So here we are.
The Clippers have decided to turn Jared Dudley and a 2017 protected first-round pick into cap space enough for four minimum salary players. They are required to sign at least two to meet the minimum roster requirement of 13 players.
It’s a deal that, like most things, can be tuned to suit any ear:
- The Clippers engaged in a salary dump and gave up a first round pick in the process.
- The Bucks spent $4.25 million (Dudley’s salary in the 2015-16 season) to acquire a likely late first-round pick.
Both statements are true, but each one evokes a different reaction. And given the notion that Carlos Delfino seems unlikely to play for at least half a season, there are two questions that would help determine to which side you lean; the first being:
1. Is Jared Dudley going to bounce back after a down season?
It’s pretty evident the Clippers didn’t think so since they traded him. Predictive modeling for basketball isn’t particularly precise, especially for players coming off abnormal seasons outside the basic trend, injury related or otherwise. So Dudley’s future performance essentially becomes a subjective matter. Even if you think Dudley would regress to his career averages (as some suspect he will), it’s reasonable if one determines he’s on the decline. And with either decision, a much bigger gamble awaits in question two:
2. Are the Clippers willing to pin their championship hopes on Jared Dudley?
It seems like a hyperbolic statement; Dudley was likely the sixth or seventh most important player before last season even began. Why would he suddenly be so important?
Aside from his on-court performance and erratic 3-point shooting (resulting in his inability to stay on the floor), Dudley’s contract plus bonus created uncertainty in the team’s ability to sign any additional players. They wouldn’t have even been able to offer camp invites for fear that if any player was injured during training camp, the Clippers would have to carry that salary into the season (Maalik Wayns last season as an example).
The various compounding issues makes the decision to trade Dudley relatively justifiable, despite violating the adage of never selling low. (A separate but valid contention would be the Clippers’ decision to sign players to mid-level and bi-annual exceptions that invoked the hard cap with no defined roadmap on how to navigate said cap concerns. To dwell on those signings seems somewhat speculative, though, as it requires the knowledge of intent and potential alternative plans within the organization’s front office those outside are not privy to.)
In return were Carlos Delfino, Miroslav Raduljica and a 2015 second-round pick; a player projected to return mid-season at the earliest, an intriguing but currently marginal role player and their own pick.
This is where losing a pick to shed Dudley’s contract became mildly interesting: could the Clippers have drafted a player in the late first-round significantly better than Raduljica? The loss of a pick could be framed as the team simply taking an advance on their 2017 pick (lottery-protected through 2019 and then converts into two second-round picks) and added a fifth big man on a reasonable contract with a fully unguaranteed year next season.
Not only would the Clippers have gotten an inexpensive look at a potentially viable big man with two years of salary control, Raduljica’s $1.5 million salary also acts as a salary slot holder; able to be combined with other players to return a larger contract in any future trades or possibly moved to a team with cap space mid-season for a trade exception.
By waiving and stretching Raduljica, the Clippers really only gain his roster spot back. They’re still limited to minimum contracts, still limited to 15 players total. So with space for three players available after stretching Delfino, the implicit question is this: is the fourth best player left on the free agent or potential buyout market better than Miroslav Raduljica?
The point is, on the court or on the cap sheet, Raduljica had clear value as an asset. Even if he was a distraction of Gilbert Arenas late-aughts level, isn’t that the reason Doc Rivers is the coach? Isn’t that why the Clippers have gone out of their way to foster a positive locker room environment? Is it all so fragile that potentially the 14th man on a contending roster who might not get any playing time could disrupt the chemistry? The Clippers are no longer a neophyte roster; Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan are no longer impressionable men that need to be protected against questionable influences. Such a reason seems specious at best.
The only apparent answer is that the Clippers saw little to no value in Raduljica.
Some will string this trade all the way back to the decision to move Eric Bledsoe at the start of last offseason; that the Clippers gave up Bledsoe and a pick for J.J. Redick. That would be unfair to say the least. All the trades and “would-have-been” trades in Rivers’s first year as general manager plainly suffered under the scrutiny of Donald Sterling, whose impetuousness and indecision specifically in the last year have been well documented. No one really knows how different the roster would look if kept free of meddlesome ownership.
But to dwell on those past foibles is to pine after sunk costs.
This isn’t necessarily even about Raduljica (although I was intrigued enough to learn to pronounce his name — it’s Rad-yul-ítsa). It’s about having wiped the slate clean of Sterling vestiges and inconsistencies and then have the first indicator of the new day of the Clippers struggling to sift through and assess value in the minutia.
If Ballmer opts to consistently open his pocket book and purchase second-round picks, it mitigates the loss of the pick sacrificed to gain breathing room this year. It mitigates the inefficient use of Raduljica. This isn’t about spending to correct mistakes though, it’s about creating a system of thought and consistent evaluation that circumnavigates errors and pitfalls.