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The Clippers are (no longer) screwed without DeAndre Jordan

With zero centers on the roster and no salary cap flexibility, Jordan's initial decision to pick Dallas really stung the Clippers. Luckily, he came back.

UPDATE: Nevermind! This doesn't apply anymore after Jordan changed his mind.

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The loss of DeAndre Jordan really is that devastating for the Los Angeles Clippers. It's not just that Jordan had developed into an outstanding pick and roll finisher, offensive rebounder and rim protector. It's not just that Jordan had great chemistry with Blake Griffin.

It's that the Clippers put all their eggs in his basket. Now, all their eggs are cracked and spewing down their faces.

The Clippers' entire offseason plan revolved around Jordan's return. Now that he's gone, they have no obvious avenues to replace him with an NBA-quality center, much less one that even approaches his talent. Years of roster mismanagement on the margins has finally caught up to Doc Rivers' team.

Because of that, the roster is woefully unbalanced. The tallest player the Clippers have under contract is Griffin. Let's repeat this sentence: The tallest player the Clippers have under contract is Blake Griffin. Griffin is not a center, Glen Davis and Ekpe Udoh are both free agents and Spencer Hawes was traded to Charlotte in the deal for Lance Stephenson.

The Clippers' avenues to remedy that problem are extremely limited. They really are in big trouble.

They have no cap space to sign any good centers

Before you ask, the Clippers cannot take the max salary earmarked for Jordan and just spend it on someone else. They could give Jordan that money because he was their own free agent. They need cap space to be able to spend that same money on someone else's .

And because of the way they've structured their roster, they have no cap space. Here is a look at their current salary situation, which includes newcomer Paul Pierce:

PLAYER
2015-16 salary
NOTES
Chris Paul $21.5M
Blake Griffin $18.9M
Lance Stephenson $9M
J.J. Redick $7.1M
Jamal Crawford $5.7M Now fully guaranteed
C.J. Wilcox $1.2M
Jordan Hamilton $1M
Lester Hudson $1M Team option, can be waived
Paul Pierce $3.38M Taxpayer mid-level exception
Carlos Delfino $650K Dead money after being waived via Stretch provision
Jordan Farmar $511K Dead money after being waived via Stretch provision
Miroslav Radulija
$252K Dead money after being waived via Stretch provision
3 ROSTER CHARGES $1.5M

$500K for every spot under 12 players. Assumes LAC renounces the cap holds for Glen Davis, Ekpe Udoh, Austin Rivers and Hedo Turkoglu

TOTAL $71.7M
PROJECTED CAP $69M
CAP SPACE -$2.1M

Even without Jordan, the Clippers have zero cap space. That means the only way they can sign players is through the mid-level exception and minimum contracts. (They do not have the bi-annual exception because they used it on Jordan Farmar last year, who they waived midway through the season. Whoops!).

Considering we've seen backup centers like Aron Baynes and Alexis Ajinca receive over $5 million per year this summer, the mid-level won't get the Clippers much.

But it gets worse.

The Clippers don't even have the full mid-level exception to sign centers

That's because they spent $3.38 million of it on Pierce to fill their small forward hole. At the time, the Clippers envisioned Pierce giving much-needed veteran moxie to a Paul/Griffin/Jordan core that had disappointed in the playoffs. He received the mid-level exception that's assigned to teams over the luxury tax, which is $3.38 million for the first year. Had the Clippers re-signed Jordan, they would have indeed been over the luxury tax.

But Jordan is gone now, so the Clippers are no longer over the luxury tax. They instead receive a larger mid-level exception worth around $5.46 million. They can't use that full amount for a center because Pierce now takes $3.38 million of that. L.A. has just $2.27 million to sign another player, and no viable starting center would ever sign for just $2.27 million.

The only way the Clippers could get that full mid-level exception back if they convinced the Washington Wizards, Pierce's former team, to take on Jamal Crawford in a sign-and-trade. That would allow Pierce to be paid through a different mechanism, allowing them to gain that $5.46 million back to sign Jordan's replacement.

