, the former No. 4 overall pick (in front of DeMarcus Cousins, Paul George and others) was an on-and-off starter among the shifting Clippers lineups last season, averaging 5.4 points a game with a below-average 51.2 true shooting percentage and a PER of 9.8 that is the kind of number seen from guys barely hanging on in the league. He’s a streaky offensive player who plays solid defense.

That wouldn’t earn him $6.1 million on the open market, better for him to come back to the Clippers next season and improve his value before he hits the market in 2019.