Clippers make minor moves on the first day of free agency

Philadelphia 76ers teammates James Harden, left, and Joel Embiid celebrate after a basket during a game against the Clippers.
Philadelphia 76ers teammates James Harden, left, and Joel Embiid celebrate after a basket during a game against the Clippers during a game last season.
(Matt Slocum / Associated Press)
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On the first day of NBA free agency, the Clippers made a trade.

No, not the one fans were anticipating.

About four hours after free agency officially opened with a flurry of deals across the league but relative silence by the Clippers, and no word of movement on a potential deal to land Philadelphia’s James Harden, the Clippers sent cash to Detroit for the draft rights to 7-foot-1 Balsa Koprivica, according to a person with knowledge of the deal, and later confirmed by the team.

Koprivica, the 57th pick in the 2021 draft who played last season in Europe, appears more likely to stay abroad and be valued for rights that could prove useful in a future trade than for any on-court contributions.


In another procedural move, the Clippers pushed back the date by which point guard Jason Preston’s contract will be guaranteed for next season to July 18. It gives Preston — who missed his rookie season with injury and played his second predominantly in the G League — more audition time during Summer League in Las Vegas starting next week.

All of it left so much more to be resolved.

The Clippers thought Eric Gordon was a good fit on the floor, but the team waived him Wednesday to avoid a higher luxury tax bill under the new CBA.

June 28, 2023

The team has registered its interest in re-signing both of its unrestricted free agents — point guard Russell Westbrook and backup center Mason Plumlee — and now awaits their decisions. Westbrook can be offered a maximum of $3.8 million to return, and the Clippers can offer more for Plumlee because they hold his Bird rights. The waiting will continue because across the league, the markets for center and point guard are stuck in a holding pattern; Brook Lopez has yet to agree on a deal that could set the bar for center contracts, while multiple teams continue to weigh options at point guard.

That leads back to the prospect of Harden, who opted into the final year of his contract Thursday with the intention of finding a way out of Philadelphia. Though league sources with knowledge of the situation but not authorized to speak publicly have cautioned since Thursday that no deal is considered imminent, Harden, a Southern California native, has expressed a desire to play for a championship contender. Some Clippers, including Paul George, have expressed excitement about the possibility of teaming up with an offensive facilitator of Harden’s ability, said sources who could not comment publicly. For best-case-scenario optimism, the Clippers need only remember their December loss to Philadelphia in which Harden either scored or assisted on 67 of his team’s 119 points.

Philadelphia’s top basketball executive, Daryl Morey, is known to be patient while shopping for deals. The timing mattered. When no deal materialized before a new league year arrived at 9 p.m. PT on Friday, the new collective bargaining agreement took effect with its updated trade rules that would require the Clippers to send out about $9 million more in salaries than before.

The Clippers have plenty of contracts to match money, but matching what the 76ers, in win-now mode, too, would want is another question that has elicited little consensus from league sources. But the Clippers have signaled that they are not eager to move off of Terance Mann and Bones Hyland, two guards the team considers important to its future.

Few league sources have described any potential marriage between the Clippers and Harden as seamless. Harden has asked out of his last three teams, in Houston and Brooklyn before Philadelphia, and will become a free agent after next season — yet he would have an incentive to make it work next season wherever he plays, as he will be seeking the security of a long-term deal.