The second phase of the off-season begins tonight for the Lakers and Clippers, with the latter facing many more decisions than the former.
An off-season loaded with question marks begins to take shape -- for better or worse -- for the Clippers on the first night that teams and free agents can begin discussions.
Leading scorer Corey Maggette is expected to officially become an unrestricted free agent when he opts out of the final year of his contract, a year in which he is owed $7 million.
When reached Sunday, forward Elton Brand, who also can become an unrestricted free agent, said he and agent David Falk would release their decision today. If he does not opt out, Brand is due $16.4 million in the final season of his contract.
Rehabilitating point guard Shaun Livingston also would become an unrestricted free agent if the Clippers decline to make him a $5.8-million qualifying offer. Livingston will be free to talk to teams, but the Clippers are still aiming to negotiate with him for a lesser salary.
If Maggette and Brand opt out, the Clippers’ first priority is to re-sign both players. If they sign elsewhere, the Clippers become players in a free-agent market with few teams having abundant salary-cap space.
In that case, the Clippers probably would go after the Washington Wizards’ Antawn Jamison, and lesser-regarded players such as Chicago guard Chris Duhon. They also could negotiate a trade for the Bulls’ Kirk Hinrich, who may be forced out of Chicago’s backcourt with the drafting of Derrick Rose.
The Lakers, for their part, are well over the salary cap and cannot sign any big names on other teams, so they hope to retain two of their own players, Sasha Vujacic and Ronny Turiaf.
Both are restricted free agents, meaning the Lakers can match any offer sheet they sign with another team.
Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak recently said he would call Vujacic’s agent immediately after free agency begins at 9 p.m. The Lakers also will try to keep Turiaf but are willing to spend more money to bring back Vujacic, who might receive a payday of close to $5 million a year.
The Lakers will pay almost $5 million in luxury taxes for last season and aren’t expected to dip too far into other options if they re-sign Vujacic and Turiaf. The most the team could offer a free agent from another team is the mid-level exception of about $6 million a season.
“A lot of it’s going to depend on the progress we make with Sasha and Ronny,” Kupchak said. “I think we feel if we can bring those two players back, and we get Trevor [Ariza] and Andrew [Bynum] back, we’d be happy going into training camp with that group. If we run into a roadblock . . . then we’ll have to look in other directions.
“But right now, based on the free-agent market that’s out there and our existing free agents, we think it’s in our best interest to sign back our free agents. It’s not a great group of players to choose from when you’re comparing them against Sasha or Ronny.”
According to league rules, players can talk with teams but cannot officially sign until the league-imposed signing moratorium ends July 9.