Clippers land John Wall on two-year, $13.2-million deal

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FILE - Houston Rockets' John Wall controls the ball during the third quarter against the Indiana Pacers in an NBA basketball game April 14, 2021, in Houston. Wall and the Rockets have agreed that his contract will be bought out, a move that will free him to sign with any team of his choosing, two people with knowledge of the situation said Monday, June 27, 2022. (Carmen Mandato/Pool Photo via AP, File)
John Wall, who last played in the NBA for Houston in April 2021, has agreed to a two-year deal with the Clippers. (Carmen Mandato / Associated Press)

When midnight approaches and the cabin of the team flight divides into those playing cards and those watching film or falling asleep, Clippers assistant Larry Drew is usually found among the latter.

Still, he often hears or watches the card game. And in Drew’s four decades in the NBA, he has met few who play Bourré more shrewdly than coach Tyronn Lue.

“He has not just a knack, but there are little different things you can do that you can manipulate,” Drew said in March. “Sometimes sitting there, he can have the worst hand in the world, but the way he talks and the way he approaches that deal, you'd never know it. And that's how he coaches.”

Lue’s self-described comfort playing the possibilities is part of his edge and was a factor in his 2020 promotion to Clippers’ coach, and ever since, the executives tasked with building the roster have attempted to give the card player as deep a deck to draw from as possible. Next season, he will have options when it comes to finding which lineups best suit the Clippers. After agreeing to a two-year, $13.2-million contract with point guard John Wall on Friday, the team has on paper what Ralph Lawler, the former voice of the team for four decades, opined on social media was the deepest, most talented roster in franchise history.

Depending on your depth-chart ordering of choice, the third-string lineup might include either wings Luke Kennard, last season’s most accurate three-point shooter in the NBA, or Terance Mann, whose 39-point playoff outburst in 2021 pushed the franchise into its first conference final. The team is still keen to develop point guard Jason Preston, coming off a rookie season wiped out by a foot injury. When Lue goes to his bench, he can roll out wing Norman Powell, who averaged 18.7 points on 40% three-point shooting as a starter in Portland last season before arriving via trade, and Nicolas Batum, whose range defensively and offensively has expanded with age.

Though one roster spot and a vacancy at backup center behind starter Ivica Zubac remains — there is little urgency to fill the 15th and final spot, with the team more interested in staying flexible than rushing toward an immediate decision — the Clippers could just as easily play forwards Marcus Morris Sr. or Robert Covington at center in spaced-out lineups.

The Clippers’ construction has been aided by the largesse of owner Steve Ballmer, whose combination of outsized wealth and hunger for a championship has provided a directive to spend smartly, but freely, toward that title objective. Even with one roster spot still available, the Clippers’ $191 million in payroll means Ballmer is already staring at the possibility of paying a luxury tax bill of around $143 million for next season, according to Spotrac projections — an amount that, for context, is higher than the payrolls of three-quarters of NBA teams last season.

Ballmer this week described his team’s potential as “sky is the limit,” and the Clippers added Wall through a belief he increases that limit because amid all of that depth, with its overlapping skill sets, Wall’s speed to drive into the paint stood out as distinctive. The team wouldn’t have entertained Wall’s signing unless it believed he could add a new dimension to an offense that even with Kawhi Leonard and Paul George healthy, could be plodding and stagnant, moving more side-to-side than toward the basket.

The Clippers felt Wall at a slightly diminished speed was still an upgrade worth betting on, even though he hasn't played an NBA game in 14 months. His quickness also increases their threat in transition, where they ranked 21st in points off turnovers and 17th in points per game in transition last season.

Wall has career averages of 45% shooting inside the arc and 32% beyond it while playing as a high-volume lead scorer in Washington and Houston, and there is a hope his shooting efficiency will improve without being tasked to shoulder as much of the offensive responsibility.

A former No. 1 pick and five-time All-Star, Wall has come off the bench only 12 times in 10 seasons. Whether he or incumbent Reggie Jackson starts, adding Wall is hoped to affect Jackson for the better, whether by moving him off the ball at times to take advantage of his catch-and-shoot accuracy, or helping keep him fresh by reducing some of the workload of a 32-year-old coming off last season's career-high 31.7 minutes per game.

Part of the Clippers’ strategy has been to stack the deck around Leonard and George with a large supporting cast that leans heavily on veterans who, after being discarded elsewhere, are willing to do less to win big. Batum and Jackson are the template the Clippers hope Wall will fil.

“Ultimately, what we're trying to achieve, it's going to take a great deal of sacrifice, and you want to make sure you have the right blend, you want to make sure you have players who really feel driven to do something that hasn't been done before and that have a chip on their shoulder,” Lawrence Frank, the team’s top basketball executive, said in late June.

Once out of the league while being paid to stay away from Houston’s youth movement, Wall wasted little time being back within a franchise’s plans. By Friday afternoon, Wall was already in the Clippers’ practice facility, sharing a picture of his freshly pressed No. 11 jersey and video of him flexing in the weight room.

“Yes sir,” Wall said. “Already to work baby.”

Etc.

Point guard Xavier Moon and guard Jay Scrubb, both coming off of two-way contracts with the Clippers, are on the team’s 14-man roster for the Las Vegas summer league beginning July 9. Others on the roster include 2021 second-round picks Brandon Boston Jr. and Jason Preston, Moussa Diabate, the team’s most recent draft pick, and a trio recently signed to training-camp contracts: Utah State’s Justin Bean, Loyola Chicago’s Lucas Williamson and Georgia Tech’s Michael Devoe.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.