Another Clipper free agent bolted for the door Friday, but this time the Clippers weren’t left empty-handed.
Reacting to market pressure, they signed Marko Jaric to a six-year, $40-million contract, then sent the Serb point guard and seldom-used point guard Lionel Chalmers to the Minnesota Timberwolves for veteran point guard Sam Cassell and a lottery-protected first-round pick in next year’s draft.
Cassell, who had hip surgery in June 2004 and will turn 36 on Nov. 18, endured one of his least productive seasons in 2004-05. But he was an All-Star two seasons ago and could be a useful mentor for Shaun Livingston. In the last year of a contract that will pay him $6.8 million next season, Cassell should be motivated.
The Clippers did not want to pay market value for Jaric, had soured on Chalmers and before Friday did not have a first-round pick next year, having dealt it to the Orlando Magic in the June 2000 trade that brought Corey Maggette.
Plus, Jaric wanted out.
“It’s a win-win,” Jaric’s agent, Bill Duffy, said of the deal.
Jaric said the Clippers never showed genuine interest in re-signing him, despite their public statements to the contrary. Jaric was a restricted free agent, meaning that the Clippers had the right to match any offer made to him by another team.
“At least three or four teams wanted me more than the Clippers did,” Jaric said, “so I realized this is not the right place for me to stay.”
When two of those teams, the Utah Jazz and Denver Nuggets, said they were ready to make offers that the Clippers weren’t interested in matching, the Clippers put together an 11th-hour trade, Duffy said. Last week the Clippers had said they weren’t interested in a sign-and-trade deal and that they would re-sign Jaric.
Neither General Manager Elgin Baylor nor Coach Mike Dunleavy was available for comment Friday, but Baylor said in a statement released by the club: “We’re excited to bring in a veteran player like Sam who brings nine years of playoff experience and two championships. The addition of Sam strengthens our backcourt.”
Cassell, who played on championship teams with the Houston Rockets in his first two NBA seasons, ranks among the league’s best mid-range shooters and over his career has averaged 16.2 points and 6.2 assists. He averaged a career-high 19.8 points and ranked fifth in the NBA with an average of 7.3 assists two seasons ago, helping the Timberwolves reach the Western Conference finals.
But a left hip injury hobbled him in the conference finals, a series won by the Lakers in six games. The 12-year NBA veteran sat out the last two games and was limited to 46 seconds in Game 2 and five minutes in Game 4.
Arthroscopic surgery for cartilage damage in Cassell’s hip was described by his agent, Charles Tucker, as “nothing major,” but Cassell said later that he did not rehab properly. He showed up last fall at training camp out of shape. That, he said, led to his strained right hamstring, which limited his effectiveness last season.
In and out of the lineup during the second half of the season, he played in a career-low 59 games and averaged 13.5 points.
The Timberwolves faded and failed to reach the playoffs.
In the 6-foot-7 Jaric, who will turn 27 on Oct. 12, Minnesota has added a player far less accomplished than Cassell but nine years younger and four inches taller. But Jaric, who averaged career highs of 9.9 points and 6.1 assists last season, sat out 56 games over the last two seasons, mostly because of foot injuries.
He was delighted to be headed to the Timberwolves.
“First of all,” he said, “I’m going to a team that really likes me and respects me and, secondly, a team that I respect. I think that we have a really big chance to make really big damage in the playoff picture next year.”
Chalmers, 24, averaged 3.1 points last season and became expendable when the Clippers drafted Daniel Ewing.
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The year-by-year statistics of Sam Cassell, acquired by the Clippers Friday in a trade with Minnesota:
*--* Year Team(s) G FG% APG PPG 1993-94 Houston 66 418 2.9 6.7 1994-95 Houston 82 427 4.9 9.5 1995-96 Houston 61 439 4.6 14.5 1996-97 Pho / Dal / NJ 61 430 5.0 15.9 1997-98 New Jersey 75 441 8.0 19.6 1998-99 NJ / Milwaukee 8 419 4.5 15.9 1999-00 Milwaukee 81 466 9.0 18.6 2000-01 Milwaukee 76 474 7.6 18.2 2001-02 Milwaukee 74 463 6.7 19.7 2002-03 Milwaukee 78 470 5.8 19.7 2003-04 Minnesota 81 488 7.3 19.8 2004-05 Minnesota 59 464 5.1 13.5 Totals 802 458 6.2 16.2