The big story in Clipper territory these days is the re-signing of Kawhi Leonard to a 4-year, $176 million deal — the crowning jewel of a successful summer for Los Angeles. In addition to Leonard, L.A. re-signed their two biggest free-agent prioritizes — Reggie Jackson and Nicolas Batum — despite valid concerns that they may not.
The Clippers also did reasonably well in the draft. In the first round, they turned the 25th pick into the 21st to get the player they wanted, high-flying defensive force Keon Johnson. And in the second round, they landed point guard Jason Preston (a favorite of personnel head honcho Lawrence Frank) and wing Brandon Boston, who has looked stunningly smooth and confident in the Summer League and is already creating steal-of-the-draft vibes after going 51st. Both Preston and Boston recently signed three-year deals with final-year player options.
Additionally, the Clippers took a two-year, $8 million free agency flyer on the talented and versatile but injury-prone Justise Winslow. The 25-year-old point-to-forward, who was signed with a portion of the taxpaying midlevel exception and is the progeny of Rickie Winslow, a member of Houston’s Phi Slama Jama, hasn’t played a fully healthy season since he was 22 in Miami. If Winslow can stay off the trainer’s table, this could be a rebirth season for 2015’s 10th overall pick out of Duke.
Between the re-signings and depth creation, the organization’s stated offseason goals have been met, and expectations for the coming season remain high despite having to watch their best player, Leonard, gobble up $40 million from a PT facility.
But in meeting these goals, a situation has arisen: too many players. Come the start of the regular season in October, only 15 spots will be available (plus two two-way players) and right now the Clippers have 17.
In other words, two guys need to go.
Ferrell and Oturu May Not Make the Cut
From an on-court perspective, the decisions are relatively easy.
Yogi Ferrell, the 6-foot point guard who stuck with the Clippers last season after signing a 10-day contract in April, is on a $1.9 million non-guaranteed deal for 2021-22. Because there is no deadline at which point his contract guarantees, if and when the team cuts him loose they would immediately stop feeding the meter. The NBA’s Rookie of the Month as a Maverick back in February 2017, Ferrell demonstrated last season that he still has the poise to play in the NBA. He committed zero turnovers in 96 minutes as a Clipper and should find opportunities as a mid-season injury replacement for some team. But the fact is, at the moment he’s buried beneath a Clippers roster that suddenly has a lot of guards. This could be an easy decision.
The Clippers could also part with 6-foot-8 big man Daniel Oturu without losing much sleep. A second-round pick (33rd overall) for L.A. in 2020, Oturu saw only 5.4 minutes of floor time in 30 contests last season, but it was hoped he would make a good case to stay on with a strong Summer League showing this month.
Oturu, however, who is on an expiring $1.5 million deal, has struggled with turnovers and general sloppiness in the Summer League. While he’s shown some flashes as a rim protector and his numbers have been respectable, overall his defensive positioning has been atrocious, regularly out-maneuvered on the boards and slow on rotations. This too could be an easy call.
Trading Veteran Could Reduce Roster and Tax Bill
While dropping Ferrell and Oturu would get the Clippers down to 15 and quickly put the roster crunch to bed, the Clippers have reasons to look elsewhere to thin out the roster. About 121 million reasons, to be precise. That’s the amount, according to Spotrac, the Clippers will owe in luxury tax penalties if they can’t trim something off the $37.4 million they are currently over the luxury tax threshold ($136 million).
Billionaire owner Steve Ballmer has shown a willingness in the past to pay what he needs to pay to stay competitive, but given that the Clippers are in a penalty tier that equals $3.25 for every $1 over, it’s hard to say if that willingness will remain.
Rumors have swirled this summer about the movability of veteran point guards Patrick Beverley and Rajon Rondo. The removal of Beverley’s salary in particular, $14.3 million, has been discussed as a way to get L.A. under the league’s $143 million tax apron, thereby giving the Clippers flexibility in trying to acquire a star player via sign-and-trade. (A sign-and-trade triggers a hard cap, which would disallow the Clippers from exceeding the tax apron at any point in the season.)
And Rondo, who is owed $8.2 million this season and did not live up to playoff expectations last season after being traded for fan-favorite Lou Williams at the deadline, is looking more and more expendable by the day.
While notions of acquiring another star are fading fast (thereby lessening tax-apron concerns), trading either or both players to a team or teams with cap space would mean the Clippers could ask for just second-rounders in return. By taking no money back, L.A.’s tax bill would be reduced by several multiples of Beverley and/or Rondo’s salaries.
For instance, if the Clippers sent Beverley to the Knicks for a future second-rounder (and assuming they let Ferrell go) they would be at 15 players and only over the tax threshold by $23.1 million. That would result in a tax bill of just $55 million — a savings of $66 million from where they are now. Of course, the savings would be less if they moved Rondo instead, but still significant.
Center Serge Ibaka, who recently opted in on his $9.7 million player option, could also be a viable salary dump, but it’s unknown if teams would be willing to take on a guy who had back surgery in June. Beverley, Rondo and Ibaka are all on expiring deals, making them more attractive to other teams for a trade.
There have been no credible reports indicating what the Clippers will do to trim the roster, but it’s probably not the worst idea for Ferrell and Oturu to dust off their suitcases.