The Los Angeles Clippers season ended on Wednesday after a tough series against the Phoenix Suns. After coming back to win two consecutive series down 0-2, they didn’t have enough juice to pull off a third. While a championship was the ultimate goal, it’s hard not to look at this playoff run as an overall success given the circumstances. The Clippers’ rotation stepped up against the Jazz as many people wrote them off and led the franchise to its first-ever conference finals. They should be viewed as one of the favorites heading into next season, especially with Kawhi Leonard and Paul George playing the way they have.
The Clippers still have some room for improvement and fine-tuning. Thankfully, Leonard’s injury isn’t a long-term one, so he could be ready to start the 2021-22 season. An early playoff exit would likely have the front office shuffling most of their role players. But after this playoff run where all the pieces looked like they were fitting, they might look to retain most, if not all of the role players. The Clippers will get very expensive, but luckily for them and their fans, that shouldn’t impact any decision-making.
Re-sign Kawhi Leonard
The first order of business is securing an agreement with Leonard. who will almost certainly decline his $36 million player option to enter unrestricted free agency, something he has alluded to in the past. He now has ten years of service on his belt making him eligible for the maximum contract worth 35 percent of the salary cap. The first-year salary is projected to start at $39.3 million, a small raise from his player option amount which is already enough reason for him to opt-out. Leonard has Early Bird rights with the Clippers which limits him to a four-year deal with them instead of five. They can sign him to a maximum of $176.2 million over four years while another team can give him $169.2 million over four years. If Leonard wants to maximize his future earnings, he can re-sign with the Clippers on a two-year deal worth $81.8 million with a player option after the first season. He can then opt out and re-sign with the Clippers in the 2022 offseason on a five-year deal worth $235 million. This process would net him $274 million over the next six years through his age-36 season. Assuming he’s still playing at a high level, he can extend in the 2025 offseason to secure an additional $119.1 million over two years. The only recent playoff teams that can get to maximum cap space for him are Dallas and New York. The Clippers would likely lose him without getting anything back if he were to walk to one of those teams. Leonard could also ask for a trade to a team of his preference. Chris Paul did so with the Clippers in the 2017 offseason right before he was set to become a free agent, but instead, he exercised his player option and the Clippers agreed to trade him to Houston. If Leonard wanted to leave, an opt-in-and-trade seems like a more plausible scenario for him to move on since he would have more teams to choose from, the Clippers would cooperate to get something in return, and he would have full Bird rights to re-sign with his new team on a maximum contract in 2022.
Re-sign Reggie Jackson and Nicolas Batum
After presumably re-signing Leonard, look for the Clippers to re-up their other key free agents. Reggie Jackson stepped up the most when Leonard went down and played surprisingly well for a second-option. He will become an Early Bird free agent eligible for up to a four-year deal projected at $46 million. He may have played himself into getting the maximum dollar amount, which would start him at around $10.5 million. He must receive at least a two-year deal with no options in order to get a substantial raise with the Clippers via his Early Bird rights. The Clippers will happily pay Jackson this much if this is how he will continue to play in the playoffs. Nicolas Batum was a perfect fit on both ends of the floor for the Clippers. After being buried on Charlotte’s bench in 2019-20, Batum showed the basketball world that he is still a very effective player. The Clippers have his non-Bird rights, meaning they can give him a 120 percent raise off his 2021-22 minimum salary at $3.2 million. He will very likely receive offers from other teams for least at the $5.9 million taxpayer mid-level exception (MLE). The Clippers might have to offer Batum their entire taxpayer MLE to keep him. However, unless he’s getting a generous offer for multiple years, it’s possible he considers taking a discount to re-sign with the Clippers for one year. His non-Bird amount is only $2.5 million less than the taxpayer MLE and he is still owed $18.1 million from Charlotte over the next two seasons. Re-signing for the non-Bird or minimum salary would allow the Clippers to utilize the taxpayer MLE on another veteran. Batum would then have Early Bird rights in 2022, putting him in a similar situation as Jackson this offseason.
Potentially make a consolidation trade
Once the Clippers brought in Leonard and George, they needed to be proactive knowing they were no longer going to have much flexibility to make significant changes. Over the past two seasons, they re-signed or extended Marcus Morris, Patrick Beverley, Luke Kennard, and Ivica Zubac. Some of those deals have been viewed as team-friendly while others have been viewed as negative values. Regardless of their value, all these players have salaries that are sizeable enough to be adequate salary filler in trades. Also, the Clippers surrendered their 2022, 2024, and 2026 first-round picks to Oklahoma City, limiting how many picks they can trade and when. The Stepien rule prohibits teams from trading first-round draft picks in consecutive years, meaning the Clippers have not been able to trade any of their future first-round picks until the selections are made. Two years have passed since their busy 2019 offseason and the Clippers now have some flexibility to make big trades. They will be allowed to trade their 2028 first-round pick, and their 2021-first round pick after the selection has been made. With the combination of all the players listed earlier, as well as Rajon Rondo and Serge Ibaka (assuming he exercises his $9.7 million player option), the Clippers have close to $70 million in potential salary-filler for trades. A trade package involving several role players and two first-round picks probably won’t get them an All-Star, and they might be better off standing pat. However, if the Clippers want to make changes of some sort, they now have the flexibility to do so.
