Ranking the Best NBA Free Agency Signings in LA Clippers History
With just two playoff series wins in franchise history and nearly 30 years of futility, the Los Angeles Clippers have struggled to sign or re-sign major free agents since moving to the City of Angels in 1984.
Afforded the No. 1 overall selection of Blake Griffin in the 2009 draft and the 2011 acquisition of Chris Paul, LAC transformed from perennial laughingstock into Western Conference contender. While the last three offseasons have seen some major free-agent signings, Donald Sterling and Co. have historically failed to agree to terms with many respectable players.
Despite their history, Los Angeles has found some rewarding free agents in the mix. Who panned out for the Clippers? Which free-agent signings will go down as some of the best in franchise history?
Here are the nine best free-agent signings in LA Clippers history.
We will rank these free agents on cultural impact as well as performance on the floor. For the sake of clarification, we will count re-signed free agents; signing a draft pick does not count.
All statistics used from ESPN.com, Basketball-Reference.com and NBA.com/Stats.
9) Bo Outlaw
After beginning his professional career playing in the CBA for the Grand Rapids Hoops, Charles "Bo" Outlaw was signed by the Clips in 1994.
Not incredibly glamorous by any means, Outlaw was decent in four seasons for the Clippers. He enjoyed his best season in Los Angeles in 1997-98 when he averaged 9.5 points per game and 7.8 boards.
Outlaw was the beneficiary of more playing time, as he started 76 games for the Clips that season, as opposed to just 25 the year before. Although Outlaw never jumped off the page, he was part of a Clipper squad that reached the postseason in 1996-97.
Despite getting swept by the Utah Jazz in three games, Outlaw still found success on the last Clipper squad to make the postseason until 2006.
8) Bobby Simmons
In the summer of 2003, the Clippers made a low risk, high reward signing when they came to terms with free agent Bobby Simmons.
Coming off of a terrible year for the Washington Wizards, the Clips signed Simmons for a bargain $639,000 that offseason. In his last year in Washington, Simmons averaged an underwhelming 3.3 points and 2.1 rebounds. Nonetheless, he reached his potential two seasons later, when he won the 2004-05 Most Improved Player award.
That season saw Simmons post career bests in points (16.4) and rebounds (5.9), while knocking down 45.3 percent of his three pointers. Ultimately, Simmons’ success in Los Angeles was short-lived however, as he signed with the Milwaukee Bucks in the summer of 2005.
Simmons reunited with the Clippers when he was signed during the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season. He appeared in 28 games.
7) Bill Walton
After playing three injury-riddled seasons for the San Diego Clippers, Bill Walton re-signed with the LA Clippers in 1984.
Far after his glory years as a perennial superstar that lead the Portland Trail Blazers to their only championship in 1977, Walton was just a shell of himself by the time he made it to the Clippers. In three seasons in San Diego, Walton played in just 102 games total. In his lone season in Los Angeles, the 32-year-old managed to appear in just 67 games.
Still, Walton was a major name in the NBA landscape, and the first to sign with the Clippers. On the floor, Walton did not provide much, but his presence and persona in a maligned organization was still enough to acknowledge him as one of the better free-agent signings in Clipper history.
6) Caron Butler
The first free agent of respectable status to willingly sign with the Blake Griffin-era Clippers, Caron Butler’s impact in Lob City can be measured in both on-the-floor performance as well as culture.
While Griffin might be the superstar behind the rise of the Clippers—it is doubtful that Chris Paul would ever have become a Clipper if the team did not have the nucleus headed by Griffin—Butler was the first free agent to pair up with the young superstar.
Butler has had his ups and downs in a Clipper uniform, ultimately getting outplayed by the cheaper Matt Barnes a season ago. A prolific sharp shooter, Tough Juice lived up to his nickname when he returned from a broken hand in the Clips’ 2011 first-round series against the Memphis Grizzlies.
5) Cuttino Mobley
Cuttino Mobley was really the first significant and well-established unrestricted free agent to sign with the Clippers in the 21st century.
Coming off of a 37-45 season, the Clippers were beginning to come together but still lacked the veteran leadership to become a playoff contender. A chemistry had been developing between Elton Brand, Corey Maggette and Chris Kaman, but the team struggled to find consistency.
In addition to a trade for Sam Cassell from the Minnesota Timberwolves, the Clips went out and signed Mobley from the Sacramento Kings. Cat was key on a Clippers’ team that won its first ever playoff series when they defeated the Denver Nuggets in five games in 2006.
That postseason he did a little bit of everything, scoring 13.3 points per game, while grabbing 3.8 rebounds and dishing 2.0 assists. The Clippers might have saved Cat’s life in 2008 when they sent him to the New York Knicks in a package that landed them Zach Randolph.
4) Norm Nixon
Playing for both the Los Angeles Lakers and the Clippers in his ten-year career, Norm Nixon ranks alongside Cassell and Paul in the pantheon of Clipper point guards.
