The Los Angeles Clippers hit the ground calling at 12:01 p.m. ET on Tuesday–the official beginning to NBA free agency. As expected, Doc Rivers began with one of his own in backup point guard Darren Collison, followed by veteran swingmen Luol Deng and Trevor Ariza. Per ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne:
The Clippers continue to have interest in LeBron and Melo, according to sources. Placed calls to Deng, Collison and Ariza tonight — Ramona Shelburne (@ramonashelburne) July 1, 2014
Ignore the first half the Tweet, as those are mere whispers. Collison declined his $1.9 million player option for the 2014-15 season a week and a half ago along with Danny Granger and Glen Davis.
With no other ball handler on the bench, Collison remains the No. 1 priority among the team’s own free agents according to ESPN’s Arash Markazi.
The Clippers are interested in bringing back Darren Collison, Glen Davis and Danny Granger, in that preferred order. Collison is a priority. — Arash Markazi (@ArashMarkazi) July 1, 2014
Interest in Deng and Ariza, both 29, hints at the organization’s desire to upgrade over Matt Barnes and Jared Dudley at small forward. Shopping them just puts it right out there in the open.
Clippers have been shopping Matt Barnes and Jared Dudley around. Again, upgrading small forward position is a priority for Rivers. — Arash Markazi (@ArashMarkazi) July 1, 2014
Unfortunately, the former Cleveland and Washington players will get offers far above what the Clippers current cap situation can afford. Removing all opted-out contracts and Willie Green’s waived salary gets Los Angeles down to about $71.7 million, or $5.3 million below next season’s projected $77 million tax line, leaving them limited options.
The non-taxpayer MLE is worth $5.305 million, the BIE is $2.077 million. Any trade dump of Barnes and Dudley has to return enough salary so that the Clips stay over the cap. Otherwise, it removes the BIE from their arsenal and drops the MLE down to the room exception at $2.732 million. Good luck getting Deng or Ariza to take that kind of pay cut. But the opening hours of free agency didn’t end there. The Clippers reportedly opened up their small forward search even wider to Doc favorite Paul Pierce and began looking frontcourt in former Cleveland center Spencer Hawes.
The Clippers have the mid-level exception, bi-annual exception and veteran’s minimum exception to play with and are also open to trades. — Arash Markazi (@ArashMarkazi) July 1, 2014
Clippers, I’m told, believe they have real chance of stealing Paul Pierce away from Nets now that Jason Kidd no longer coaching in Brooklyn — Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) July 1, 2014
Blazers, Grizzlies, Bulls, Mavericks, Rockets … teams I’m told called tonight to register interest in Brooklyn’s Paul Pierce BESIDES Clips — Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) July 1, 2014
Clippers also have interest in Paul Pierce and Spencer Hawes & retaining their own FAs, Collison, Granger, Glen Davis — Ramona Shelburne (@ramonashelburne) July 1, 2014
Dan Woike of the OC Register pointed out that the Clips appear to be interested in signing every wing in the free agent pool.
By my count, the Clippers have been linked to at least 9 different wings since the day of the NBA Draft. — Dan Woike (@DanWoikeSports) July 1, 2014
Once again, adding either player would have to be considered a coup because it can only happen on a steep discount. Hawes will be looking for a raise on the $6.5 million he earned in 2013-14. A possible player-coach reunion could in theory convince Pierce to join on the cheap.
Though signing any of these guys will be near impossible, Los Angeles shouldn’t have any trouble getting sit downs with all of them.
Clippers won’t have to go far to meet some of their free agent targets. Trevor Ariza and Spencer Hawes are already in L.A. — Arash Markazi (@ArashMarkazi) July 1, 2014
It’s part of what makes the team so attractive. The question is whether they can convincingly pitch championship glory over more money.
Clippers understand most of the free agents they’re pursuing will have to take some pay cut to sign. That obviously won’t fly for some guys. — Arash Markazi (@ArashMarkazi) July 1, 2014
Markazi’s use of ‘some guys’ feels understated, especially with LeBron James setting the trend of ‘getting yours’ with his max contract demands. If you have to choose the most likely among players mentioned to end up in Lob City, the smart money is on Darren Collison on a slight hometown discount followed by Pierce. He self-admittedly has little left in the tank and wouldn’t be begrudged a homecoming of his own. All salary information taken from ShamSports.com.