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Dekker vs. Thornwell vs. CJ Williams
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Tyrone Wallace
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OT: MLB 2018.
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LATimes Clipper News
Clippers rookies have solid outing in Summer League debuts

Clippers rookies Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Jerome Robinson got their first taste of NBA basketball Friday night and both were solid during their performances in the NBA Summer League at Thomas & Mack Center.

Gilgeous-Alexander, taken 11th overall in June’s draft, had 13 points and four assists...

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Press Release: L.A. Clippers Sign Angel Delgado To Two-Way Contract
The L.A. Clippers signed rookie center Angel Delgado to a two-way contract, it was announced today by President of Basketball Operations, Lawrence Frank.
Clips Nation
Game Preview: Clippers Kick Off Las Vegas Summer League Against Golden State Warriors

Here’s everything you need to know.

The NBA Draft may have only been two weeks ago, but man, am I ready to see Shai Gilgeous -Alexander and Jerome Robinson make their Clipper debuts. We need to temper our reactions to any player’s summer league performances (I know better than anyone), but that doesn’t mean we can’t be excited to get a chance to watch the two highest-drafted Clipper rookies take the court.

And, unlike with some past Summer Leagues, every Clippers fan will be able to check out the rookies’ debut: this game is Friday’s nightcap, being broadcast live on ESPN at 8:30 PM Pacific time. The Clippers’ other two LVSL preliminary games, on Sunday and Monday, will be shown on NBATV.

In fact, SGA and Jerome aren’t the only two prospects who we’ll be excited to see get plenty of burn in Las Vegas this week. Second-year players Jawun Evans and Sindarius Thornwell, each of whom contributed as rookies after being second-round draft picks a season ago, are also set to be on the roster, joined by David Michineau, the Clippers’ 38th overall pick from 2016 who has been stashed in France for the last two seasons.

Summer league success is often heavily guard-dependent: a lot of undrafted free agents and second-round rookies struggle majorly in match-ups against top prospects and older players with more experience and physical maturity. This was put on display with the Clippers’ 2016 team in the Orlando Summer League, whose entire guard rotation was built from undrafted free agents, with the exception of second-round rookie David Michineau. All of those guards struggled immensely, and the talent disparity was so large that the Clippers were unable to run any kind of consistent offense and they ended up losing every game. Last summer, the Clippers brought in Kendall Marshall, an experienced NBA and G-League guard, to bring a steady hand to the offense in case Jawun Evans and David Michineau had growing pains. It was effective, and while the Clippers won’t have a player with Marshall’s level of experience this summer, they will have a pretty strong guard core featuring five drafted players, including Evans and Thornwell’s NBA experience from last season and Michineau’s two prior summer leagues.

While the talented guard prospects are certainly the highlight of this Clippers’ summer league team, there’s reason to expect that head coach Casey Hill, who is the head coach for the Agua Caliente Clippers of Ontario, will employ some pretty fun strategies. The only other guard on the Clippers’ SL roster is Jordan Matthews, a local, undersized sharp-shooting off-guard. The roster also only features two real big men: monster rebounder Angel Delgado, who is on a two-way contract with the Clippers for next season, and stretch big man Grant Jerrett.

That essentially guarantees that the Clippers will spend most of their time in Vegas playing a small, up-tempo style around Delgado, filling out the forward positions with a combination of shooters, athletes, and three-guard lineups featuring Jerome Robinson or Sindarius Thornwell at small forward. The Clippers don’t really have roster spots for these players to earn camp invites and have a shot at making the team, but it’s possible that a true standout could give himself a shot at a non-guaranteed deal and a training camp invite. Additionally, plenty of these guys could end up on ACCO next season, as was the case with several of the Clippers’ summer league favorites last summer.

In their first game, this Clipper crew will go up against the Golden State Warriors—and they’ll actually be at somewhat of a disadvantage. The Summer Warriors have already played three games together at the Sacramento Summer League, giving them a trial run in advance of tonight’s Las Vegas opener.

The high-profile names on the Warriors’ Summer League roster are Damian Jones (the team’s first-round pick from 2016), Jordan Bell (the 38th overall pick in 2017), and Jacob Evans (the 28th overall pick in 2018). Evans was limited in Sacramento due to a couple minor injuries, but hopefully he’s healthy and ready to go for some fun match-ups in Vegas.

