Assuming there are no surprises between now and July 12 when free agents can officially sign contracts, the Clippers will have the following 12 players under contract in one week:
Brand, Mobley, Maggette, Cassell, Thomas, Kaman, Livingston, Rebraca, Korolev, Ross, Singleton and Ewing.
That is a wicked 12 man roster - 11 of the 12 made contributions to playoff teams last year, and Korolev should be closer to contributing this year, if Dunleavy was right to spend the 12th pick on him. The 9 man rotation is pretty well set, and Singleton and Ewing proved that they are capable backups in the event of injuries.
Rebraca, who never really got back from his heart problems last season, would seem to be the only question mark. But with Brand, Kaman and Thomas up front, it's probably not a big problem if Z is done (don't forget that the guy is 34 and had a long career in Europe before coming to the NBA).
The Clippers can carry three more contracts. So, what would you do?
Baker, McCarty and N'Dong are all out there. Then there are this year's second round picks, Paul Davis and Guillermo Diaz. And let's not forget about 'My Big Fat Greek Shaq', Sofoklis Schortsanitis, whom the Clippers indicated was a possibility for 06-07 back in May.
Or do you go after another free agent? For the sake of argument, let's say you could sign mystery player X with money under the cap, then sign Thomas to the mid-level exception, then re-sign Cassell. I'm pretty sure the CBA would allow that, and it would give the Clippers about $7M to spend on another free agent, more than all but a couple of teams. So, would you do it?
The free agent thing is an interesting question. I think you at least have to go through the exercise. Chicago was the only 2006 playoff team with cap room, which they have used on Ben Wallace. New Orleans is the next closest thing to a playoff team with cap room, and they used it on Peja. So, literally, the Clippers are now the ONLY decent team in the NBA who can offer more than the mid-level exception to guys like Bonzi Wells and Al Harrington. If you offered one of those guys a multi-year deal starting at $7M, they'd have to consider it. So would you do it? (Those are the only two free agents still available who will command more than the mid-level, which is why I'm focused on them.)
The short answer on Bonzi and Al is, NO. They both have talent to spare, but neither has a stellar rep, and the last thing the Clippers want to do is eff-up their chemistry, especially on a gamble they don't have to take. But like I said, I think you have to go through the steps and explore the remaining possiblities in free agency.
This blogger would use the last three roster spots as follows:
- A big - either Davis or N'Dong or Schortsanitis, whichever one is ready to contribute NOW. (The Vin Baker experiment was fun, but surely it's over.) There's no rush on Schortsanitis - he's only 21, and the longer you leave him in Europe, the more contribution you get from the rookie scale contract. So you bring him now if he's ready now, and not before. If you're convinced Rebraca is done, you take two of these guys, but if Rebraca can play at all (i.e. you don't waive him), then you only need one. (NBA GM's and coaches tend to keep WAY too many bigs, I think as a hedge against injuries and based on the old saw that you can't coach size, but haven't we seen time and again that you just don't need 3 seven footers at the end of your bench? We no longer have to load our roster to compete with Shaq in the playoffs - that's Dwyane Wade's team in Miami.)
- A shooter. The one weakness on the Clippers 12 man roster is outside shooting. Mobley and Thomas are the only consistent perimeter threats based on career numbers. Cassell shot the 3 well last year (better than Mobley), and Maggette shot OK (as well as Mobley), but these stats have more to do with Mobley's poor shooting. And none of the guys at the end of the bench are really threats (I'm assuming Singleton's 10 for 20 is more 'fluke' than 'pleasant surprise' and nothing to be counted on in either case). Korolev is supposed to be a shooter, but we sure haven't seen it yet. So bring some shooters into camp. Fred Hoiberg, Richie Frahm, hell, Gerry McNamara. You know who would be perfect? Kevin Pittsnogle - gives you size AND stretches the defense. (McNamara is on Orlando's summer league roster, and Pittsnogle is on Miami's.) Even if you have to actually offer a decent contract to the likes of Tony Delk, Voshon Lenard, Eddie House or even Keith Van Horn, do it. We need somebody who can make threes. Last in the league is not acceptable.
- See (2).
Finally, there are the potential extensions for Dunleavy and Kaman. I'm not sure I have completely acclimated to this world where the Clippers make the right decision for NEXT season, let alone thinking two or three seasons ahead. Give me a month or so, and maybe I'll have something to say about contract extensions. For now, I'm happy to have what appears to be a 'deep playoff run' roster for 06-07. I may get the 'bends' if we start doing the right thing for 07-08: been under water way too long.