Sports

Locked in as title contenders?

The Los Angeles Clippers went through somewhat of a gap season with Kawhi Leonard not suiting up for a single game and Paul George missing significant time. They ran back the team that reached the franchise’s first Conference Finals appearance and added players like Norman Powell, Robert Covingtonand Isaiah Hartenstein to fortify their rotation. They had no reason to tank since they didn’t have their first-round pick this season, so they competed for the playoffs.

The Clips will now shift their focus towards improving and getting prepared for a title pursuit next year. Their main priority this offseason will be retaining their top free agents. If they do that aside from adding another contributor with their mid-level exception, they should be locked in as one of the favorites to reach the Finals in 2023. Their commitment to their core could also give the Clippers an extremely high luxury tax payment, though.

Re-sign their top free agents

Nicholas Batum

The Clippers are heading into the offseason with 10 players on the roster. They could have 11 but Nicholas Batum will likely decline his $3.2 million player option and become an unrestricted free agent. He left money on the table to re-sign with the Clippers on a one-plus-one last offseason. They now hold Batum’s Early Bird rights which would allow them to re-sign him for up to four years and a projected $50 million. His 2021-22 campaign was on par with his last season’s performance from him, so expect the Clippers to take care of their versatile wingman.

Robert Covington was acquired in February’s trade deadline and can be considered insurance for Batum if he leaves or Marcus Morris if they decide to trade him. He has flourished in his role with the Clippers off the bench shooting 45 percent from three and 68 percent true shooting since joining them. He would be their ideal small-ball five next season for when the Clippers want to play small in high leverage situations.

The Clippers hold Covington’s full Bird rights so they won’t have any limitations in re-signing him. They can still extend him by June 30 for up to two years, $27.9 million. After such a strong resurgence in LA, it’s possible he could get a longer deal with them in free agency.

Isaiah Hartenstein was the biggest surprise addition to the Clippers. He was one of the best backup centers in the league with ridiculous on/off numbers defensively. He was also one of the biggest value signings of the season at the veteran minimum but he is certainly looking at a raise this summer. The Clippers hold his non-Bird rights from him, limiting them to re-signing him to the veteran minimum ($1.9 million) or a 20 percent raise off his minimum salary next year (projected at $2.3 million). The Clippers can pay him more if they use the taxpayer mid-level exception to sign him, projected at $6.4 million.

Negotiate extensions with their veterans

Marcus Morris, Kawhi Leonard, Paul George

Marcus Morris, the 11-year veteran who was brought to be a key piece in the Clippers’ small-ball lineups, will become extension-eligible this offseason. Despite his uptick in minutes in role with all the team’s injuries, Morris declined a bit and missed a lot of time with knee soreness. With the additions of other wing players such as Batum and Covington and the emergence of Terry Mann and luke kennardMorris may be expendable going forward.

Ivica Zubac will be entering the final year of his deal once the Clippers presumably exercise his $7.5 million team option. The six-year center has quietly had his best season yet and will likely see a raise on his next contract. The team will be able to extend him at any point next season for up to four years and a projected total of $59 million.

Luxury tax implications

The Clippers are set to become luxury taxpayers for the second season in a row with an $85 million tax payment in 2021-22. They will likely breeze through that amount in 2022-23 assuming they bring back their top free agents and use the $6.4 million taxpayer mid-level exception.

The franchise is heading into the offseason with a $19 million luxury tax payment with 11 players on the roster, which includes Batum’s $3.3 million player option. If he declines it and the Clippers re-sign him to a starting salary at the Early Bird exception maximum projected at $11 million, that would raise their luxury tax payment up to $41.5 million.

If on top of that they re-signed or extended Covington to the $13.6 million starting salary amount he’s eligible to receive in an extension, it would raise their luxury tax payment up to $97 million. And if afterward they use the $6.4 million taxpayer mid-level exception on a free agent or to re-sign Hartenstein, and sign the rookie they draft with the 43rd overall selection in the 2022 NBA draft to the rookie minimum, it would push them to a $135 million luxury tax payment. That amount combined with a $189 million payroll pushes total player expenses to $323 million for the season.

