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Tuesday, June 24, 2014
Uphill battle in hunt for LeBron

By Arash Markazi

LOS ANGELES -- If it's truly not about the money and LeBron James wants to come to Los Angeles and join the Clippers and forge a new "Big Three" with Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, it can happen. If money means something to him, well, it might be hard for him to have a Hollywood ending to this offseason.

The Clippers' current salary is slated to be $73,660,731 if Glen Davis, Darren Collison and Danny Granger opt out, as ESPNLosAngeles.com reported they will. That figure also includes their first-round draft pick (No. 28) and empty roster charges.

James/Griffin
LeBron James would need to take a large pay cut to join Blake Griffin in Los Angeles with the Clippers.
Obviously the Clippers are not in a position to offer anyone anywhere near a max contract currently, so I asked resident cap guru Larry Coon if the Clippers could get in position to make a run at James if they did what my colleague Bill Simmons suggested in a tweet last week -- trade DeAndre Jordan and Jamal Crawford to teams with cap space, and package Jared Dudley and L.A.'s first-round pick to create more cap space.

"Let's say they dump Jordan, Crawford and Dudley, and also get rid of the No. 28 pick while they're at it," Coon said. "They'd then be at $53,625,152. This assumes that all assets are dumped for future considerations only, with no salary coming back to the Clippers. The team would need to get down to $42,540,368 to make LeBron a max offer. They're over $11 million short."

So there's no chance?

"If they also dump Reggie Bullock and Matt Barnes for nothing, they will get down to $50,042,854," Coon said. "That's still about $8 million short. So there's still no way. This also presumes the Clippers will be able to dump five players with no salary coming back, which is a pretty tall order."

So let's review: If the Clippers somehow found a way to trade Jordan, Crawford, Dudley, Barnes, Bullock and their first-round pick to teams with cap space and acquired no salary back, they'd still be $8 million short of offering James a max deal. Oh, and they'd also have only four players under contract.

The only realistic path to the Clippers for James would be a trade in which the Clippers sent Griffin to Miami. Griffin had always been considered "untouchable" when Donald Sterling was the owner, and that stance has not changed with Doc Rivers in charge of basketball operations, according to a report by ESPN.com's Ramona Shelburne on Tuesday.

Even if the Clippers completed a sign-and-trade that sent Griffin to Miami for James after he re-signed to a maximum deal, Coon said the Clippers' cap would be about $74 million and hard-capped at about $81 million, leaving just $7 million to fill out the rest of the roster. That's essentially $7 million for about six players, including their draft pick.

If James is dead-set on getting a max deal or anywhere near a max deal, the chances of him coming to Los Angeles to play with the Clippers seem remote at best. But if he's willing to take a big pay cut to join Paul, Griffin and Rivers in Hollywood, well, there's a chance.