"It's a loophole! A loophole's a loophole!"
For some reason that line has always stuck with me. It's from the second season of Happy Days, when Richie made out with the Fonz's girl, and Fonzie found out and knew he had to beat Richie up to maintain his status in the gang, but he didn't really want to beat Richie up. He figured out a way to NOT punch Richie, and even though it didn't make much sense, he still insisted "A loophole's a loophole." It all turns out fine in the end, when Richie accidentally gets hit in the eye by the door of the bathroom stall -- the gang thinks Fonzie punched him so they all still fear him, Richie and Fonzie know the truth, that they're really BFFs and soon the Fonz will be moving into the apartment over the garage and jumping sharks.
And speaking of which, a tangent from a tangent, Happy Days as a series "jumped the shark" long before Fonzie donned water skis at the beginning of season five. The first two seasons of Happy Days were good -- making the loophole episode the next to the last good one. Perhaps the show was not great even then, but it was much better than the following seasons. Sure, I was 12, but I liked Happy Days -- and I knew in 1975 when Fonz moved into that garage apartment that the show had "jumped the shark" despite the fact that neither the idiom nor the incident that inspired it yet existed.
A loophole's a loophole! -Arthur Fonzarelli
But back to loopholes -- the Los Angeles Clippers seem to have found a gaping one in the new NBA Collective Bargaining Agreement. The once-and-never Clippers Carlos Delfino and Miroslav Raduljica, acquired earlier this week from Milwaukee for Jared Dudley, have now been waived using the CBA's "stretch" provision.
The intent of the stretch provision is to allow teams to spread their cap hit on waived players over a longer period of time, giving teams an additional tool for getting some cap relief without taking any money away from guaranteed contracts. The CBA says that the remaining salary can be stretched over the remaining contract years, doubled, plus one year. So one contract year can be paid out over three, two contract years paid over five, three over seven, etc.
Yet somehow, the Clippers are managing to pay one year of salary over five years.
As it happens, the wording in the CBA allows them to include unguaranteed seasons in the duration calculation, without including the actual money. So Carlos Delfino is owed $3.25M this year and another $3.25M next year, but that second season is unguaranteed. By waiving him, they are paying out just $3.25M (since the unguaranteed money depended on him not being waived) but the NBA is allowing the Clippers to count it as a two year contract. The same applies for Raduljica, who likewise has a second year of unguaranteed money.
A loophole's a loophole!
Here's the bottom line for the Clippers: they have turned Jared Dudley's $4.25M contract obligation for this season AND next season (an obligation that included some bonuses that could have taken him to $4.75M) into $950K over five seasons -- a drop in the bucket. That $950K could conceivably be a tad annoying in 2017 -- but probably not. And the extra three million plus this season and next season is going to come in real handy.
The team now has 11 players under contract, and by my math they sit about $4.45M below the hard cap imposed on them this season. They have various imperatives and incentives to sign additional players -- they are required to have 13 players under contract during the season, they will probably want to take 14 contracts into training camp because of a technicality with camp roster spots -- but they can only sign minimum deals at this point. The cap hit for any minimum deal, regardless of the actual salary for the player which can vary by years of service, is $915K. So the Clippers have the space under the hard cap and the available roster spots to sign four more players, if they want to.
Which brings us to basketball -- lost in these salary cap machinations is the fact that Jared Dudley was brought to the team to start at small forward. The three wound up being the team's weak spot last season, and it has not gotten stronger since (barring a sophomore season leap forward by Reggie Bullock). I'm relatively comfortable with Matt Barnes being the fifth best starter on a championship team -- after all, you can't have superstars at every position, and one of the spots has to be the weakest -- but there's barely any depth behind him, not to mention that I wouldn't say no to an upgrade, particularly on the defensive end.
As of now, Bullock is the backup small forward, a role he may or may not be ready for. And as of now, there aren't any true small forwards on the radar, at least not anyone better than Chris Douglas-Roberts. Doc will almost certainly play small a LOT this season, with Jamal Crawford and maybe even J.J. Redick playing some three -- but that's not a sustainable solution.
The Clippers will take at least 14 players under contract into camp, and my guess is that they will take 13 or 14 into the season. If they can pick up some assets on unguaranteed deals -- a la Stephen Jackson last season -- that would be ideal, as they could always flip those guys. Then they'll hold onto the final $1.5M of room under the hard cap, and see what shakes out at the trade deadline. My guess is that Rivers will try to turn some combination of expiring deals (Barnes and Crawford) and/or young assets (Bullock and rookie C.J. Miles) into what would hopefully be a major upgrade at the small forward position. Will such a player hit the market in February? We'll have to wait and see.