Clippers will open free agency with most of their roster set

The start of the NBA’s free agency ushers in the league’s hectic transactional season, but key parts of the Clippers’ offseason plan will be complete when the clock chimes at 3:00 p.m. PDT on Thursday.

The Clippers and starting center Ivica Zubac on Tuesday agreed to a three-year, fully guaranteed deal worth $33 million, according to a person familiar with the terms who is not authorized to speak publicly. It locks in the 25-year-old 7-footer who, in more than three seasons with the team, has developed into one of the league’s top young rim guards and most enduring player at every position, whose improved passing game has also allowed the Clippers’ offense to expand.

The Clippers had until Wednesday to exercise their team option for Zubac and paved the way for the extension with the cancellation. His deal came a day after point guard John Wall reportedly intended to officially sign the Clippers on Thursday after clearing waivers and agreeing on terms once free agency opens. His availability comes after Wall’s departure from the Houston Rockets became official on Tuesday.

Those developments follow the team’s May contract extension with forward Robert Covington – valued at two years and $24 million – which kept the Clippers from losing him in an unrestricted free reign. In doing so, it retained a highly versatile and elite reserve back on the list who is also a 36% three-pointer in his career. Covington made 45% of his three-point attempts in 23 games with the Clippers last season.

Team owner Steve Ballmer attended a ceremony Tuesday at the Michelle and Barack Obama Sports Center to open the 350th and final renovated public court in Los Angeles, a four-year endeavor funded in part by a gift from Ballmer and his wife Connie . After cutting the ribbon, Ballmer rubbed his palms when asked about fair expectations for his team.

“We’ll see what happens when free agency opens up and everything else, but I think the sky’s the limit for our team,” Ballmer said. “The sky’s the limit and it’s going to be some of our effort and energy because of course it takes a bit of luck to win the Larry O’Brien [NBA championship] trophy, which we would love to have.”

According to Rohit Ponnaiya, a betting analyst at Covers, the news of Wall’s intention to sign the team boosted the team’s title chances from +750 to +600 overnight at BetMGM.

Those trophy chances depend on the health of Wall, who has not played in the NBA for 14 months, and star Kawhi Leonard, whose 11-month rehabilitation from a knee ligament tear has allowed him to progress as the team has wished, albeit not yet to five-on-five game.

“One of the outstanding handful of top players in the world,” Ballmer said of Leonard. “I am very happy about it. Kawhi is in the gym, he’s working and we’re keeping our fingers crossed that everything goes according to plan.

“I think we’re going to stay healthy next year, we’ll have the opportunity to chat well into the spring season.”

Lawrence Frank, the Clippers’ top basketball manager, last week named retaining the team’s free agents as a top priority, and some of their futures remain unresolved. Striker Nicolas Batum will be one of the team’s first meetings on Thursday, with both sides working towards a reunion. Any deal would be facilitated by Batum’s early bird rights, which allow the team to break the salary cap to re-sign him. Batum has turned down offers from other rivals to sign with the Clippers over the last two off-seasons and has described a debt to the organization that helped pull him out of a career low in 2020.

If Wall’s pending deal stems from the taxpayer midlevel exemption, which is expected to be worth $6.4 million, it will limit, but not eliminate, the Clippers’ ability to keep backup center Isaiah Hartenstein , whose free-agent value is expected to exceed the midlevel amount, even in a free-agent class deep at his position. Hartenstein was very impressed with his experience with the Clippers, having impressed by making the team a non-guaranteed invitee to training camp and with his ability to use his pass as a release valve.

Other procedural decisions the Clippers face before Wednesday’s deadline include whether to extend qualifying bids to include forwards Amir Coffey and Rodney Hood and guards Jay Scrubb and Xavier Moon. If brought back, Moon and Scrubb could be among those fighting for one of the team’s two two-way contracts, as the current plan is to sign Moussa Diabate, rookie second-round pick, for the other two-way contract oblige. The 6-foot-10 Diabate was unveiled Tuesday along with Ballmer and Mayor Eric Garcetti.

Diabate is expected to spend much of his development next season in the G League, earning replays to help a self-proclaimed “high energy” player improve as a shot blocker, rebounder and finisher through contact. He also expects to gain experience in a roster that’s being built to, as Ballmer said, win the league’s top prize. Diabate sounded like a player expecting at least one free agent to stay around.

“I just met him,” he said of Batum, a fellow French exporter. “He’s going to have that role, kind of a Big Brother role. I’m happy.”

https://www.latimes.com/sports/clippers/story/2022-06-29/clippers-free-agency-ivica-zubac-john-wall Clippers will open free agency with most of their roster set

Emma Bowman

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