Negotiate an extension with Terance Mann
Terance Mann filled in nicely for Leonard during the Clippers’ surprising victory over the Utah Jazz. While many didn’t see this coming from the second-year forward, the Clippers organization probably wasn’t shocked. Their front office has been very high on him, especially considering that they’ve been scouting him since he was 13-years-old. Mann has proven that he will be in the league for a long time with the potential to become a special player. Mann is eligible for an extension this offseason currently projected at $56 million over four years. That would give him an average salary of $14 million per year, which is great considering he’s currently earning the minimum. Mann has all of next season to sign the extension should he choose to, so there’s no rush to sign it. He could choose to pass on that extension if he believes he could earn more in free agency. Mann has two years left on his deal with a team option for 2022-23. If he isn’t extended, the Clippers will likely decline it and allow him to become a restricted free agent in 2022 since exercising it would make him unrestricted in 2023. Mann will have full Bird rights in 2022, allowing him to earn up to the maximum salary. If he improves next season, there’s a strong chance that he declines his maximum extension amount and earns more in restricted free agency.
Prepare for a massive luxury tax payment
The Clippers are entering the 2021-22 season $20.4 million below the luxury tax but will immediately get above it just by re-signing Leonard. Their tax payment won’t be extremely high with just him but it will get exponentially higher when factoring in Jackson, Batum, and the taxpayer mid-level exception. Re-signing Leonard to a maximum salary will give the Clippers roughly a $40 million luxury tax payment with the current roster. Waiving Yogi Ferrell‘s non-guaranteed $1.8 million salary seems like a safe bet, which would reduce that payment by $6 million. Re-signing Jackson to his Early Bird maximum amount would cost the Clippers an additional $40 million in luxury tax payments. What type of contract Batum gets will also influence how much more expensive this team can get. If they give him the $5.9 million taxpayer MLE, that will add an additional $27 million in luxury tax payments on top of re-signing Leonard and Jackson to their respective maximum amounts. If they utilize the taxpayer MLE on another player, then re-sign Batum to his $3.2 million Non Bird amount, that will cost an additional $16 million. Under this projection, the Clippers would have a $117 million luxury tax payment with 14 players on their roster. This would give the Clippers a combined payroll and luxury tax payment just over $280 million. That is pretty close to how much the Warriors 2020-21 roster cost.
2021-22 SALARY SITUATION
Guaranteed salaries: $111,197,227 Non-guaranteed salaries: $3,759,632 Total salary: $11,956,8596,197,768 Luxury tax space: $21,649,141 Exceptions: Taxpayer Mid-level: $5,890,000 Mfiondu Kabengele trade exception: $2,075,880 Landry Shamet trade exception: $1,995,120 Rodney McGruder trade exception: $497,418
Kawhi Leonard (unrestricted free agent)
Cap hold: $39,344,900 (based on 35 percent of $112.4 million salary cap projection) Type of free agent: Early Bird Additional notes: Has a player option worth $36,016,200 that he will most likely decline.
2021-22 salary: $39,344,900 (based on 35 percent of $112.4 million salary cap projection) Remaining salary guaranteed: $176,265,152 through 2024-25 Additional notes: Has a player option for 2024-25.
Cap hold: $1,669,178 Type of free agent: Early Bird
2021-22 salary: $15,627,907 Remaining salary guaranteed: $49,116,279 through 2023-24
Cap hold: $1,669,178 Type of free agent: Non Bird
2021-22 salary: $14,320,988 Remaining salary guaranteed: $14,320,988 Additional notes: Is eligible this offseason to sign an extension that can add four years and up to $77 million.
2021-22 salary: $12,727,273 Remaining salary guaranteed: $56,000,000 through 2024-25 Additional notes: Has a team option worth $14,763,636 in 2024-25
2021-22 salary: $9,720,900 (player option) Remaining salary guaranteed: $9,720,900 Additional notes: Has a 15 percent trade bonus that would increase his salary by $1.5 million if traded before the season starts.
2021-22 salary: $8,250,000 Remaining salary guaranteed: $7,500,000 Additional notes: Has $750,000 in incentives that are currently deemed likely.
2021-22 salary: $7,518,518 Remaining salary guaranteed: $15,037,036 through 2022-23 Additional notes: Has a team option worth $7,518,518 in 2022-23. Is eligible this offseason to sign an extension that can add three years and up to a projected $43 million if his 2022-23 team option is exercised.
2021-22 salary: $1,782,621 Remaining salary guaranteed: $0 (non-guaranteed through 2022-23) Additional notes: His 2021-22 salary in non-guaranteed and becomes fully guaranteed on August 1, 2021. Is eligible this offseason to sign an extension that can add four years and up to a projected $56 million. It would have his $1.9 million team option amount for 2022-23 replaced with a projected $12.5 million starting salary.
2021-22 salary: $1,517,981 Remaining salary guaranteed: $1,517,981
2021-22 salary: $1,977,011 Remaining salary guaranteed: $0 Additional notes: His 2021-22 salary in non-guaranteed and becomes fully guaranteed on the league-wide cutdown date.
2021 Pick No. 25
2021-22 salary: $2,168,760 Remaining salary guaranteed: $11,128,162 Additional notes: HoopsHype’s draft expert Bryan Kalbrosky has the Clippers selecting Isaiah Jackson with the 25th overall selection. According to Kalbrosky, Ayo Dosunmu is ranked as the 25th best prospect based on an aggregate of mock drafts published as of June 26, 2021.
2021-22 salary: Two-way contract (Year 2) Remaining salary guaranteed: $0
Cap hold: $1,669,178 Type of free agent: Non Bird
Cap hold: $4,001,015 Type of free agent: Early Bird
Cap hold: $1,669,178 Type of free agent: Early Bird