Clippers still have needs to address in free agency after missing on Kent Bazemore
Within the first 29 hours of NBA free agency, the Clippers accomplished a pair of significant goals by landing a commitment from starting forward Marcus Morris and luring the championship-tested and veteran big man Serge Ibaka away from Toronto.
But after a quiet Sunday in which the Clippers reached no deals — all while the reigning NBA champion Lakers, seen once again as the Clippers’ top challenge to claiming the Western Conference, made moves that included adding center Marc Gasol — areas of need remain.
The Clippers have sought to upgrade their backcourt this offseason, but the addition of Kennard, who could begin the season as a reserve, did not fully address the desire to inject a playmaking guard into lineups alongside Kawhi Leonard and Paul George.
The Lakers, who reached an agreement to re-sign Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, continue to score wins this offseason. Can the Clippers pull off a surpirse?
The Clippers also could use another backup forward or center who ideally would stretch the floor. Three players currently on the roster are capable of playing center, a number that doesn’t include second-round pick Daniel Oturu or Ibaka, who has yet to officially sign his two-year contract. But Joakim Noah and Justin Patton each are candidates for being waived as each is on a nonguaranteed contract. Doing that could ease the Clippers’ attempt to build out the roster all while not exceeding the $138.9-million hard cap.
At wing, the Clippers had opportunities to bolster depth but missed Sunday when free agent Kent Bazemore agreed to a one-year contract with the Golden State Warriors.
The 6-foot-5 wing, who averaged 8.8 points and 4.3 rebounds per game last season with Portland and Sacramento, was one of the first players the Clippers contacted when free agency opened Friday. The team discussed offering its bi-annual exception worth $3.6 million to Bazemore according to people not authorized to speak publicly. Ultimately, the 31-year-old Bazemore chose to reunite with Stephen Curry, a close friend since they were teammates on the Warriors from 2012 to 2014.
Bazemore made 34% of his three-point tries last season and is a career 35% three-point shooter, but his appeal was primarily the defensive upgrade he would have represented for a second unit that leaked points during the postseason. Bazemore’s 6-11 wingspan allows him to guard larger players and was a key reason why he was viewed as a patch to plug the hole behind Leonard on the Clippers’ depth chart.
By trading JaVale McGee to the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Lakers open up salary cap space to come to terms on a free-agent deal with Marc Gasol.
Another candidate to add wing depth agreed to go elsewhere too Sunday when Torrey Craig committed to Milwaukee.
When Denver pulled its qualifying offer to the 6-7 Craig on Saturday, the Clippers initially showed interest in the 29-year-old whose defense off the bench helped the Nuggets advance to September’s Western Conference finals. Talks never progressed, however.
Despite the quiet Sunday, the Clippers have pulled off one of the most unexpected, and potentially impactful, agreements of free agency by landing the 7-foot Ibaka.
Ibaka’s agreement — whose first year will utilize the full midlevel exception worth $9.3 million, one person with knowledge of the deal said — was viewed as a surprise victory for the Clippers, with multiple NBA observers believing Ibaka’s price range would go beyond what the team could offer. He immediately represents an upgrade to the team’s interior defense and offensive versatility.
His personality and experience are also seen as boosts for a locker room that was described as fractious at times, with players describing a work-in-progress chemistry once the postseason ended. On the court, his combination of rim protection and shooting could make him a fit for closing lineups despite the emergence last season of young starting center Ivica Zubac.
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