State of the Cap: Los Angleles Clippers
[img_assist|nid=1121|title=Elton Brand|desc=Icon SMI|link=none|align=right|width=300|height=449] 2008/09 Los Angeles Clippers Payroll: $53.2 million
2008/09 Estimated NBA Salary Cap: $58 million (estimate)
Roughly: $4.8 million under cap
(includes player options of Elton Brand, $16.4 million, and Corey Maggette, $8.4 million)
After signing a hefty contract and responding with a terrible season, Chris Kaman took advantage of the absence of Elton Brand and posted some impressive career highs. His rebounding average of 12.7 and his 2.8 blocks per game were both good enough for third in the entire league. Kaman also scored a respectable 15.7 points each night. With four years and $43.4 million left to go on his contract, those numbers are very encouraging for the Clippers. Injuries did limit Kaman to 56 games, but he was able to gain a lot of confidence this season which he can use next year.
Al Thornton wasn’t picked until number 14 in the NBA draft, but that didn’t stop him from becoming a member of the All-Rookie team. In fact, it probably contributed to his motivation. Thornton showed a serious knack for scoring, especially when he put up 39 points in a game against Memphis. Like many rookies, he was inconsistent at times and must learn to improve his shot selection. However, Thornton appears to be an excellent candidate to take over the small forward position from Corey Maggette if and when he leaves town.
Tim Thomas has made a career out of coasting. He has enough ability that he can put up marginal numbers without having to play very hard. The stats and the occasional breakout game are what lead to a contract that will pay Thomas $6 million this season and $6.4 million the next. For that, you get about 12 points, 5 rebounds, too many long jumpers and absolutely no defense. Thomas used to be an asset around the three point line, but even that is gone after a career worst 30.6%. The Clippers won’t be able to get rid of him fast enough.
Cuttino Mobley’s stats aren’t any better than Thomas’s, yet he is due to make about $3 million more per year. Perhaps Tim Thomas is more of a bargain than I thought? Mobley is a very average shooting guard making above average money. His scoring has declined every season with the Clips down to the current 12.8, the lowest average since his rookie year. Mobley must step up soon in order to earn that paycheck.
Excluding the player options of Elton Brand and Corey Maggette, the Clippers only have five real players under contract for next season. Needless to say, it will be important for L.A. to keep these guys in town. Maggette is the most underpaid and will likely opt-out of the $8.4 million left on his deal. All he did this year was lead the team in scoring with 22.1 points per game and shot a nice 38.4% from downtown. Maggette will certainly receive more money elsewhere, which makes Brand’s decision a little tougher.
The normally dependable forward lost his season to injury and the Clippers plunged to just 23 wins, proving how important Brand is to this team. It is unlikely that Brand would get more than the $16.4 million he will get from L.A. if he decided to join another team, but with no point guard to speak of and the Western Conference loaded with exceptional teams, it might not be a difficult decision to make. His time is running out to be part of a championship team, which is why I think his days as a Clipper are numbered.
If the team can somehow convince Brand to stay, and he continues to be his dominating self, they might be able to piece together a respectable team in a year or two. When Maggette bolts, it will open up a nice chunk of cap space. With Shaun Livingston’s career a major unknown, they can use that space or the seventh pick in the draft to solve their point guard deficiency. The Clippers don’t have a lot of long-term contracts so they would have money to spend if they choose to do so.
However, if Brand and Maggette both leave, this might be the worst team in the league next season. Sure, they would have a ridiculous amount of cap space, but there aren’t a lot of top-tier free agents this summer that could replace those two players. The future of the Clippers is up to just one man and it isn’t Donald Sterling.
I think it’s safe to say that a lot of people are pulling for Shaun Livingston to make as close to a full recovery from his incredible knee injury as possible. The kid had a bright future in the league and it would be a shame if it was taken away this early. He might never be the player he could have been before the injury, but if he can return as a contributor on the court again, it would put a smile on a lot of faces, especially Clipper fans.
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