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Press Release: LA Clippers Sign Gilgeous-Alexander and Robinson
The LA Clippers have signed guards Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Jerome Robinson, it was announced today by Clippers President of Basketball Operations, Lawrence Frank.
Clips Nation
NBA Off-Season 2018: A Look at the Clippers’ Restricted Free Agents: Montrezl Harrell and Tyrone Wallace

As the free agency period drags on, restricted FAs are having a

For the most part, the 2018 Free Agency period in the NBA is over. Most of the top-level talent is gone—just 17 of CBSSports’ top 50 free agents remain available, and just one of their top 10—and there isn’t very much money left on the market for big deals. In fact, the potential trade of Kawhi Leonard is far and away the biggest transaction looming on the NBA horizon.

The players left on the market are all there for various reasons: some big-name veterans, like Isaiah Thomas, Dwyane Wade, and Brook Lopez are sure to end up on a roster, but are patiently waiting for the right offer and team to emerge. Others, like Luc Mbah a Moute and Wayne Ellington, are niche support players who multiple playoff teams will want after they’re done dealing with higher-priority moves.

But there’s one group of remaining free agents whose summers could drag on indefinitely: the restricted free agents. Before we get into the specific context of the Clippers’ two restricted free agents, let’s break down exactly what restricted free agency is.

Restricted free agency, as contrasted with unrestricted free agency (the process most NBA players go through), is a type of free agency designed to allow teams to retain control of their young players. It’s reserved for players with one, two, or three years of NBA experience, as well as first-round draft picks who have played out their full four-year rookie scale contract. The only time a player with three or fewer years of experience isn’t a free agent is when they are a first round pick whose third- or fourth-year option is declined (like Mario Hezonja this summer, or Austin Rivers’ first free agency with the Clippers).

So for the Clippers, that means players like Montrezl Harrell (signed a 3-year deal as a second-rounder) and Tyrone Wallace (one year of NBA experience) this summer, but also Sam Dekker (coming off the fourth year of his rookie scale contract) and Milos Teodosic (two years of NBA experience) next summer, and Sindarius Thornwell, Jawun Evans (both signed 3-year deals as second-rounders) and C.J. Williams (three years of NBA experience) in the summer of 2020.

So, those are the players that restricted free agency lets teams have additional control over—but how? Before free agency begins, NBA teams have the option to submit what is called a “qualifying offer” to any of their players eligible for restricted free agency. A player who does not receive a qualifying offer by June 29th becomes an unrestricted free agent. Teams can withdraw a qualifying offer any time before July 14th if they want to free up cap room. Dallas extended a QO to Doug McDermott, but then withdrew it when they realized they wouldn’t be able to orchestrate a trade for DeAndre Jordan and needed to clear cap room to sign him. The Minnesota Timberwolves also recently withdrew their qualifying offer to Nemanja Bjelica when they successfully signed Anthony Tolliver, a perceived upgrade at the backup forward position.

The qualifying offer gives a team the right of first refusal—meaning they have 48 to match any contract (called an “offer sheet” for restricted free agents) the player signs with another team, and he has to stay with them. This came into play during DeAndre Jordan’s first free agency during the 2011 off-season: he signed a four-year deal with the Golden State Warriors, which the Clippers then matched to keep their young center. If a player doesn’t get an offer sheet that he likes, he can always sign his qualifying offer and play for one year before hitting the market again. For first-round picks coming off of their rookie scale contracts or a player with three years of experience like Harrell, that would mean unrestricted free agency the following summer, but someone like Tyrone Wallace would be eligible for restricted free agency again next summer if he signed his qualifying offer.

The right of first refusal can make the market somewhat wonky for a lot of restricted free agents, which is why we see so many of them leftover a few days into July. If a team offers what they deem to be fair value to a restricted free agent, they know it’s highly likely that their offer will be matched, wasting their time and tying up their cap room for 48 hours. There’s a flip side to that, though—if a team is determined to sign a player, they only have one shot to make an offer so high that the player’s original team won’t match it. That can make for some questionable and enormous contracts for players like Tim Hardaway, Jr., who the Knicks signed to a 4-year, $71 million offer sheet that the Hawks decided to not match. The Portland Trail Blazers, when put in that situation, matched a 4-year, $75 million offer sheet from the Nets for Allen Crabbe (oddly enough, they eventually traded that contract to the Nets for essentially nothing in return). Restricted free agents are eligible for sign-and-trades but only before they sign an offer sheet. Once a team matches an offer sheet, they cannot trade a player to the team that extended the offer sheet for a full year.

