Making another bold statement about their future, the Clippers on Tuesday matched the Utah Jazz’s six-year, $42-million offer sheet to guard Corey Maggette, retaining another valuable piece of their puzzle.
Ten days earlier, the Clippers matched the Miami Heat’s six-year, $82-million offer to power forward Elton Brand, their leading scorer and rebounder the last two seasons.
They have until Thursday night to match the Denver Nuggets’ six-year, $51-million offer to point guard Andre Miller, but they also have a strong interest in re-signing small forward Lamar Odom.
Conventional wisdom suggested the Clippers would take a pass on Miller and either start intensive negotiations on a new deal for Odom or simply match any outside offers, including an anticipated one from the Heat. They simply wouldn’t have enough money to spend to match offers to Miller and Odom.
But this has been anything but a conventional off-season for the Clippers, who repeatedly said they would match any reasonable offers to their four restricted free agents, and so far, they have made good twice.
The Heat, Jazz and Nuggets each loaded their offer sheets with large payments due before the season opener Oct. 30 against the Seattle SuperSonics at Tokyo. The consensus was that owner Donald Sterling would be leery of paying Brand $7 million, Maggette $3.5 million and Miller $10 million before the season started.
“I am very excited about the opportunity to coach Corey,” new Coach Mike Dunleavy said in a statement released by the Clippers. “Obviously, I have followed him closely since his days at Duke. He has done a terrific job of developing his all-around game and I look forward to being a part of his continued development.”
One of the conditions of Dunleavy’s hiring earlier this month was that Sterling would do everything possible to keep Brand, Maggette, Miller and Odom in the fold and make a reasonable attempt to re-sign unrestricted free-agent center Michael Olowokandi. Dunleavy also insisted on some measure of input into roster moves.
Olowokandi signed a three-year deal worth $16.2 million with the Minnesota Timberwolves. Two other unrestricted free agents, Eric Piatkowski and Sean Rooks, signed elsewhere, Piatkowski with the Houston Rockets and Rooks with the New Orleans Hornets.
But with the re-signing of Brand and Maggette, much of the team remains intact. After all, Brand and Maggette were the Clippers’ leading scorers last season, with Brand averaging 18.5 points (and a team-best 11.3 rebounds) and Maggette averaging 16.9 points (and five rebounds).
Maggette, who was not immediately available for comment, has career averages of 11.5 points, 4.2 rebounds and 23.3 minutes in four seasons. He is a 45% shooter in 273 games. He moved into the starting lineup midway through the season because of injuries and ineffective play by teammates.
Expected to post a winning record and contend for their first playoff berth since 1997, the Clippers collapsed under the weight of so much contract uncertainty. They finished last in the Pacific Division with a 27-55 record, and rumors of a roster breakup ran rampant as the free-agent negotiating period began July 1.
“Through consistent hard work and effort, Corey has improved his game each year he has been in the league,” General Manager Elgin Baylor said in a statement, “and there is no reason to believe he won’t continue to get even better. We’re really glad that he will be back for the long term.”
Odom was the Clippers’ third-leading scorer last season, averaging 14.6 points, and is one of Sterling’s favorite players.
The two had a running conversation during the Clippers’ victory Feb. 19 against the Milwaukee Bucks, with Odom inviting Sterling to leave his courtside seat at game’s end to speak about the team’s future in the locker room. Sterling accepted, and they had a warm postgame conversation.
Odom said it was time for Sterling to make a commitment akin to marriage to ensure the Clippers continue their modest success.
Miller, acquired last off-season to be the glue to keep the youthful Clippers together, failed as a team leader and often clashed with former coach Alvin Gentry. Dunleavy is said to be rather cool on Miller, too.
Miller was the NBA’s leader in assists with an average of 10.9 (and an average of 16.5 points) in his final season with the Cleveland Cavaliers. After the Clippers traded fan favorite Darius Miles last summer to get Miller, the L.A. native slumped to averages of 6.7 assists and 13.6 points.