The Clippers broke into the Western Conference Playoffs last season and even pushed the Golden State Warriors to six games. This breakthrough has the franchise seeking an extra push to make its first-ever NBA Finals in 2020.
Los Angeles’ first objective is trying to rake in the superstar that led Toronto to its first-ever NBA title just a few weeks ago. Marc Stein of the New York Times reported Saturday that the Clippers are “exploring the feasibility” of teaming up Kawhi Leonard with Jimmy Butler.
Both are seeking max contracts. At the moment, signing both is not feasible with $55.1 million in salary cap space per Spotrac. However, Danilo Gallinari occupies $22.6 million of the payroll at the moment, so a trade would make up more than enough room for the two forwards.
Clips Nation describes how to move Gallinari and how that would affect Butler’s pay. It would involve a sign-and-trade deal with Philadelphia (only months after Los Angeles sent Boban Marjanovic and Tobias Harris to the Sixers).
Because Butler will be signing a new contract for much more than his prior salary, the NBA’s base year compensation rule limits his outgoing salary-matching figure in a sign-and-trade to his prior year’s salary—$20,445,799. However, for his new team, his incoming salary would be the full $32.7M max, making a trade that is legal for both teams tricky. If the Clippers simply absorb Butler into their cap room, a Butler-Gallinari swap is very straightforward: the Sixers can take back Gallinari’s 22.6M salary using normal trade rules, and the Clippers can take back Butler’s larger deal as long as they’re under the cap by the end of the trade.
Outside of Gallinari, nobody currently signed on the Clippers roster costs more than $8 million a year.
What to Do with the Remaining Cap Space
The Los Angeles backcourt would be more than solved with Butler and Leonard climbing aboard. Point guard is pretty stable with rookies Shai Gilgous-Alexander and Landry Shamet in the rotation. The two combined for over 21 points and 5.6 assists per game in 2018-19.
Lou Williams returns again, as well, providing 20 points per contest off the bench, including 36 percent from behind the arc. The guard/wing rotation with Butler and Leonard in Los Angeles would project to be:
PG: Shai Gilgous-Alexander, Landry Shamet
SG: Jimmy Butler, Lou Williams
SF: Kawhi Leonard
The question beyond that is what to do with the frontcourt. The only power forward or center on the roster at the moment is Montrezl Harrell, who is currently signed for one more year at $6 million.
There are two other cheap options at center. The first is Ivica Zubac, who is an emerging contributor, as he chipped in 9.4 points and 7.7 rebounds in the second half of the season after being traded by the Lakers. At 7-foot-1, the Bosnian big could be Los Angeles’ version of Marc Gasol to Leonard.
Zubac would cost under $2 million. The other option is the recently drafted Mfiondu Kabengele, the 6-foot-10 first-rounder out of Florida State. At the very least, his length and athleticism can make him a stable defensive reserve as a rookie.
Lock down both Zubac and Kabengele, and the Clippers have a roster ripe with established and burgeoning talent.