Wesley Johnson and Jawun Evans were nowhere to be seen when the Clippers began practice Monday morning. Within two hours, both were no longer part of the organization.
The Clippers waived Evans and traded Johnson to New Orleans for Alexis Ajinca, then subsequently waived Ajinca before Monday afternoon’s deadline to trim rosters to the league maximum of 15 players. The trade-and-waive not only helped trim a roster spot, it saved the Clippers approximately $850,000 in salary cap room, the difference between Ajinca and Johnson's salaries this season.
Evans, a second-round pick in the 2017 draft, averaged 6.3 minutes in five preseason games and never cracked the team’s guard-heavy rotation. Johnson averaged 7.7 minutes. He has played eight seasons in the league, including the last three with the Clippers.
The moves come ahead of Wednesday’s regular-season opener at Staples Center against Denver.
The Clippers’ likely starting lineup includes guards Patrick Beverley and Avery Bradley, forwards Tobias Harris and Danilo Gallinari and center Marcin Gortat.
The decision to keep eight guards is a strategic choice. The team carried fewer guards last season, then saw its depth ravaged by injuries that cost guards a combined 183 games.
By contrast, the club is dealing with just one injury of note, forward Luc Mbah a Moute’s strained right calf, entering Wednesday’s opener. The veteran took part in Saturday’s and Sunday’s practices and took part in a workout before Monday’s practice. Coach Doc Rivers expects him to play against the Nuggets, but how much the defensive standout plays remains a question.
“You just don't know his condition level, timing, it's really hard to gauge, because as hard as we went yesterday, it's still not an NBA game,” Rivers said.
In addition to their 15 players the team can use forward Johnathan Motley and center Angel Delgado for up to 45 days as part of their two-way contracts with the team’s G-League affiliate, the Agua Caliente Clippers of Ontario.
“We can't wait,” Gallinari said. “Preseason was good, but now it's the regular season and it's time to win some games.”
Bradley shooting for better start
After an abbreviated start to his Clippers career last season, Bradley has endured a difficult preseason.
After shooting 43.9% from the field and 36.6% from three-point range in his career, the guard shot 29.6% from the field and 18.8% from long range during four preseason games in which he attempted 6.8 field goals and 4.0 three-pointers per game.
Bradley’s style is such that he doesn’t need to score to succeed, as he’s best known as one of the league’s top perimeter defenders, yet his dip in shooting efficiency has stood out.
“I think it’s a mixture coming back from injury, confidence a little bit,” he said before Monday’s practice. “A lot of things contribute to that. It’s my job to make sure that I continue to get in the gym and get shots up and have confidence that I’m going to make the next shot that I take.”
Bradley was acquired Jan. 29 from Detroit in the trade that sent, among other players, Blake Griffin to the Pistons and reunited Bradley with Rivers, whom he played for in Boston during his first seven NBA seasons.
Bradley played just six games in a Clippers uniform before missing 25 games with injuries to his abdominal muscles. Seven weeks after surgery he was shooting again.
“I'm not worried about” Avery, Rivers said. “I just think we can't forget he didn't play last year much.…
“I don't think Avery lacks confidence, so I'm not that concerned. I think that's a group of guys, there are guys who kind of lose their confidence and you try your best to get them to the foul line or something like that, but I don't think Avery has that issue.”