Money isn’t an issue for the Clippers, so it’s very possible they blow by these projections by further increasing their payroll through trade. One of the benefits of having so many players earning eight figures is that it gives a team more salaries to add into trades. The Clippers would already be loaded with the strongest wing depth in the league if they bring back Batum and Covington. If they want to push more chips into their 2023 title chase, they could package some of their expendable wing players along with a first-round pick in 2028 or 2029 for an upgrade.

2022-23 SALARY SITUATION

Guaranteed salaries: $160,166,730

Non-guaranteed salaries: $0

Total salary: $160,166,730

Luxury tax space: $11,166,730 over the luxury tax ($19,166,828 luxury tax payment)

Exceptions:

Taxpayer Mid-level: $6,392,000

Serge Ibaka trade exception: $9,720,900 (expires February, 10, 2023)

Rajon Rondo trade exception: $8,250,000 (expires July 17, 2022)

Paul George

2022-23 salary: $42,492,492

Remaining salary guaranteed: $136,920,252 through 2024-25

Additional notes: George has a $48.8 million player option for 2024-25.

Kawhi Leonard

2022-23 salary: $42,492,492

Remaining salary guaranteed: $136,920,252 through 2024-25

Additional notes: Leonard has a $48.8 million player option for 2024-25.

He also has a 15 percent trade bonus that would be voided if traded during 2022-23 since he is already earning a maximum contract.

Norman Powell

2022-23 salary: $16,758,621

Remaining salary guaranteed: $74,482,758 through 2025-26

Marcus Morris

Marcus Morris, LA Clippers

2022-23 salary: $16,372,093

Remaining salary guaranteed: $33,488,372 through 2023-24

Additional notes: Morris is extension-eligible this offseason for up to three years, $66.5 million.

luke kennard

2022-23 salary: $14,930,999

Remaining salary guaranteed: $41,236,364 through 2024-25

Additional notes: Kennard has a $15.9 million player option for 2024-25.

Reggie Jackson

2022-23 salary: $11,215,260

Remaining salary guaranteed: $11,215,260

Additional notes: Jackson has a 15 percent trade bonus worth $1.7 million if traded this offseason.

Ivica Zubac

LA Clippers center Ivica Zubac

2022-23 salary: $7,518,518 (team option)

Remaining salary guaranteed: $7,518,518

Additional notes: Zubac is extension-eligible throughout 2022-23 for up to four years projected at $59 million.

Nicholas Batum

Nicolas Batum, LA Clippers

2022-23 salary: $3,328,538 (player option)

Remaining salary guaranteed: $3,328,538

Additional notes: Batum will become an Early Bird free agent if he declines his player option with a $4.1 million cap hold. He would be eligible to re-sign with the Clippers for up to four years projected at $50 million.

Terry Mann

Terance Mann, Los Angeles Clippers

2022-23 salary: $1,930,681

Remaining salary guaranteed: $23,930,681 through 2024-25

Brandon Boston

2022-23 salary: $1,563,518

Remaining salary guaranteed: $1,563,518

Additional notes: Boston’s $1.8 million salary for 2023-24 is non-guaranteed.

Jason Preston

2022-23 salary: $1,563,518

Remaining salary guaranteed: $1,563,518

Additional notes: Preston’s $1.8 million salary for 2023-24 is non-guaranteed.

Robert Covington

Cap hold: $19,462,207

Type of free agent: Bird (unrestricted)

Amir Coffey

Cap hold: $2,076,674

Type of free agent: Bird (restricted)

Isaiah Hartenstein

Cap hold: $1,811,516

Type of free agent: Non Bird (unrestricted)

rodney hood

Cap hold: $1,811,516

Type of free agent: Non Bird (unrestricted)

Jay Scrub

Cap hold: $1,811,516

Type of free agent: Early Bird (restricted)

Xavier Moon

Cap hold: $1,616,044

Type of free agent: Non Bird (restricted)

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