The Los Angeles Clippers, it would seem, are reaching a natural pivot point this summer. Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and J.J. Redick are all free agents. Throw in Luc Mbah a Moute, and four of their five starting-lineup members are ready to reach the open market. If they were going to move away from this core that has failed to appear in the Western Conference Finals, now would be the time, right?
Not in Doc Rivers’ eyes.
From USA Today‘s Sam Amick:
The 31-year-old Paul and the 28-year-old Griffin will be seeking maximum-salary contracts, deals that would respectively start at approximately $35 million and $30 million annually. Redick, the 32-year-old who was recruited by Rivers not long after he arrived from the Boston Celtics in the summer of 2013, is sure to land a massive payday as well. Working projections peg the total at approximately $196 million in all, with $140 million in salaries and $56 million in luxury tax (and Redick, in that scenario, having a starting salary of approximately $18 million).
At the center of it all is Rivers, the 55-year-old who sounds hopeful that Ballmer will pay up yet again when the time comes a few months from now.
“Here’s my argument to (the question of whether all that luxury tax is worth it),” Rivers, who is three years into a five-year deal worth more than $50 million, told USA TODAY Sports recently. “Let’s say we don’t win this year — which I think we will, (but) let’s say we don’t. Do you give up on a 50-win team that has proven that they’re really close (to winning it all), or do you hang in there and keep trying to maybe make changes around (the core)?
Rivers’ logic makes sense. And on a more basic level, 50-win potential removed from the equation, breaking up this squad via free agency would be a joke.
Griffin and Paul, when healthy, are still top-15 players. You don’t let guys like that walk for nothing if it’s your decision. You capitalize on their departure via trade, even if it means re-signing them with the intention of moving them later. That’s the approach the Clippers should take with Griffin, Paul and Redick. If they’re willing to re-sign, then re-sign them. They can blow it up at midseason, or after next season, if this core proves that is truly stale.
Things of course change if Griffin, Paul and Redick want to leave. If they grow tired of this treadmill of first- and second-round exits, there will be teams with cap space. Still, there are only a handful that can afford Griffin’s and Paul’s maxes—particularly Paul’s max, since he’ll be eligible for a starting salary north of $35 million. They stand to make more money over the long haul (income taxes aside) by re-signing with the Clippers. That’s what we should expect them to do—just as we should expect the Clippers to try running it back with this nucleus again.