Things aren't exactly going the Los Angeles Clippers' way right about now. After a horrifically disappointing end to the 2014-15 season that saw them lose three straight games to the Houston Rockets — including a shocking Game 6 in which they blew a 19-point lead with 14 1/2 minutes remaining — to once again bow out of the postseason before the Western Conference finals, the Clips suffered another gutwrenching loss in free agency, when DeAndre Jordan agreed to a four-year, $80 million deal with the Dallas Mavericks.
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Suddenly, the Clippers must replace their leading rebounder and shot-blocker; the captain of their defense, the starting center on the NBA's 2014-15 All-Defensive First Team and the All-NBA Third Team; and arguably the league's premier interior finisher, the lob-crushing pick-and-roll monster who has led the NBA in field-goal percentage and effective field goal percentage in each of the last three seasons. Worse yet, as our Eric Freeman wrote after Jordan's defection, the Clippers lack viable means of finding that replacement, after devoting much of the scant financial flexibility they had to adding wing players Lance Stephenson and Paul Pierce earlier in free agency. Worse still, after moving disappointing big man Spencer Hawes in the trade that imported Stephenson before losing Jordan, the Clippers' roster presently features zero centers.
With prior trades ensuring that the Clips have neither first-round picks available to be traded nor second-round picks available to use until 2019, coach and team president Doc Rivers doesn't have many assets he can use to fill out the roster. With an estimated $70.1 million in salary already on the books for just nine players — plus an extra $3 million or so, when you tack on three incomplete roster charges (one for every spot under 12 players) plus the dead money owed to Carlos Delfino, Jordan Farmar and Miroslav Raduljica, all of whom were waived via the stretch provision — the Clippers are well over the 2015-16 cap, whether it comes in at the originally projected line of $67.1 million or gets the $2 million boost that CBSSports.com's Ken Berger has reported it could.
Barring a flexibility-increasing move like offloading veteran sixth man Jamal Crawford for a waivable contract that would give L.A. some more wiggle room — this is why you're hearing chatter about Crawford, the Cleveland Cavaliers and the non-guaranteed $10.5 million deal of Brendan Haywood — the Clips are limited to just a $2.27 million sliver of the taxpayer's midlevel exception and minimum salary deals to fill out the roster. That doesn't seem like enough to replace even a smidge of what Jordan provided.
This is why you're seeing the Clippers show up on "losers of free agency" lists, here and elsewhere. Don't believe us? Just listen to Clippers shooting guard J.J. Redick, who offered his grade for L.A.'s free agency period during an interview with Bleacher Report Radio. It's the kind of grade you'd have to have to have your parents sign, just so that your teacher knows that your folks are aware of how much you're struggling:
After repeatedly saying "F" during the host's question, and even asking if "there's an F-minus" option, Redick explained as simply and plainly as possible. (He did so without mentioning the Clippers' new uniforms, which certainly don't help matters.)
"Listen, we had one priority this summer. And that was to re-sign D.J. And we missed out on that,” he said. "So, barring some miracle, y'know, our makeup of our team is completely different now."
While Jordan's absence figures to be felt most acutely in the middle on defense, Redick made sure to note just how important he felt Jordan was on the offensive end for a Clippers squad that led the NBA in points scored per possession last season.
"He was such an integral part of what we did, not just defensively, but offensively, with the screening, the rolling, his offensive rebounds," Redick said. "You know, his presence down low essentially made teams either commit to the 3-point line when Blake [Griffin] or Chris [Paul] penetrated or commit to him, and that either opened up lobs for him or 3s for guys like me and Jamal and Matt [Barnes, who was traded in the Stephenson deal and later joined the Memphis Grizzlies]. So, he was a huge part of what we did, and missing out and having him leave for Dallas gives us a failing grade."
It's hard to argue with Redick's assessment, even as Rivers and company scour the market looking for veterans who might be willing to take minimum money to play alongside Paul and Griffin on a team that still figures to be in the Western Conference playoff picture. But while rumored Clipper targets like Josh Smith, Amar'e Stoudemire and Carlos Boozer all have their plus sides, none — save perhaps Smith, who was a meaningful contributor as a playmaking power forward and occasional small-ball five for the Rockets — figure to move the needle significantly in the Clippers' search for reliable two-way interior depth.
As a result, the Clippers must now be willing to consider names that don't exactly seem commensurate with Hollywood superstardom:
Two affordable unrestricted FAs who can play the center position with reasonable effectiveness: Henry Sims and Cole Aldrich. cc: Clippers.
— Kevin Arnovitz (@kevinarnovitz) July 7, 2015
... which figures to be a rude awakening for Clippers fans — even their biggest fan — who've grown accustomed to a slightly higher class of option over the past several years:
The answer, as it stands? Perhaps the Clippers' best hope of turning a failing grade into something more appetizing ... like a nice, respectable D.
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