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Clippers clear the way for top free agent

CLIPPERS FYI

They shed enough salary with trades to pay for an elite player this summer, but the hard part is in persuading that player that the team is the right fit for him, given their past.

February 19, 2010|By Ben Bolch

The Clippers' pursuit of a top free agent this summer will involve dollars and sense.

They took care of the first part this week, shedding enough salary to put them within range of being able to extend a maximum contract offer to the likes of Cleveland's LeBron James.

Now comes the harder part: convincing an elite player that the Clippers are the right fit. It could be a difficult sell, considering the franchise's history of consistently missing the playoffs.

"You'd like to think that we have a shot, but you never know," center Chris Kaman said Thursday. "You don't know what most guys are thinking. Do they want to come to the Clippers? Notoriously, we've struggled, but we have great pieces and we have great things to offer someone like that."

General Manager Mike Dunleavy ticked off several selling points, including ideal weather, a "fabulous" practice facility and what he called a strong group of core players in Kaman, Eric Gordon, Baron Davis, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan.

"It's not like the odds are totally in your favor," Dunleavy said, "but I think the things we have to offer that most of the other teams involved don't have is the nucleus to go into a situation and be able to really win at a high level. That's going to be the biggest draw for us."

Money shouldn't be an issue for the Clippers.

After jettisoning several contracts from their payroll this week, the Clippers have about $33.5 million committed to five players for next season.

Dunleavy said he anticipates the NBA's salary cap for 2010-11 to be $52 million to $54 million, meaning his team should have the financial resources to sign a big name such as James or Miami's Dwyane Wade.

"We can support whatever that number is and do whatever we have to do," Dunleavy said, speaking generally about the NBA salary cap. "Spending money is an easy thing once you have a player like that. That generates its own revenue."

James would make about $16.56 million in the first year of a maximum deal, according to Irvine-based NBA salary-cap expert Larry Coon.

While Cleveland could try to retain James with an offer of about $125.5 million over six years, other potential suitors such as the Clippers and New York Knicks could offer only about $96.1 million over five years, Coon said.

Coming and going

Davis, the Clippers' point guard, did not practice because of a sore lower back and is expected to miss the game against Sacramento on Saturday, interim Coach Kim Hughes said. . . .

Forward Travis Outlaw practiced with his new teammates for the first time and looked "badly out of shape," Hughes said. The coach said he did not know whether Outlaw, who has been sidelined since November because of a stress fracture in his left foot, would play Saturday. . . .

Newly acquired forward Drew Gooden is expected to join the Clippers on Saturday, Dunleavy said, but it is unclear whether he will be available to play against the Kings.

ben.bolch@latimes.com

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