Most Intriguing Free Agents for LA Clippers to Sign with the Mid-Level Exception

Jeff NisiusContributor IIJune 4, 2013

MEMPHIS, TN - MAY 13:  Tony Allen #9 of the Memphis Grizzlies pumps up the crowd during a timeout in overtime during Game Four of the Western Conference Semifinals of the 2013 NBA Playoffs against the Oklahoma City Thunder at FedExForum on May 13, 2013 in Memphis, Tennessee.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Coming off a disappointing postseason that saw the Los Angeles Clippers lose in the first round to the Memphis Grizzlies, the team’s attention now turns to the offseason. The first priority will be to re-sign Chris Paul, but the team’s next targets in free agency will be limited due to being over the salary cap and only being able to offer minimum contracts and the mid-level exception.

To make matters even more complicated, the Clippers’ next top free agent, Matt Barnes, was signed to a minimum contract last season, thus only allowing the Clippers to offer Barnes either a 120 percent raise or to use part of the mid-level exception to bring him back.

The NBA’s collective bargaining agreement states that a player signed to a one-year veteran’s minimum contract does not allow the team to possess any form of Bird rights on the player. This means the Clippers would not be able to go over the cap to give Barnes a substantial raise, which he most likely will be offered in free agency, unless using its salary cap exceptions.

Barnes should be one of the top priorities for the Clippers, especially if he is willing to accept a 120 percent raise instead of seeking more on the open market. Considering such an offer from the Clippers would only earn Barnes near $1.6 million in year one. Barnes could probably command a multi-year contract starting near $3 million in free agency.

Regardless of what the Clippers offer Barnes, they have multiple other needs that must be addressed. They need another defensive center, a stretch big man, another swingman and another guard who can shoot and defend.

Some of these areas of need can be addressed by trading Eric Bledsoe in a package with Caron Butler or DeAndre Jordan. However, there are a few intriguing players available in free agency whom the Clippers should target.

The one wing defender who has hounded the Clippers the past two seasons is ready to hit the open market. Tony Allen would solve a lot of the team’s problems by providing exceptional perimeter defense, something the Clippers have lacked for years.

According to 82games, Allen was able to hold opposing shooting guards to a PER of 11.8 and small forwards to 15.9. To put those numbers in perspective, the league average PER is 15. Furthermore, Allen was named to the NBA All-Defensive First Team.

Although Allen will likely cost near the full mid-level exception, he might be worth it, especially if the Clippers are able to convince Matt Barnes to stay home in Los Angeles for a little above the veteran minimum. The team’s perimeter defense would immediately be improved.

Next, the Clippers need a big who can space the floor for Chris Paul and Blake Griffin. Marreese Speights has proven he can consistently hit long jumpers and operate in pick-and-pop situations.

Speights shot a fantastic 50 percent from 16-23 feet last season in Cleveland with Kyrie Irving, on 3.2 attempts per game. That added dimension to the Clippers offense would definitely be a welcomed addition, especially for Chris Paul.

Paul has one of the most lethal pick-and-roll bigs in the league, playing with Blake Griffin. Unfortunately, Griffin is not much of a threat to pick-and-pop, allowing opposing defenses to load the paint and constrict Paul’s driving and attacking lanes.

Adding Speights would give Paul the pop-man he needs to spread the floor. Not to mention, Griffin and Speights on the floor together would allow Griffin to post against a single defender.

Griffin has run into the trouble the past two seasons, because teams are blitzing him when he catches the ball on the block. Griffin has a difficult time attacking in the paint because teams can tilt their defense toward him without having to worry about DeAndre Jordan or Lamar Odom knocking down open jumpers.

Matt Barnes, Tony Allen and Marreese Speights are not only three intriguing candidates for the Clippers to use their mid-level exception on, but are also realistic options. All three would help improve a serious weakness on the roster. There is no doubt the Clippers will need to make a few changes this summer in order to become legitimate conference title contenders. Signing two of the above names would be a huge step in the right direction.