Not many expected the Los Angeles Clippers to make the playoffs in 2018-19, especially not after the major acquisition the team with which they share a city and arena made last summer. And yet, the Clippers finished the season with an impressive 48-34 record, as the Western Conference’s No. 8 seed and, once in the playoffs, gave the reigning champion Golden State Warriors a real fight before ultimately succumbing to the talent disparity in six games.
It was just not a fantastic coaching job by Doc Rivers, the Clippers’ front office also deserves a ton of credit for building a strong team with a great culture, and, most importantly, without sacrificing future cap flexibility. Los Angeles was able to secure their backcourt of the future over the past 12 months by first drafting Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, and then by trading Tobias Harris to the Philadelphia 76ers for Landry Shamet. Both young guards showed an exciting amount of promise over their inaugural campaigns, and look to be potential building blocks of the future for the Clippers. Besides that duo, Los Angeles also got a great year from Lou Williams, one that was explosive enough to make him the heavy favorite for 2018-19’s Sixth Man of the Year award. Even better for the Clippers, Williams has another two years left on his deal after this season, worth a grand total of $16 million. That’s incredible work by Los Angeles.
Now, a huge summer awaits the Clippers. With a bit of creativity and just a touch of luck, Los Angeles now has the ability to open up enough room for two max contracts this summer – at worst, they’ll have no trouble opening up one max slot – and with that cap space, the team can pitch elite free agents on playing in a huge market for a well-respected head coach, alongside a talented young core and for a potential contender. If things break right, this could be a franchise-changing offseason for the Clippers.
GUARANTEED CONTRACTS FOR 2019/20
Danilo Gallinari: $22,615,559
Lou Williams: $8,000,000
Montrezl Harrell: $6,000,000
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander: $3,952,920
Jerome Robinson: $3,572,280
Landry Shamet: $1,997,640
NON-GUARANTEED CONTRACTS FOR 2019/20
Sindarius Thornwell: $1,618,520
Tyrone Wallace: $1,588,231
Rodney McGruder: Restricted
Ivica Zubac: Restricted
The Clippers’ top priority this summer has to be to make a huge splash in free agency and make the jump from a good team to an elite one. Los Angeles will be after huge names like Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson, but their top target almost certainly will be Toronto Raptors small forward Kawhi Leonard, who already had interest in joining one of the two L.A. teams back when he made his original trade request, and will very probably listen to what the Clippers are selling this offseason.
Simply by waiving their free-agent rights to Wilson Chandler, JaMychal Green, Garrett Temple and Patrick Beverley, Los Angeles will open up nearly $53 million in cap space, more than enough to offer Leonard a max contract and the keys to the franchise. Whether or not Leonard takes the deal may depend on how the Raptors fare in the playoffs, though, barring a title run, it’s possible Leonard will listen to free-agent pitches no matter what. It’ll be up to Los Angeles to convince him.
Another decision the Clippers will have to make will be whether or not they try and move on from Danilo Gallinari this offseason. Yes, he’s coming off arguably the best year of his career, but his value will never be higher than it is now, he’s due $22.6 million next season and he had a brutal showing in the playoffs against Golden State. If Los Angeles senses they can make real noise in free agency, dumping Gallinari may not just be a possibility, but a necessity.
Apart from that, Los Angeles just needs to plan for their worst-case scenario, which would be failing to land any of their top targets. If that were to happen, their best course of action may be to keep the team intact, and sign free agents to a maximum of two-year deals, leaving the Clippers with a chance to try and swing for the fences again in 2021. In comparison to 2020’s class weak free-agent class, 2021’s is stacked with elite names like Paul George, Bradley Beal and Damian Lillard, so maintaining cap flexibility for that summer will be crucial for Los Angeles if they don’t land a superstar this offseason.
POTENTIAL FREE AGENT TARGETS
Kawhi Leonard: If the Clippers are going to land a superstar this summer, the one they have the best chance with is probably Leonard. His team was interested in joining a major market at the time of their original trade request, and Los Angeles fits that bill perfectly.
Kevin Durant: The tea leaves at the moment read that Durant isn’t long for Golden State, and although the heavy favorite to sign him are the New York Knicks, there’s at least somewhat of a chance the Clippers can impress the star forward with a strong free-agent pitch, and get him to join them.
Klay Thompson: On the small chance Thompson leaves the Warriors this summer, might he be interested in joining his hometown Clippers?
Jimmy Butler: A solid consolation prize for missing out on Leonard and Durant, Butler fits the mold of a Doc-Rivers player, and would be the perfect two-way wing to place alongside Shamet and Gilgeous-Alexander.
POTENTIAL TRADE TARGETS
Anthony Davis: Los Angeles has the assets and salaries necessary to make this deal possible. It wouldn’t come cheap, but landing a Top-5 talent league-wide is supposed to be expensive, and Davis would certainly be worth it.
Bradley Beal: There’s a chance the Washington Wizards decide to blow things up this summer, and if they do, the Clippers would be wise to get in on the Beal sweepstakes. The All-Star 2-guard would fit wonderfully next to Gilgeous-Alexander and raise Los Angeles’ ceiling quite a bit.
2019 DRAFT ASSETS
The Clippers don’t own a first-round pick this summer, but do have not just their second-round pick, but a second-rounder courtesy of the Portland Trail Blazers, too.