The free-agent frenzy has officially begun. The Los Angeles Clippers have already been linked to a couple players in just over 24 hours, and the rumor mill is only going to pick up until free agents can formally sign new contracts on July 10.
Heading into the offseason, the Clippers have eight players under guaranteed contracts: Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, J.J. Redick, Jamal Crawford, Jared Dudley, Matt Barnes and Reggie Bullock. That equates to roughly $70.3 million in salary, which doesn't include rookie C.J. Wilcox's impending contract (projected $1 million per year) or any cap holds, and is just less than $7 million under the projected luxury tax threshold of $77 million.
With Darren Collison, Danny Granger, Glen Davis, Hedo Turkoglu and Ryan Hollins entering free agency, the Clippers have a few glaring needs. The roster lacks a skilled third big man, which has been an issue since Paul arrived in 2011, and despite the wing depth, there aren't enough quality perimeter defenders or consistent shooters.
Doc Rivers has stated that re-signing Collison is the team's top priority, but that might not be realistic. Unless Collison is willing to accept a marginal pay raise to between $2.5 to $3 million (unlikely), Los Angeles will likely have to address its other weaknesses first and could ultimately seek out a cheaper replacement.
Assuming the Clippers don't miraculously clear cap space or pull off a sign-and-trade for LeBron James and/or Carmelo Anthony, they don't have much leeway to make significant additions. They will only have the mid-level exception ($5.3 million per year) and the bi-annual exception ($2 million) at their disposal, as well as veteran minimum contracts ($1.2 million to $1.4 million).
The ideal scenario appears to be splitting the midlevel exception between two players (preferably a third big man and a 3-and-D wing), signing another player with the biannual exception (a replacement point guard), and then filling out the rest of the roster with minimum guys.
Here are some players the Clippers should target:
Third big men
Jordan Hill | F/C | UFA | PER: 19.39
Hill was underused in Mike D'Antoni's system, and he would seamlessly fit in as an elite rebounder (19.0 rebound rate) and a solid midrange shooter (42.7 percent) and pick-and-roll finisher. He has a high motor and provides athleticism and interior toughness that last year's bench lacked. There are questions about his shot selection and defensive consistency, but he's intriguing.
Ed Davis | F/C | UFA | PER: 15.99
The market for Davis' services is unclear, but similar to Hill, he has shown flashes of talent despite inconsistent playing time. Davis' length, energy and athleticism make him a dynamic rebounder and rim-protector (opponents shot just 43.3 percent at the rim against him). Although the southpaw's offensive game is limited to cutting, screening and finishing around the rim, he has high upside and is worth a gamble.
Josh McRoberts | F/C | UFA | PER: 13.82
McRoberts is one of the game's best passing bigs and projects as the point forward the Clippers have long sought after (he averaged 5.1 assists per 36 minutes this season). He won't protect the rim or rebound as well as Rivers would like, but he's an adequate spot-up shooter with 3-point range (he made 105 3s on 36.1 percent shooting), and he has the mobility and versatility to play alongside Jordan or Griffin.
Paul Pierce | F | UFA | PER: 16.81
Pierce's desire to play in his hometown and reconnect with Rivers is well-known, but more importantly, he can actually help out. He would take some of the crunch-time burden off Paul's shoulders and can create mismatches against plodding bigs in small-ball lineups. The question is, how much does he have left? Depending on his willingness to take a pay cut, Pierce could be a bargain. But if he wants the full midlevel exception or in that ballpark, the Clippers should pass.
Shawn Marion | F | UFA | PER: 13.78
A versatile defender, rebounder and off-ball threat, Marion has lost a step or two recently yet remains a capable two-way player. He isn't the type of shooter the Clippers covet (career 33.2 percent on 3s), but he's an upgrade defensively with the ability to contain 1 through 4. Marion won't create for himself, but he can still be effective picking up scraps off cuts and offensive rebounds. He's an ideal small-ball big.
Vince Carter | G/F | UFA | PER: 15.97
He can't jump out of the gym anymore, but Carter has developed a wily offensive game that is just as efficient. There isn't a better realistic offensive option; Carter is a dangerous spot-up shooter (40.6 percent on spot-up 3s), shot creator and passer. Add in the fact that he's a competent defender (+2.45 defensive RPM), an above-average rebounder and has transitioned to small forward over the past three seasons, and he makes sense.
Thabo Sefolosha | G/F | UFA | PER: 10.42
Sefolosha's long-range shooting took a nosedive this season (31.6 percent), which makes him a perfect buy-low candidate. With quick feet and a 7-2 wingspan, he has the ability to defend any perimeter player, and is notably adept at hounding elite point guards. If he can regain his shooting stroke from two years ago (he shot over 40 percent in back to back seasons), or at least come close, he's a steal.
Backup point guards
Ramon Sessions | G | UFA | PER: 16.04
Though nowhere near as quick as Collison, Sessions is similar in that his game is predicated on breaking defenses down and getting to the rim. The difference is that Sessions gets to the line almost twice as often (6.7 FTAs per 36 minutes compared to Collison's 3.9) and is a better distributor. On balance, he's a minus defender and a non-threat from deep (28.2 percent), which limits his value.
Delonte West | G | UFA | PER: 15.35 (2011-12 season)
West earned a spot on the Clippers' summer league roster, so he has a built-in advantage. At the same time, he hasn't played in the NBA in two years, and will always be a wild card because of offcourt struggles. Still, he's arguably the most talented cheap option available and has already played for Rivers. He's worth a shot if he can shake off his rust and recover his 3-and-D potential.
Kirk Hinrich | G | UFA | PER: 10.80
Hinrich has quietly become less of an offensive threat, with his shooting percentages (especially from deep) continually dropping since 2010. He's adapted as well as possible, though. He won't make poor decisions and brings toughness defensively -- he registered the eighth-best defensive RPM (+0.99) among point guards and defends both backcourt positions adequately. Hinrich isn't a flashy signing, but he's serviceable.
Stats used in this post were provided by ESPN.com, NBA.com/Stats, 82games.com, MySynergySports.com and Basketball-Reference.com. Salary cap information provided by ShamSports.com.