Commentary

Clippers aren't rushing into free agency

Updated: July 1, 2010, 4:41 AM ET
By Ramona Shelburne | ESPNLosAngeles.com

Yes, there is a Plan B.

Though LeBron James is everyone's target when the clock finally strikes midnight on July 1 -- or actually 9:01 p.m. on June 30 here in Los Angeles -- all the teams not cast in Deborah Kerr's role in this modern version of "The King and I" will still have some attractive options.

In the Los Angeles Clippers' case these options may not be named Dwyane Wade or Chris Bosh or Amare Stoudemire, or any number of the others we've been hearing about in the run-up to the start of free agency.

But contrary to what James' cadre of cronies would have us believe, this summer isn't all about LeBron.

It's about the teams with space under the salary cap to sign free agents and potentially absorb the contracts of players you'd never expect to be available via trade but who just might be had for virtually nothing.

We've already seen the first wave of salary dumpings when the Chicago Bulls actually paid to send Kirk Hinrich and a first-round draft pick to the Wizards on draft day last week; and then again Tuesday when the Wizards acquired former lottery pick Yi Jianlian from the New Jersey Nets for journeyman Quinton Ross.

By this point, you'd expect every permutation of this story to be played out, and yet this wrinkle has somehow remained under the radar.

The Clippers, meanwhile, seem to have recognized it early on, displaying a set of traits rarely ascribed to them: ambition and competence.

Yes, they've got their pitch to James down and they will make it enthusiastically whenever they are granted an audience with him: a gleaming, state-of-the-art practice facility; talented young players like Blake Griffin and Eric Gordon; an All-Star center in Chris Kaman; Baron Davis; Los Angeles.

Actually, they will make that pitch to several of the elite free agents to hit the open market later Wednesday night. And it's not out of the question that pitch will land in one of those player's formidable gloves.

The Clippers are going to pitch, and pitch hard. But this isn't just a choice of whether to sign one of the elite free agents. In the better news for their long-suffering fans, it isn't a choice of whether to spend money.

"One way or another we're going to spend a lot of our cap space," Clippers president Andy Roeser said.

General manager Neil Olshey was even more declarative: "We're going to spend the money," he said. "And we're going to spend it on the right kind of players.

"We want guys in here that can play the right way. The key here is players that want to be here, that want to be here for the right reasons, that want to play every night. We want to have a team that's playing as hard on April 14 as they are on November 14."

The Clippers want to preserve their salary-cap space as long as possible and give themselves a shot at landing one of the big free agents, but be able pivot quickly and look for lopsided trades -- a la their trade for Marcus Camby in July 2008 -- if the cards don't initially fall their way.

Just last week, according to multiple league sources, the Clippers passed on a chance to acquire Luol Deng from the Bulls in a draft day trade. Why?

Well, why acquire Deng and forfeit their hard-earned salary-cap space now, when Deng -- or a similarly profiled player -- might be had for even less after the LeBron stakes are over?

It all sounds so ... savvy? Realistic? Dare we say, smart?

Ultimately, the results will answer those questions.

The Clippers' plan might not be sexy, but it's sound. Now they have to go play the game.

"We've been thoughtful about positioning ourselves with as much cap room as possible and we'll act quickly when we have the right opportunity," Roeser said.

"I'm looking forward to it. After all this talk, this is the week so we're looking forward to free agency to see how we do."

Ramona Shelburne is a writer and columnist for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow her on Twitter.

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