With the roster set for the remainder of the year (barring any 10-day contracts), the Clippers now have a payroll sheet that can be examined for future flexibility and stress tested for weakness.
Since the last time the payroll was explored, the landscape of the NBA has shifted considerably in reaction to the new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA). Teams are more wary of handing out the mid-tier contracts, salaries over the Mid-Level Exception (MLE) but short of a max contract. And if those contracts were handed out over the past offseason, quite often they were short-term deals or included partial or non-guarantees over the latter life of the contract.
The current cap figures are as follows:
Cap line $58.044m
Tax line $70.307m
Tax apron $74.307m
These are all figures established as a result of Basketball Related Income (BRI). Because BRI is forecasted to rise after this season, early projections have the cap increasing by ~$2m:
Cap line $59.8m – $61m
Tax line $71.5m – $73m
Tax apron $75.5m – $77m
But let’s start with the Clippers. Below is a table of all salary slots the team is committed to after this season. The notable exception is that of Chris Paul, who is not yet re-signed. Due to the size of his potential contract, though, any discussion about the fiscal future of the team is moot without his inclusion.
Chris Paul, if re-signed to the max of 105% his previous salary would have a starting salary of ~$18.6m and a total contract of $107,343,475 over the full five years allowed under the current CBA. Because Paul’s base salary already exceeds the maximum allowed contract, this figure should be accurate barring a dramatic shift in BRI.
Blake Griffin, as a result “Rose-rule,” is slightly murkier. Having met the “5th Year 30% Max Criteria,” Griffin’s new salary is tied to the salary cap and BRI split of 2013-14. But because those numbers are still projections, I have tied Griffin’s salary here at the current 2012-13 cap numbers. This means that Blake’s starting salary of ~$16.4m and total contract of $94,314,374 listed here should be slightly lower than his official extension.
Even with a favorable calculation of Blake Griffin’s contract, it is clear that the Clippers have little flexibililty to enhance or even maintain their roster. With ~$67m already committed to the players under contract, factoring in the forecasted tax line, Los Angeles would have ~$4m-$6m and the option to do the following:
LAC Free Agents
Chauncey Billups (Bird rights)
Matt Barnes (120% of previous salary)
Ronny Turiaf (120% of previous salary)
Ryan Hollins (120% of previous salary)
Lamar Odom (Bird rights)
Free Agency and Exceptions
Mid-Level Exception (MLE) ($5.150m)
Bi-Annual Exception (BAE) (cannot be used, Grant Hill)
Reggie Evans Trade Player Exception (TPE) ($1.622m, expires 7/13)
As evidenced, that is a plethora of necessities to fit within such a small space under the luxury tax line.
Grant Hill can be waived for $500K, while Willie Green and Trey Thompkins can both be waived at no cost before July 1st and August 1st, respectively. This would bring the Clippers payroll total to $63,487,753. That’s still over the projected cap line but opens up ~$8m-$10m of space under the luxury tax line, essentially putting the Clippers in a similar position they were in last offseason.
Unless the Clippers are able to get far under the salary cap, it does not behoove them to actually cut payroll beyond the immediate alleviations from a cap perspective. Obviously, trading larger contracts for better assets/players are a different matter, but Los Angeles being, for example, less than $5m under the cap would only result in the forfeiture of the Full MLE. Considering that the MLE is the Clippers’ current, best ability to attract a new free agent, such a loss without a different avenue to improve would be ill advised.
Seven players will be under contract with a new Chris Paul max contract and the waiving of all non-guaranteed contracts. Of the remaining ~$10m in tax line space, $5.150m is slotted for a Full MLE player. This leaves $4.850m. Matt Barnes has played quite nicely for the Clippers this year, and should they re-sign him, Barnes would be entitled to $1,622,617. This leaves the Clippers ~$3.23m to fill four roster spots and meet the minimum 13 players.
Just the logistics of Los Angeles’ payroll would suggest that a trade might be the most viable option this offseason. And their three viable trade assets would be Eric Bledsoe, DeAndre Jordan and Caron Butler as an expiring contract. But, for reasons asserted above, essentially any trade would have to return either multiple value assets/players (i.e. rookie contracts or undervalued players) or a player on a large contract of exceeding value (max contract type players).
Any player swap that results in the same number of players at a comparable aggregate price for the Clippers really does not change the outlook of roster under the new CBA.
note: I decline to mention a discussion of entering the luxury tax because the new progressive tax scale and repeater tax is so punitive that every team has been looking for a way to stay under with the notable exception of Brooklyn. It seems presumptuous to think that the Clippers will suddenly turn course from years of frugal, and more recently calculated, spending and join one team when 28 others are thinking more like the Clippers.