The Clippers Add Flexibility
On Friday, the Los Angeles Clippers waived Carlos Delfino and Miroslav Raduljica, whom they acquired (along with their own 2015 second-round pick) in exchange for small forward Jared Dudley and a protected first-round pick in 2017.
The trade was originally considered a questionable move by the Clippers, despite the fact that Jared Dudley had a down season in his one and only year with the Clippers. On paper, the Clippers only had Matt Barnes, Dudley, and second-year player Reggie Bullock, who played sparingly last season, at small forward. The depth at small forward was already a glaring issue for the Clippers, and Delfino hardly seemed like the answer moving forward as he missed all of last season with a significant foot injury.
Delfino, age 32, has career averages of 8.1 points per game, 3.6 rebounds, 1.7 assists, and 36.5 percent shooting from beyond-the-arc. These are decent averages for a small forward, but hardly an ideal solution for the Clippers, who are considered by many to be a top-five team in the NBA entering next season. This is especially true considering the unclear nature of Delfino’s injury and when, if ever, he will be able to play this upcoming season. Additionally, while Raduljica has potential as a backup center, he is hardly the sort of player that would warrant surrendering a first-round pick for.
So why did the Clippers make this deal then?
The answer to that question begins with the fact that the Clippers are one of ten NBA teams that are “hard-capped” entering this season. A team becomes hard-capped when it uses over $3.28 million of their Mid-Level Exception, acquires a player via sign and trade or uses any of their $2.08 million Bi-Annual Exception. The Clippers became hard-capped when they used the Bi-Annual Exception to sign point guard Jordan Farmar ($2,123,733) earlier this offseason.
Before trading Dudley, the Clippers had little flexibility to improve their roster as they were right up against the hard-cap. However, by trading for Delfino and Raduljica, the Clippers were able to exchange the $4,250,000 guaranteed to Dudley this season and next for Delfino’s $3,250,000 annual salary, which is unguaranteed next season, and Raduljica’s, which is worth $1,500,000 this season, and $1,567,500 next season (also unguaranteed).
By making this trade, the Clippers were able to use the CBA’s “stretch” provision on Delfino and Raduljica, spreading their annual cap hits over the next five seasons (twice the number of years remaining on a player’s contract, plus one). In essence, this turned the Clippers $4,250,000 annual commitment to Dudley into a $950,000 annual commitment over the next five years. This shrewd move saves the Clippers roughly $3,500,000 this season and gives them some breathing room under the hard-cap.
By waiving Delfino and Raduljica, the Clippers now have the financial flexibility, and roster spots to pursue free agents on veteran minimum deals to round our their roster. The Clippers have already been linked to players like Ray Allen, Chris Douglas-Roberts, Ekpe Udoh and former Clipper Elton Brand.
The biggest name in the mix is 39 year old Ray Allen. Allen is still undecided on whether he will retire or return for his 19th NBA season, and if he does, which team he will play for.
Allen, a two-time NBA champion, is the all-time leader in made three-pointers, and at age 39 is still one of the best sharpshooters in the league. Allen is currently being pursued by several top teams, including the Cleveland Cavaliers, San Antonio Spurs, and Dallas Mavericks, along with the Clippers. Allen played for Clippers team president and head coach Doc Rivers for five seasons with the Boston Celtics, but many still consider the Cavaliers to be the favorite to sign Allen if he holds off on retiring for another year.
While Allen is not the same player he was just a few years ago, he would still be a significant addition to a Clippers team that used point guard Darren Collison as a quasi-shooting guard for long stretches last season due to injuries to J. J. Redick and Jamal Crawford. Allen, much like Redick, is at his best running off of multiple screens in search of catch-and-shoot opportunities. This type of movement creates motion for the Clippers’ offense, which forces defenses to shift and switch often, which helps DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin operate under and around the basket. And while Allen is not a small forward, Rivers is known to use small lineups to add spacing on offense. However, it would be preferable for the Clippers to land a true small forward since playing Redick, Crawford, or even Allen potentially at small forward would be a major issue defensively for the Clippers, especially against teams like the Oklahoma City Thunder and and Cleveland Cavaliers.
Notably, the list of players linked to the Clippers includes only one small forward- Chris Douglas-Roberts. Douglas-Roberts over his career has averaged 7.4 points, 2.4 rebounds, and one assist per game and shot 33.5 percent from three-point range in 20.4 minutes per game. At 27, Douglas-Roberts is a relatively young, athletic wing player who could be used in a 3-and-D role (38.6 percent from beyond-the-arc last season). Rivers has tried to add three-point shooting these last two offseasons in order to maximize floor-spacing on offense (which is the main reason he signed Hawes this offseason). Dudley in particular was brought in for this purpose last season, but struggled through injuries and shot well below his career 39.7 percent three-point shooting average. While Douglas-Roberts may not be a top NBA wing-player, he is more experienced than Reggie Bullock and would add some depth and defense behind Barnes.
It appeared that the Clippers had made their roster moves early this season, signing free agents Spencer Hawes and Farmar, and were content to move forward with Barnes and Dudley at small forward. Instead, the Clippers managed to create flexibility and put themselves back in the market to sign free agents by shrewdly moving Dudley to Milwaukee and utilizing the stretch provision to get further under the hard-cap. Such a maneuver is necessary under the new, more restrictive CBA, especially for contenders like the Clippers who are looking to add that last piece to their championship puzzle. By moving Dudley, the Clippers now have the means to acquire that piece.
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