Notably, a team has to have a tool with which to legally sign their free agent to the contract they’re matching. Most of the time, teams have bird rights for their high-profile restricted free agents, making this a non-issue. However, for second-round picks and undrafted free agents who are hitting restricted free agency after one or two seasons, it can create some more complex scenarios. Fortunately, the Clippers have Montrezl Harrell’s bird rights, and any offer sheet for Tyrone Wallace should fit comfortably within one of the team’s cap exceptions.

So as Clippers fans’ collective anxiety regarding these two fan favorites builds, I figured it would be a good time to check in on the specific salary-cap dynamics surrounding each player’s situation.

Montrezl Harrell, due to his incredibly low minimum salary last season, has a tiny qualifying offer of only $1,839,228. That’s obviously less than Harrell would make on the open market as an unrestricted free agent. However, teams feared that the Clippers would match reasonable offers and, at least so far, have been unwilling to make inflated offers to scare the Clippers away from matching. ESPN’s Kevin Pelton noted that, with regards to Harrell, that there may not be “a team with space or even the taxpayer midlevel looking for a center at this point.” The taxpayer mid-level exception is worth $5,337,000—if that isn’t even on the table for Harrell, then it seems highly likely that the Clippers would match any offers coming in below it.

So, it seems increasingly likely that unless a team throws a surprising contract at Montrezl, he’ll have two options: sign the qualifying offer, or negotiate a different long-term contract with the Clippers. To pre-answer a frequently asked question, not signing the qualifying offer really isn’t an option. Harrell would be unable to play for any other NBA team this season, and then would be a restricted free agent again with the same qualifying offer next summer. Even if Montrezl is grumpy with his salary, he’s clearly better off playing for $1.8 million next season and being an unrestricted free agent next summer.

Regarding the possibility of the two sides negotiating a different contract, I think we likely loop back to the same factor that is influencing everything the Clippers do this summer: 2019 cap space. If Montrezl accepts his qualifying offer, he’ll have a cap hold of $3,494,533 next summer. That means that hypothetically, the Clippers could keep Montrezl in that small slot while they use their cap room to sign other free agents, and then exceed the cap to sign him to a salary greater than $3.5 million afterwards. I don’t think the Clippers will willingly concede any number greater than that being on the books for Harrell during the summer of 2019—meaning they won’t give him an offer that pays him more than $1.8 million in 2018-19 if it means he could hit free agency in 2019 (since his cap hold is tied to his prior year’s salary), and they won’t give him an offer that pays him a salary greater than $3.5 million in 2019-20.

One possible offer could be a two-year deal that pays his qualifying offer for next season with a $2 million player option for 2019-20. This would give Harrell a little added incentive to accept instead of his qualifying offer, but it only makes sense for the Clippers to give that player option away if they want to get Montrezl off of the FA market as quickly as possible this summer.

More likely, in my opinion, is a three-year deal that pays Harrell $3.5 million a year, with a player option in the third season. This still likely represents a paycut in year 2 for Montrezl, but the additional money in year one makes up for that, and the third-year player option gives him some long-term security and control. From the Clippers’ perspective, you’re using money that you don’t need this year to help maximize your cap space next summer. The team can even use Montrezl’s bird rights to incorporate a 8% decrease in salary between years 1 and 2, followed by an 8% raise in year 3. This would give Montrezl a $3.8M salary in 2018-19, a $3.5M salary in 2019-20, and a $3.8M player option in 2020-21. The first two seasons would be the equivalent of signing the $1.8M qualifying offer and then taking the taxpayer mid-level next summer—except he’d lock in that money now and have a player option on the back end for some added safety.

My best guess is that the Clippers’ standing offer to Montrezl looks something like that. He’s right not to accept it off the bat, as it’s entirely possible that he could get an offer sheet worth more. Failing that, however, this deal is at least a reasonable alternative to his qualifying offer that could be mutually beneficial.