Nixon was acquired in a trade involving Byron Scott in 1983, but the Clips made a smart move by matching the Seattle SuperSonics’ offer sheet to the restricted free agent in 1985.
With four seasons as a Clipper, Nixon ranks third overall with 2,450 assists and second behind Paul in assists per game at 9.0 per contest. Knee and Achilles injuries limited Nixon in the twilight of his career, as the Clippers struggled to reach the postseason in any of his years in Los Angeles.
3) Sam Cassell
After a clever trade with the Timberwolves in the summer of 2005, the Clippers acted on their acquisition by re-signing their veteran leader Sam Cassell a season later.
The player with the most swagger on a 45-win Clipper team that took Steve Nash and the Phoenix Suns seven-games in the 2006 Western Conference semifinals, Cassell was a revelation on the court for Clipper fans.
Whether it was his savvy veteran pump fakes to earn easy free-throws, his mentoring of young point guard Shaun Livingston or his eagerness to take the big shot, Cassell was a proven winner that instantly transformed the Clippers’ locker room by imbuing the franchise with championship aspirations.
A maestro of the dying mid-range game, Cassell abused opponents with his clever playmaking skills. In the twilight of his career, Cassell still posted an 18.5 PER for Los Angeles in their fabled 2005-06 season.
No stranger to the big moment, Cassell went toe-to-toe with Nash, while still finding a way to score and distribute while being guarded by the lanky Shawn Marion. In a 122-97 Game 2 domination in Phoenix, Cassell stuffed the stat sheet with 23 points, five rebounds and six assists.
With the Clippers’ trailing the series 2-1 heading into a must-win Game 4, Sam I Am again delivered with a herculean effort. Posting a near triple-double of 28 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists, Cassell knocked down two key three-pointers down the stretch in a 114-107 victory.
After a storied 2005-06 season, Cassell re-signed with the Clippers. Suffering from a myriad of injuries, Cassell appeared in just 96 games for the Clips over the next one-and-a-half seasons. Midway through the 2008 campaign, the 38-year-old Cassell was bought out of his contract, allowing him to sign with the championship Boston Celtics.
Despite being out of LA, Cassell was still the gift that kept on giving. In the Clippers’ trade with Minnesota to acquire Cassell, Los Angeles also netted a Timberwolves’ first-round pick. That asset was eventually flipped as part of the package that netted Chris Paul six years later.
2) Elton Brand
In an unprecedented financial move by the notoriously frugal Donald Sterling, the Clippers matched a mammoth six year, $82 million offer sheet to restricted free agent Elton Brand in the summer of 2003.
Brand went on to find success with the Clips, earning All-NBA Second team honors in 2006, when he lead the Clippers within a game of the Western Conference Finals. For a time, Clipper Nation believed EB would be the first Clipper to have his number retired in the Staples Center. Following the overachieving year in 2005-06 however, the Brand-era Clips failed to make the postseason again.
In the summer of 2007, Brand tore his Achilles and missed all but eight games. Opting out of his contract in the summer of 2008, the Clippers were all but certain that they would ensure Brand’s signature on a new deal when they reached a verbal agreement with superstar point guard Baron Davis.
Despite the deal with B Diddy, Brand ditched the Clippers in favor of the Philadelphia 76ers, and the Clips endured two-and-a-half underwhelming years with Davis at the helm. Even with his ugly exit in 2008, Brand’s re-signing in 2003 still goes down as one of the watershed free agency moments in franchise history.
1) Chris Paul
The Clippers flipped the script on their history entirely when they re-signed Chris Paul to a five-year maximum contract earlier this summer.
Paul is by far the biggest and most-coveted unrestricted free agent to ever sign with the Clippers. When the Clips acquired CP3 from the New Orleans Hornets they knew that they would have to impress if they were to earn his signature on an extension two seasons later. As such, the All-World point guard had a key hand in shaping the roster and evaluating personnel decisions.
Since coming to Los Angeles, Paul has reclaimed his throne as the league’s best playmaker, voted into back-to-back All-Star games, earning back-to-back All-NBA and All-NBA First Team Defense honors, as well as playing a key role for the 2012 Team USA Olympic gold medalists.
Despite the organization’s success with Paul, Clipper Nation could not afford to be complacent heading into his free agency. When the Grizzlies bounced the Clips in the first round, Paul’s future came into doubt. Later in the summer, ESPN.com’s Chris Broussard reported that Paul was unhappy that he was being blamed for the Clips’ firing of former head coach Vinny Del Negro.
CP3 and the Clips clearly reconciled. Paul declined to meet with any other suitors on the eve of free agency, informing his representation that he fully intended to re-sign in Lob City.
The Point God’s five-year extension, along with the acquisition of head coach Doc Rivers has made this offseason the most successful in the 29-year-old history of the LA Clippers. With Paul, Griffin and Rivers in the fold for the long haul, the Clippers will embark on a season with championship expectations. It has been quite a turnaround for a team that looked perpetually lottery-bound just four seasons ago.