Clippers bringing back center Mason Plumlee on one-year deal

Clippers center Mason Plumlee protects the basketball from the reach of Suns center Bismack Biyombo during a playoff game.
Center Mason Plumlee, working in the post against Suns center Bismack Biyombo during a playoff game last season, has agreed to return to the Clippers on a one-year, $5-million contract.
(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

Clippers owner Steve Ballmer, coach Tyronn Lue and president of basketball operations Lawrence Frank all made a clear pitch in recent days to free-agent center Mason Plumlee: We want you back.

The unified message was part of an aggressive pursuit to re-sign Plumlee, who became the team’s backup center immediately after being acquired from Charlotte via a trade in February, and ward off other teams that offered more lucrative contracts, said Plumlee’s agent, Mark Bartelstein of Priority Sports and Entertainment.

Bartelstein termed Plumlee’s decision difficult. It arrived Monday when Plumlee agreed to a one-year contract worth $5 million to return to the Clippers.


Plumlee enjoyed playing for Lue, valued the opportunity to compete for a team with championship aspirations, and believes the Clippers have a chance “to be special,” Bartelstein said. It echoed Plumlee’s feeling in February, when asked about leaving the rebuilding Hornets for a team that, at a time before its superstars were injured, believed it had the ingredients for a deep playoff run.

“I’ve maybe been on two teams where we even talked about championships, and that’s in 10 years,” Plumlee said after his first practice. “So to come into this situation, it’s an opportunity. It’s something I don’t take for granted.”

The Clippers went after the 33-year-old to cement their center rotation early in the offseason instead of repeating last season’s strategy of filling the depth chart behind starter Ivica Zubac with stop-gap measures, including a center who split time between the NBA and G League and several power forwards who rotated through small-ball lineups. Not until Plumlee’s debut in February, 59 games into the season, could Lue balance his rotations, and Plumlee also proved an adept passer in the half-court offense who also pushed the ball upcourt off rebounds, displaying a flair for ballhandling.

Free agent point guard Russell Westbrook is returning to the Clippers after agreeing to a two-year contract. The team also traded for forward K.J. Martin.

July 1, 2023

After averaging career highs in points (12.2) and rebounds (9.7) as the starting center for Charlotte in 56 games last season, Plumlee played off the bench in all but four of his 23 appearances as a Clipper. He averaged 7.5 points, 6.9 rebounds and 1.7 assists while shooting nearly 73% from the field and 77% on free throws despite changing his shooting hand on most shots from right to left after a year of experimenting with it.

The Clippers hoped to retain their two veteran free agents in Plumlee and point guard Russell Westbrook, and ultimately did so for less than $9 million combined next season.

NBA insiders not authorized to talk publicly about trade discussions continue to link the Clippers with inquiries about the availability of Portland’s Damian Lillard and Philadelphia’s James Harden, All-Star point guards seeking new teams via trade.


For now, however, with Plumlee agreeing to return and first-round pick Kobe Brown signing his rookie contract Monday, the Clippers have 15 players with guaranteed contracts. That does not include point guard Jason Preston, whose contract the team has until July 18 to guarantee, or Xavier Castaneda, a 6-foot-1 guard from Akron on the Las Vegas Summer League roster who signed a training camp contract.

League rules allow teams to have up to 21 players on their roster during the offseason. Free-agent contracts can be finalized Thursday.