Tyrone Wallace, on the other hand, is in an even worse situation than Montrezl. Wallace, as a two-way contract player with only one year of experience, has a truly low qualifying offer: another one-year two-way contract with a $50,000 guarantee. There’s little doubt to anyone in the league that Tyrone is worthy of a spot on a team’s 15-man roster after his play with the Clippers last season, but is he worth gambling on with a low contract offer that the Clippers would likely match?

If Wallace doesn’t get an offer sheet, it doesn’t seem likely that the Clippers will give him a serious contract offer—at best, they might try to give him a multi-year non-guaranteed minimum deal like they reportedly offered him last season. The team has a ton of guards, including rookies Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Jerome Robinson, and second-year prospects Jawun Evans and Sindarius Thornwell. The Clippers have a serious shortage of roster spots this summer, so keeping Wallace on a two-way deal and off of the 15-man roster could be vital. Otherwise, the team may have to cut one of their other guards to make room for Tyrone.

I don’t predict that any offer sheet is forthcoming, and given the team’s track record of playing hardball with Ty, I feel pretty comfortable in saying they’ll force him to take his qualifying offer. As with Montrezl, I’d be shocked to see him forego the QO. Tyrone is probably in a situation where he could make more money overseas than on a two-way contract, but it’s clear that at 24 years old, he has a future playing NBA ball, and he’d still be under the Clippers’ control when he eventually returned to the league.

Not all hope is lost for Ty, though. Because his QO is below the minimum salary, it’s possible that another NBA team could offer him a minimum-salary offer sheet just to screw with the Clippers. They’d be forced to either put him on the 15-man roster or let him walk, and the risk to the other team is minimal—unlike pursuits of higher-caliber restricted free agents, they’d hardly be risking tying up their cap room for a minimum-salary deal. Such an offer sheet would guarantee Ty a real NBA salary and a chance to spend more than 45 days with an NBA team next season.

It’s also possible that a jump to Europe wouldn’t be the worst thing for Ty. While, like I said, he’d still the Clippers’ restricted free agent next summer on the same qualifying offer, a strong campaign in a top European league could put him in a position to earn more serious offer sheets next summer.

However, that pathway isn’t without risk. If he doesn’t do well enough to earn offer sheets next summer (even players who would otherwise earn above-minimum contracts are sometimes ignored due to their restricted status, just like Harrell this season), his qualifying offer with the Clippers would again be a one-year two-way deal with $50,000 guaranteed. If Ty signs that QO this summer, he puts himself in a slightly more safe position for next summer. While he’d be eligible for restricted free agency under Clipper control again, his qualifying offer would be a one-year minimum-salary deal, finally forcing the team’s hand in bumping him up from two-way status.

That Tyrone played so well and is being so harshly punished for it is probably a sign that the two-way system, which is still in infancy, tilts player control too steeply towards the team. It makes sense that teams should be able to retain the prospects that they invest in, but Ty has gotten a pretty rotten deal at every turn, and now an exciting young player who would certainly be in the NBA otherwise may not be next season. In fact, Wallace may have been better off if he had never signed his two-way contract—that’s a sign that it’s a bad deal for the players involved.

Ultimately, the Clippers should be in a good position to retain both of these young, exciting fan favorites. In Montrezl’s case, the most likely scenario is that he accepts his qualifying offer, but I wouldn’t rule out a small, multi-year deal like the one I outlined above. An offer sheet, while still technically in play, does not appear to be forthcoming. Tyrone’s case is a little harder to predict, since there’s really no precedent for this kind of situation with a below-minimum qualifying offer. Ultimately, my hunch is that Tyrone doesn’t play on his qualifying offer next season—he’s too good to be a two-way player again. I think some other team will at least give him a minimum-salary deal (offer sheets must run for at least two seasons, not including option years) to force the Clippers’ hand and see if they can get lucky and pry him away.

LA Sports Hub Clippers
Los Angeles Clippers: The current plan is not the answer

The Los Angeles Clippers’ current plan for the future is an interesting one and likely will not work in the grand scheme of things. The Los Angeles Clippers are in an interesting position. Right now, the Clippers have a surplus of talents that are not locked down past next season, opening an abundance of salary […]

Los Angeles Clippers: The current plan is not the answer - LA Sports Hub - LA Sports Hub - A Los Angeles Sports Site - Lakers, Clippers, Rams, Chargers, Kings, Dodgers, Angels, USC Trojans, UCLA Bruins, Ducks, Galaxy

Clips Nation
2018 NBA Free Agency: The Clippers Have Met with Center Kyle O’Quinn

Add yet another big man to the Clippers’ interest list

Per Brad Turner of the LA Times, Doc Rivers and Lawrence Frank had dinner with free agent center Kyle O’Quinn last night.