But the Wizards don't need Crawford after agreeing to terms with Gary Neal and surely wouldn't want to help the Clippers out. What's in it for them?

Sign-and-trade scenarios are incredibly complicated

There is some talk that the Clippers could work a sign-and-trade that would give them a replacement for Jordan, but those scenarios are complex and require cooperation from other teams that have no incentive to bail them out.

One strategy suggested is to turn Jordan's departure into a sign-and-trade with Dallas that would net the Clippers a trade exception equal to Jordan's first-year salary. A trade exception allows teams to acquire players without having to match salary even if they are over the cap. They can be split, but not combined. A trade exception worth $10 million, as an example, allows teams to acquire a single player that makes less than $10 million. Whatever remains can then be used to acquire a second player for less than what's left.

On the surface, it appears the Clippers could "trade" Jordan into Dallas' cap space, receive a trade exception back and then use that exception to acquire another center under contract. Names like Indiana's Roy Hibbert and Washington's Nene have been suggested.

But that doesn't work for two reasons. One is that there's no incentive for the Mavericks to help a rival out by structuring the deal that way when they could just sign Jordan outright. The other is due to a little-known quirk called "base-year compensation" that ... oh, I'll just let Basketball Insiders' Eric Pincus explain:

The upshot is that the trade exception that would be created from this hypothetical transaction is too small to absorb the salary of Hibbert or Nene.

Another possibility is to work a complicated three-team sign-and-trade with Dallas and Indiana that would send Jordan to the Mavericks, Monta Ellis to the Pacers and Hibbert to the Clippers. Hibbert could then replace Jordan, and that wouldn't be such a big downgrade.

But again, there's little incentive for Dallas and Indiana to help out. NBA rules prevent teams that acquire players via sign and trade to spend more than $4 million over the luxury tax under any circumstances. Why would Dallas and Indiana limit their flexibility that way? There's absolutely no incentive for Dallas and the Pacers will surely find another way to move Hibbert if he really is that disgruntled with the situation.

The Clippers could throw in sweeteners like draft picks to try to convince the Pacers and Mavericks ... except they don't have them. They can add up to $3 million cash per CBA rules, but that's a drop in the bucket for NBA owners. Perhaps the Grizzlies would be interested in a Kostas Koufos for Jamal Crawford swap .. but again, why would a conference rival help L.A. fill a massive void at center?

In other words: Clippers fans shouldn't get their hopes up for Hibbert or Nene.

What can the Clippers do?

Their only choice, barring a rival cooperating on a sign-and-trade, is to somehow conjure up a frontcourt with the remnants of the mid-level exception and minimum contracts. That almost certainly won't be enough for top remaining free-agent big men like Kosta Koufos or Jordan Hill.

Re-signing Davis and Udoh to minimum contracts is an easy start. After that, the options are limited.

Perhaps the Clippers can take a flyer on someone like Bismack Biyombo, Kevin Seraphin, Kyle O'Quinn, Joel Freeland, Henry Sims, Jeremy Evans or Jeff Withey, youngsters who have proven little in the league, but may have some upside. Maybe Rivers can convince veterans like old friends Brandon Bass and Ryan Hollins, Luis Scola, Amar'e Stoudemire, Reggie Evans, Carlos Boozer or Tyler Hansbrough to sign on the cheap. (We should also note that Kendrick Perkins is available.)

Then, the Clippers can tread water for a year with Paul, Griffin and no frontcourt and go shopping for a replacement when the cap jumps in 2016.

Man, that's depressing.

★★★

The Clippers have nobody to blame but themselves for this predicament. Jordan is a good player that's worth his contract, but smart teams prepare themselves so the cupboard isn't this bare if he leaves. If Rivers and his predecessors managed the back end of the roster more effectively over the years, they would have been in a position to recover from Jordan's departure.

Instead, Jordan's off to Dallas and the Clippers are screwed.

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