What the Clippers roster will look like next season is, at this point, anyone’s guess.
Having come closer to a title than any team in franchise history, the Clippers obviously have designs on remaining contenders for 2021-22, but that could be exceedingly difficult given a number of factors.
Kawhi Leonard’s free agency status — which, by and large, has been left up to the public’s imagination — will make the picture a bit clearer once he decides (on or before August 1) to opt-in or out of his $36 million player option.
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But even in the event Leonard stays with the team, his recent ACL surgery promises to keep him sidelined for most if not all of the season, so it’s not like the roster will immediately fall into place.
The fact is, between Leonard’s injury and salary cap limitations, a low first-round draft pick and free agency, let alone possible attempts by management to land another star via a sign-and-trade, almost no player is off the table this offseason and tough decisions will need to be made across the board.
But Andrew Greif of The Los Angeles Times believes there could be one easy decision for The Clippers: keeping Terance Mann.
From Bench Staple to Playoff Star
Mann is coming off the best year of his short NBA career. Following a rookie campaign in which he averaged only 8.8 minutes in 41 regular-season games and only 2.1 minutes across L.A.’s ill-fated playoff run, Mann’s floor time skyrocketed in 2020-21, reaching 18.9 minutes over 67 regular-season games and 19.9 minutes in 19 postseason contests.
The increased playing time during the season naturally resulted in more confidence and better numbers — going from 2.7 to 7.0 points and 1.3 to 3.6 rebounds — and culminated in an Earth-shattering performance in Game 6 against Utah in the Western Conference semifinals when, just two games removed from Leonard’s injury, Mann scored 39 points on 15-for-21 shooting and led L.A. to a series-clinching victory.
Viewed primarily as a defensive weapon off the bench heading into the season, Mann’s potency on offense, particularly his ability to generate points at the rim, was a revelation. But even as he began to open eyes, it was clear that, as long as Leonard and Paul George stayed relatively healthy, the 6-foot-5 Mann would be relegated to a supporting role behind those superstar wings.
In fact, given Mann’s position in the pecking order this season, he was regularly floated as a prime trade asset at the March deadline. The Clippers, obviously, didn’t pull the trigger, but as Mann continued to show value throughout the second half of the season, and then on a grander stage in the playoffs, his profile as a trade asset only expanded. In recent weeks, Mann has often been described as the Clippers’ top trade chip.
Eventually though, with up-and-comers like Mann, a team needs to decide whether there’s more benefit in keeping him or moving him for a more shiny name, and even before Leonard was sidelined, it already seemed like the Clippers would opt to keep Mann. His defensive versatility and offensive potential were simply too valuable to risk missing out on.
And now that Leonard is out indefinitely, Mann projects to be a substantial piece in the Clippers starting lineup, and it’s the main reason why Grief, in a recent Clippers roundtable discussion, deemed him “maybe the easiest decision of the Clippers’ entire offseason,” calling him a “building block for this roster now.”
What also makes Mann particularly attractive as a keeper (and as a trade pickup for other teams) is his contract. Mann, for all that he brings, is as inexpensive as they come and will remain so for a couple more years. According to Spotrac, he made $1.5 million in 2020-21 and will only see a small bump, to $1.7 million, for 2021-22. Furthermore, he is under a team option in 2022-23 for only $1.9 million, so the Clippers will have him at their disposal for at least two more years for relative peanuts.
Of course, the Clippers do run the risk of Mann turning into a full-blown star over the next two seasons, at which point they will have to really shell out the dough to retain him — the prospect of which sparked rumors of a possible contract extension this offseason — but already without much money to spend at the moment, standing pat with Mann seems not only wise but refreshingly uncomplicated.
Mann Has Often Needed to Prove His Worth
While Mann may be poised to attain catbird-seat status in the near future, throughout his basketball life the Brooklyn-born 24-year-old has rarely received the benefit of the doubt.
In high school, as a student at Tilton School in New Hampshire, though he led his team to a Class AA championship and won Gatorade Player of the Year for New Hampshire his senior year, Mann was not even a consensus top 100 recruit, according to RSCI rankings.
And in college at Florida State, where his incoming class included Dwayne Bacon and Malik Beasley (Nos. 16 and 37 in the RSCI rankings, respectively), Mann started exactly zero games as a freshman, averaging 17.0 minutes and 5.2 points. Bacon and Beasley, meanwhile, started almost every game and averaged close to 30 minutes and 16 points apiece.
Despite staying all four years and ultimately becoming a fixture in the Seminoles’ starting lineup as Beasley and Bacon left early for the pros (Beasley after his freshman year, Bacon after his sophomore campaign) Mann never managed to post eye-popping numbers at Florida State. Over his junior and senior years, he averaged 12.0 points, 6.0 rebounds and 2.5 assists, and was drafted just 48th overall by the Clippers in the 2019 NBA draft.
Second-round picks are in a far more precarious position than their first-rounder brethren, who are generally assured guaranteed contracts based on a predetermined pay scale. As such, the Clippers were able to sign Mann to a four-year, $6.2 million contract, establishing their control of him at a bargain-basement rate until 2024. It’s either a stroke of genius or a stroke of luck, but either way, Mann is what executives dream about with second-round selections.
The Clippers will eventually need to open up their wallets to keep Mann — possibly very wide — but for now, despite having plenty of headaches in other areas of the offseason, they don’t have to do much more than just let him do his thing.