O’Quinn is a veteran backup center who has spent the last three seasons on the New York Knicks. At 28 years old, he’s somewhat younger than the Clippers’ previous rumored big man targets, Anthony Tolliver and Amir Johnson. He’s also just a better player at this point, as he’s been one of the stronger backup centers in the NBA over the past two years. An efficient scorer, strong rebounder, and solid passer, O’Quinn is a well-rounded talent whose main flaw is a propensity for fouling, which keeps his minutes limited. He’s also somewhat undersized as a rim protector, but isn’t a bad defensive player overall.

The Clippers do already have two centers on their roster in Marcin Gortat and Boban Marjanovic, and reportedly still have interest in re-signing restricted free agent Montrezl Harrell. Their interest in O’Quinn could therefore either be as a potential replacement for Trez, or as a signal that one or both of the Gortat/Boban duo might be on the move soon.

Clippers coach Doc Rivers and president Lawrence Frank had dinner Tuesday night in LA with Knicks free agent center Kyle O’Quinn, per source. The two sides will continue to talk.

— Brad Turner (@BA_Turner) July 4, 2018
LATimes Clipper News
Clippers' rebuilt roster could open salary-cap space of almost $70 million next summer

The Clippers, who could be close to finalizing their roster after agreeing to re-sign guard Avery Bradley on Tuesday, could be the Lakers of next summer, a team with loads of cash that could return to relevance during the 2019-20 season.

It is possible the Clippers could have enough financial flexibility...

Clips Nation
Lowe: Avery Bradley’s Deal Only Partially Guaranteed in Year 2

It seems as though our collective hunch was right.

According to Zach Lowe of ESPN, the second year of Avery Bradley’s reported 2-year, $25 million contract with the Clippers is only partially guaranteed. We don’t know the exact terms of Bradley’s new contract, but with Lowe reporting that a total of $14 million is guaranteed, we can finally take a decent stab at guessing.

The second year of Avery Bradley's two-year, $25 million deal with the Clippers is only partially guaranteed, league sources say. Acts almost as a team option. If Clips decide not to guarantee Year 2, Bradley will receive a total of $14 million for one season of play.

— Zach Lowe (@ZachLowe_NBA) July 3, 2018

My immediate reaction to the reported two-year deal was a hunch that this would be the case—but with the details unconfirmed, I was driving myself a little crazy worrying that it could be fully guaranteed for both seasons. Thankfully, it took Lowe less than 24 hours to track down the partial guarantee and share it with us.

Because of NBA rules that limit raises (or decreases) in bird rights contracts to 8%, the Clippers and Bradley have a narrow range across which the $25 million in this deal can be distributed. The contract can start at $12 million and be raised to $12.96 million in year two (essentially totaling $25 million), in which case $2 million of the second-year salary would be guaranteed to meet the reported $14 million total. Or, the Clippers may have shrewdly decided to do the reverse, paying Bradley $13 million in year 1 and $11.96 million in year two, making the final season only $1 million guaranteed. That would even further mitigate the downside of adding a partial guarantee. A third option would be a flat contract at $12.5 million in each season, in which case $1.5 million would be guaranteed in year 2. Those terms remain to be seen, as well as what Bradley’s guarantee date is on the second year of his contract. If his deal becomes guaranteed before free agency, the Clippers would need to make a decision blind ahead of free agency, but if his guarantee date is in mid-July, LAC could choose to hang out to Bradley until they were certain they had a better use for that money.

