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Clippers eliminated from playoffs: Why LA's offseason could be turbulent


This is not the way that it was supposed to go for the Clippers.

The expectation when Los Angeles traded for Paul George back in 2019 was to compete for multiple championships. Instead, it has made the Conference Finals just once. 

Will owner Steve Ballmer pay to keep this group together for another run? The team has already extended Kawhi Leonard but chose to hold off on a similar extension for George. A seemingly bottomless wallet is starting to empty — the Clippers will pay an estimated $142.4 million in luxury tax payments alone for this season, per Spotrac

George will be seeking a new deal, as will James Harden. Russell Westbrook can opt out of his deal to seek a larger payday, too.

Here are the major decisions for the Clippers going forward. 

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If the Clippers were dead set on keeping George at any price, then they would have signed him to a maximum extension of four years and $221.1 million, per Bleacher Report’s Eric Pincus. They still have until June 30 to get that deal done. 

The fact that they have not offered that deal in-season means that those luxury tax payments are starting to catch up to them. Leonard took a discount on his extension, signing for three years and $149.7 million. The Clippers may be looking to line up those deals and have George take a similar amount. 

The Clippers were above the salary apron this year, limiting their ability to make trades and sign new players. If they retained George and their other big-ticket free agents, they would be above the apron again. That would mean another year of stiff tax penalties, more restrictions on signing outside free agents and tougher trade rules. 

If George does seek a maximum elsewhere, he can sign for up to four years and $212.2 million, per Pincus. Look for the Sixers to instantly make that offer. 

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After a tumultuous start to the season in which he held out to get out of Philadelphia, Harden played well in his first year in Los Angeles. His scoring was way down to 16.6 points per game, but he was still a great distributor, averaging 8.5 assists. And his 38.1 percent from 3 provided great spacing for teammates. 

There wasn’t a ton of interest in Harden when he was available via trade to start the season. His free agency options will be similarly limited.

One of the few teams with cap space to get him this summer, the Sixers, is off his list. The other teams with cap space to make a run at Harden are the Pistons, Jazz, Thunder, Magic and Spurs. Are any of those great fits for him? 

A sign-and-trade could also be off the table if the Clippers bring George back. Teams in the apron are prohibited from adding players via that route, so the Clippers would have to rope in one of those six cap space teams listed above to complete a complicated three-way trade. 

The simplest option is for Harden to return on a cheaper deal. He was paid $35.7 million this past season. At 34 years old, it’s safe to say that he is entering the last few years of his career. My simple salary model has him worth about $32 million next year. Something in the range of Khris Middleton’s three-year, $102 million extension signed last summer seems reasonable. 

Westbrook has clearly enjoyed playing for the Clippers. He took a below-market deal last summer, signing for two years and $7.8 million with a player option for 2024-25. 

The reasoning for taking that paltry deal was to allow the Clippers to gain Early Bird rights on him, thus making it possible to pay him more this summer.

There’s a decent chance that Westbrook opts out of his $4.0 million and looks for that bigger deal. The Clippers will be able to sign him for up to $11 million in his first year using that Early Bird exception. He probably won’t get quite that much after a brutal playoff showing, but he is worth more than his player option. 

Westbrook took a demotion to the bench well once Harden came via trade. He had a decent regular season in which he finished seventh in Sixth Man of the Year voting. His poor shooting became more problematic in the playoffs, but he was still able to make impact plays due to his energy. 

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