Will Clippers be free-agency players?
With the start of the NBA free-agency period on Thursday, we asked ESPN.com's NBA experts to put the Clippers' position into perspective. Their answers to five key questions follow here:
1. Can the Clippers land a big-fish free agent this summer, and if so, whom?
Henry Abbott, TrueHoop: It's a better pitch than it was in years past -- the lineup is good, and the coaching staff will be new. But Don Sterling is still seen as a major drag on how players see the team. I don't think LeBron James is taking them seriously, but players like Joe Johnson and Rudy Gay might.
J.A. Adande, ESPN.com: They have the means -- money, talented roster, big market -- but they don't have the momentum. If one big-name player was inclined to go there, maybe others would as well. But it seems as if no one wants to be the first to board Donald Sterling's ship.
Kevin Arnovitz, TrueHoop: The Clippers are obliged to make a strong pitch to LeBron James but will come up short. With their trove of young talent, the Clips are unlikely to overpay for one of the other available wings, be it Joe Johnson or Rudy Gay.
Larry Coon, special to ESPN.com: Yes. With max cap room, a solid nucleus and the L.A. lifestyle, the Clippers will dangle a compelling offer that one of the free agents is bound to take. They'll probably strike out on LeBron and Wade, but Joe Johnson is a maybe. With Al-Farouq Aminu in the fold, they might seek a cheaper option and go after Rudy Gay.
Chad Ford, ESPN.com: Yes. They have the money and a hole at the 3. I think Rudy Gay may be the best option, but Paul Pierce is the dark horse. He'd like to go home if he isn't staying in Boston.
John Hollinger, ESPN.com: No, because nobody wants to attach his legacy to Donald Sterling. All the Clippers can do is overpay midsized fish.
Chris Sheridan, ESPN.com: Paul Pierce is from Inglewood, and he wants the financial security of one last windfall contract. He's a natural fit, and Donald Sterling probably is willing to pay him more than Wyc Grousbeck is.
2. If they don't land a big-fish free agent, what should they do (whom should they target)?
Abbott: They know Baron Davis better than I do. If they think he can lead the team to greatness, they should keep him. If not, I think his contract has to go, and point guard and small forward are the areas of need.
Adande: There are plenty of secondary players, including Joe Johnson and Rudy Gay, who might be persuaded to come. Nothing wrong with signing a guy who can get you 20 points.
Arnovitz: The Clippers have five intriguing assets who are age 21 or younger: Blake Griffin, Eric Gordon, Al-Farouq Aminu, Eric Bledsoe and DeAndre Jordan. Rather than blow its cash on a temporary fix, the organization is more likely to preserve its financial flexibility for brighter days.
Coon: The Clippers' biggest hole is at the 3. Options in a trade may include Andre Iguodala and Luol Deng, but after drafting Al-Farouq Aminu, they won't break the bank. It would be more prudent to save some money to bring back some of their bench players.
Ford: Don't panic. Hoard the cap space. Other teams, such as the Thunder, have used it to facilitate all sorts of deals at midseason.
Hollinger: They need a small forward, so Rudy Gay makes the best target, but an even better plan might be to pay less for somebody like John Salmons.
Sheridan: The Clippers should turn their attention to the restricted free agents, beginning with Rudy Gay, and then perhaps J.J. Redick, who can be had at a price that would leave the Clips room to add other significant pieces.
3. How strong a deterrent is Donald Sterling to players in the marketplace?
Abbott: Strong. Any time coaches with guaranteed contracts have to sue to get their guaranteed money, you know you're dealing with a guy who is willing and able to make life tough. Not to mention the race-related legal issues that have dogged his real estate empire.
Adande: He's the common thread to all the losing since he took over the franchise. And his record settlement in a housing discrimination lawsuit doesn't help his image in a league that is made up of a majority of African-American players.
Arnovitz: Players care first and foremost about money, but Sterling certainly isn't a selling point.
Coon: I think it's in the back of players' minds, but ultimately the money, the team, the coach and the city are bigger factors.
Ford: Strong for the top-tier free agents. But for the B-level free agents? They'd be happy to take his money.
Hollinger: Huge for max free agents, because the salary is the same everywhere, so Sterling becomes the tiebreaker. For submax players, it's all about the Benjamins, so Sterling becomes less important.
Sheridan: Players don't see him as a deterrent as much as coaches do, because members of the coaching fraternity have all heard the horror stories of their colleagues having to fight for the money they were owed when they were fired.
4. Who do you expect will coach the Clippers, and is that person a good choice?
Abbott: Dwane Casey, and yes -- everyone raves about that guy.
Adande: Dallas assistant Dwane Casey. He's fine but not inspired.
Arnovitz: If the Clippers select Dwane Casey, they'll have chosen a smart, measured professional who understands how to prepare a game plan, cultivate a winning culture and hold himself and his players accountable.
Coon: Dwane Casey. The biggest challenge will be to work with Baron Davis, and Casey seems more likely to take advantage of Davis' skills.
Ford: Dwane Casey. Sure. Casey is a good coach and has the right temperament for this group of players.
Hollinger: Vinny Del Negro, and although he held it together fairly well under trying circumstances in Chicago, I'll still question the decision. Dwane Casey would be a better choice.
Sheridan: Dwane Casey, and he will be an outstanding choice. He relates well with the players and had a mediocre Minnesota team at .500 when the rug was pulled out from under him. The Wolves haven't sniffed .500 since.
5. By the end of the free-agent summer, how good do you think the Clippers will be?
Abbott: Nothing that happens will matter as much as having a healthy Blake Griffin. Just that piece takes a forgettable team and puts it squarely in the playoff race.
Adande: If Blake Griffin is healthy and the Clippers can bring in another player, they should be able to contend for the playoffs next season which is where they were supposed to be last year. Better late than never.
Arnovitz: The Clippers will improve on their 29 victories from last season and will finish strong -- winning the majority of their final 30 games.
Coon: They will be tremendously improved. They will have Blake Griffin finally healthy; they can add a big piece in the free-agent or trade market; they can return much of the bench that was put together at the trade deadline; and they can add a coach who will work with Baron Davis.
Ford: 44 wins.
Hollinger: Good enough to miss the playoffs by a game.
Sheridan: Much depends on the health of Blake Griffin, Chris Kaman and Baron Davis, but they should be more than good enough to compete for the No. 8 seed in what will be a fiercely competitive Western Conference.