A couple days ago, I wrote about some of the Clippers’ different options with Bradley’s bird rights, including this section on re-signing him to a short-term deal:

Bradley’s bird rights allow the team to re-sign him to a mutually agreeable contract in addition to using their mid-level exception and bi-annual exception on outside free agents at positions of need. That means that the real opportunity cost here isn’t financial, it’s in terms of minutes and roster spots. We’re assuming that Patrick Beverley and Lou Williams will be back in major roles next season, so keeping Avery around will make all of the Clippers’ young guards compete for one rotation spot, basically meaning that only one of Gilgeous-Alexander and Robinson will be able to earn minutes. It also makes it incredibly unlikely that all three of Jawun Evans, Sindarius Thornwell, and Tyrone Wallace will be able to be on the roster next season—the team can carry 7 guards if they have to, but carrying eight would make for an irresponsibly unbalanced roster. For those reasons, I don’t expect the Clippers to keep Avery around on the sizable multi-year deal that he’s going to want. But, if he doesn’t find that kind of contract elsewhere, he could very well end up stuck with only mid-level exception offers. The Clippers can beat that on a one-year deal where Bradley can rebuild his value for next summer’s free agency. If he plays well, he’ll have positive trade value at the deadline, and if he doesn’t, he can come off the books next summer.

The upsides and downsides of this deal remain the same—although the more team-friendly Bradley’s contract is (guarantee amount and guarantee date), the better. The partial guarantee on the second season essentially functions as a team option, which adds a lot of value for any team acquiring Bradley in a trade—he is neither a half-season rental nor someone they have to make a multi-year commitment to. The Clippers were able to use Bradley’s bird rights to beat out the MLE offers he was getting from other teams, and negotiate a higher salary in exchange for the team-friendly partial guarantee in year 2. Bradley is likely going to be the team’s starter at shooting guard, which is a helpful talent boost to have if the Clippers are able to land Kawhi Leonard via trade this off-season.

There’s some downside to the move, though. Generally speaking, the minor guaranteed money next summer is negligible. While every small bit of money adds up, especially when the Clippers are trying to potentially open two max salary slots, between $1-2M of dead money on Avery Bradley will almost certainly never impact the Clippers’ free agency plans. For a price tag that small, even if no team wants Avery on their roster, the Clippers will easily be able to send Bradley’s contract to be waived by a team with cap room along with cash to cover the guaranteed portion of his salary and a second-round pick for eating that money as a cap hit. So the worst-case cost of this deal is that the Clippers have to send out a cash and a second-round pick next summer, and only if they fail to move Bradley at the deadline and are lucky enough to lure the kind of free agents that would require opening two max salary slots next summer.

However, Bradley has downside in some other areas. The Clippers now have three entrenched veteran guards in Bradley, starting point guard Patrick Beverley, and reigning sixth man of the year Lou Williams. That leaves limited minutes available for guard prospects like Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Jerome Robinson, Tyrone Wallace, Jawun Evans, and Sindarius Thornwell. Not only does it deprive those players a chance to develop in games, but Bradley’s presence also likely makes the Clippers better, hurting their chances in the NBA Draft Lottery. Even if they are able to trade Avery to a playoff team at the deadline for a late first-round pick, will it be worth the potential hit at their own selection? It’s impossible to quantify, but the combination of the Clippers’ decisions to prioritize Bradley, Mike Scott (30 years old), and Marcin Gortat (34 years old) this summer seems likely to make the team win at least a few more games than they would have with younger, high-upside players.

Ultimately, we’ll have to wait and see what comes next to determine if this deal ends up being successful. Do the Clippers land Kawhi? How well does Bradley play? What return, if any, does the team get at the deadline? Is he a part of the team’s plans for 2019-20? All of these major questions will be answered in due time, but for now we can rest easy knowing that the potential impact on next summer’s cap space is mitigated.

Clips Nation
NBA Off-Season 2018: Could LeBron’s Move to the Lakers Help the Clippers Land Kawhi Leonard?

It might be a long shot, but there’s some reason for optimism.

NBA insider Shams Charania was on Colin Cowherd’s show today, discussing the latest surrounding Kawhi Leonard’s request to be traded from the San Antonio Spurs. According to Shams, LeBron’s move to the Lakers may have decreased Kawhi’s desire to play there, increasing his interest in the Clippers. Not only does this further suggest that the Clippers would have good odds of retaining Leonard if they traded for him, but it suggests that Kawhi won’t be eager to join the Lakers in free agency next summer whatsoever, which increases LAC’s odds of ending up with the star forward who reportedly wants to play in Los Angeles.

Here are some key quotes from Charania, as originally transcribed by Tomer Azarly of ClutchPoints in his analysis of these rumors.

