Decisions, decisions, decisions. In the summer of 2021, Clippers management has a lot of decisions to make.
Some will be easy, like driving an unlocked money truck straight through Kawhi Leonard’s living room (or rehab facility) if and when he opts out of his $36 million player option.
Some will be more difficult, like hiring quality assistant coaches to replace the three that left Ty Lue’s staff for bigger roles with different teams. (All of which are feathers in Lue’s cap, by the way, not betrayals. The highest compliment a head coach can receive is to have members of his staff become coveted.)
And some decisions will be downright gut-wrenching, like possibly trading away a team veteran to make room for an outsider better positioned, theoretically, to help deliver a first-ever title.
In March, the Clippers did something like that with Lou Williams, exchanging their prized bench scorer for playoff savant Rajon Rondo in a failed gamble that once seemed prescient.
And now, they may have to do the same with Patrick Beverley, often described as the heart-and-soul of the Clippers, who is approaching the final year of his contract.
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Moving Beverley Gives Clips Much-Needed Flexibility
The problem with Beverley, as it applies to the Clippers, is not his sometimes reckless behavior or fiery in-game demeanor. It’s not even the fact that he is below average as a playmaker and struggles at times to score.
The problem is money. Frankly, he makes too much of it for a team as salary cap restricted as the Clippers.
Yes, Beverley’s suffocating defense can be a huge benefit, as it was in this year’s playoffs when he regularly frustrated Utah and Phoenix’s best shooters. But the 33-year-old guard missed almost half the regular season with injuries, and if the Clippers are truly intent on keeping certain free agents and adding another backcourt star to keep them in the playoff picture prior to Leonard’s return, Beverley and his $14.3 million salary may have to go.
Let’s say the Clippers have designs on re-signing point guard Reggie Jackson, who eventually took Beverley’s place in the starting lineup last season and was a key contributor in the playoffs, and on acquiring Brooklyn’s unrestricted free agent guard Spencer Dinwiddie, who is fully rehabbed from an ACL injury that sidelined him essentially all of last season.
Assuming Serge Ibaka opts in on his $9.7 million player option and Leonard opts out but stays with the Clippers and makes somewhere north of $39 million in his first season of a new contract, L.A.’s payroll for 2021-22 will be around $148 million, according to Spotrac, or approximately $12 million over the league’s luxury-tax threshold.
Because the Clippers have early Bird Rights to Jackson, they can sign him for a hefty amount regardless of the fact that they are already over the salary cap.
Signing Dinwiddie, however, because they are over the salary cap, would require getting Dinwiddie and Brooklyn to agree to a sign-and-trade deal. But by doing a sign-and-trade, the Clippers would make themselves “hard-capped” for the 2021-22 league year, meaning that they would be disallowed from exceeding the league’s “tax apron” of approximately $143 million at any point. (Acquiring a player via sign-and-trade is one of three ways to bring about the hard cap.)
In other words, getting Dinwiddie or anyone else via sign-and-trade would require the Clippers to be under the $143 million tax apron before the deal is finalized. This is where trading Beverley would give them some wiggle room.
If the Clippers signed Jackson and then were able to trade Beverley and his $14.3 million to a cap-eligible team, say the Knicks, for just a second-round pick in return, the Clippers would then be under the tax apron and therefore able to pursue a sign-and-trade with Dinwiddie or someone like San Antonio’s DeMar DeRozan.
Saving money on Beverley might also allow the Clippers to re-sign unrestricted free agent Nicolas Batum, depending on whether he’s willing to accept just a small raise from the $2.5 million he made last season with the Clippers — a plausible expectation given that Batum was waived by his former team, the Hornets, and will receive $18 million over the next two seasons from Charlotte.
Trading Beverley Will Be Tough Pill to Swallow
Regardless of the benefit the Clippers might reap from eliminating Beverley’s $14.3 million salary, letting go of the player himself will be a tough decision emotionally for the Clippers.
Acquired in 2017 as part of the Chris Paul trade, Beverley has been one of the few constants for a franchise that, at least of late, has been willing to move heaven and earth in pursuit of their first title in 51 years.
And his loyalty has remained firm. Before re-signing with the Clippers in 2019, Beverley told The Los Angeles Times that he turned down an offer from the Sacramento Kings that was worth $10 million more than what the Clippers were offering.
Even in the wake of watching his mentor, Doc Rivers, get fired as head coach, his good friend Williams get traded, and another good friend, Montrezl Harrell, defect to the Lakers — all within one year — Beverley has never ceased to wave the Clippers flag or accept whatever role the coaching staff sees fit.
When Beverley’s minutes were cut drastically in the first round of the playoffs this year against Dallas, a product of Luka Doncic utilizing his size advantage to exploit the much shorter Beverley down low, the nine-year veteran remained a vocal supporter from the sidelines and was ready to go when his number was eventually called against Utah and Phoenix.
“I’m told Beverley loves playing in LA with the Clippers,” said Michael Scotto of HoopsHype earlier this month when discussing Beverley possibly signing a contract extension. “He’s a big fan of Steve Ballmer as an owner, and that (president of basketball operations) Lawrence Frank has been great to Pat and his family.”
Jackson, on the other hand, while maintaining an effusiveness about the Clippers organization that resembles romantic love, has only been with the team since February 2020, and wasn’t expected to be much of a free agent priority throughout the regular season. But then he exploded in the playoffs, becoming an indispensable part of the Clippers backcourt, particularly after Leonard was sidelined, and raising his market value tremendously.
Jackson averaged 17.8 points in 19 playoff games, 17 of which were starts. He shot 48.4% from the field and 40.4% from the 3-point line, big boosts from a player who has shot 43.0% from the field and 34.9% from the 3-point line in his career.
That Beverley could be traded to simply make room for Jackson and an outsider, would be ironic and heartbreaking for many in Clipper Nation, but it could be the best chance the Clippers have for finally delivering that elusive first ring.
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