“One thing that is made abundantly clear, and I’m going to stress this: there’s no guarantee that when Kawhi Leonard hits the market next summer, that he’s going to sign with the Lakers, period.” said Charania. “I think his options have broadened a little bit. Just inside L.A., there’s another team obviously in L.A. I think he’d be very much open to the Clippers.”

“The Spurs are going to hold out and keep and open dialogue with him and his camp,” adds Charania. “I think around Kawhi, what’s been made abundantly clear is there’s not an interest to go join a super team. I don’t think he’s jumping for joy that LeBron James is in LA with the Lakers. If anything that’s gonna make him look more towards the Clippers because this is a guy that won Finals MVP against LeBron, you think he’s amped up and wants to join LeBron now? I think that’s been overstated and the spurs are beginning to realize that they might have a broader market for him.”

While Leonard’s supposed decreased interest in the Lakers is definitely a big advantage for the Clippers, Shams’ reporting isn’t the only reason to be optimistic.

The Lakers have been at the forefront of the Leonard sweepstakes for the last several weeks, but reportedly cooled in aggressiveness in recent days—likely coinciding with LeBron’s reported conversation with Magic Johnson where he committed to joining the Lakers regardless of a Kawhi trade, relieving the pressure on the organization to make a godfather offer to the Spurs that they believed would increase their chances of signing LeBron. A rumored reluctance to part with Brandon Ingram, along with the subsequent free agent deals the Lakers have made, seem to suggest that the team is following the same hardball negotiating tactics that they did with Paul George and Indiana a summer ago: daring the Spurs to trade Leonard’s expiring deal somewhere else in hopes that they can simply sign him for free next summer. Combine that with the Spurs’ rumored predisposition towards not helping the Lakers add a superstar (that is logically only strengthened by James’ pre-existing presence on the roster, which means sending Leonard to the Lakers essentially builds another Western Conference superteam), and the supposed leader in the Kawhi race may not be in front any more.

If the Lakers are indeed out, then that would make the Clippers’ primary competitors for Leonard Boston and Philadelphia, and while it’s no sure thing that the Clippers can make the best offer of that group (in fact, both the Celtics and Sixers have the assets to put together far superior offers, but are unlikely to part with their most treasured young players), they can definitely be competitive. It’s unclear what Boston’s final offer for Kawhi would be, but if the Celtics are uneasy about re-signing him next summer, it’s safe to believe reports that they’re unwilling to part with either Jayson Tatum or Jaylen Brown, omissions that render whatever offer they drum up noncompetitive.

The Sixers have reportedly offered a deal centered around Robert Covington and Dario Saric—that’s a framework that the Clippers can compete with. Saric is a very good player, and three years younger than Tobias Harris, but Tobias has pretty clearly demonstrated that he’s the higher-caliber player right now. On top of that, the four years and $47 million remaining on Covington’s contract subtract value from Philly’s package, despite him having some utility as a player. The Clippers can put expiring contracts around Tobias that serve the opposite function of Covington, relieving San Antonio of Pau Gasol and/or Patty Mills’ negative contract(s) while providing the Spurs with serviceable veterans for 2018-19 who will turn into massive cap space next summer. The Sixers may have improved their flexibility on that front with a separate trade today to acquire Wilson Chandler. Chandler’s $12.8 million expiring contract is eligible to be aggregated with other salaries and re-traded immediately, so the Sixers could hypothetically offer the Spurs a choice between Covington’s youth and long-term security, or the cap flexibility and veteran presence of Chandler. NBA.com’s David Aldridge reports that the Sixers are unlikely to re-package Chandler, but let’s be honest—if the Spurs say they’re dealing Kawhi to the Clippers unless Philly is willing to replace Covington with Chandler, we all know that the Sixers would be foolish to hold out.

The Sixers could immediately re-route newly acquired @wilsonchandler in any potential, uh, trade, b/c his salary is going into the team’s available cap space. But the plan is for Philly to keep him, per league sources; his two-way play when healthy is viewed as a needed asset.

— David Aldridge (@daldridgetnt) July 3, 2018

Lastly, it’s worth noting that Shams’ report clearly opens the door for dark horse candidates to come and make a play for Kawhi. While there’s a ton of risk associated for teams outside of L.A. given Leonard’s stated preference to come to Southern California, the Lakers being out of the running for Kawhi’s services in free agency next summer would significantly increase the odds that another team could re-sign him if they are able to impress in a one-year tryout.