July 2, 2016
The deals likely signal the end of the Clippers’ pursuit of superstar free agent Kevin Durant. The team agreed to a three-year, $35.7-million contract with Rivers and a three-year, $18-million deal with Johnson. Rivers’ contract includes a player option in the third year.
The Clippers had been waiting for Durant to signal his intentions before implementing their fallback strategy of retaining as many of their own free agents as possible. Now it appears that process has begun.
The signings eliminate the possibility of a “Big Four” of Durant playing alongside Clippers stars Blake Griffin, Chris Paul and DeAndre Jordan because of salary cap constraints, though the team conceivably could free up enough money to sign Durant by trading one of those star players. But the team is not believed to be entertaining any trade proposals involving its core trio.
Rivers is coming off a season in which he won a new legion of admirers for playing through two nasty cuts around his eye in the final game of the Clippers’ first-round playoff series against the Portland Trail Blazers. He averaged 8.9 points and 1.5 assists per game last season while making 33.5% of his three-pointers.
Rivers, who turns 24 next month, has also become a solid perimeter defender, often taking on the assignment of guarding an opponent’s top wing player. His salary represents a gargantuan raise from the $3.3 million he made last season but was widely expected because of the accompanying massive rise in the salary cap.
Johnson, who turns 29 next week, was part of the Clippers’ rejuvenated bench, averaging 6.9 points and 3.1 rebounds while playing reliable defense.
The Clippers also hope to re-sign free agents Jamal Crawford, Cole Aldrich, Wesley Johnson and Luc Mbah a Moute after Jeff Green reached an agreement to sign a one-year, $15-million contract with the Orlando Magic.
The team has made an offer to Crawford, according to someone familiar with the negotiations, and he was mulling it but was seriously considering other options, including interest from the Golden State Warriors..
Landing Durant was widely considered something of a longshot for the Clippers, though securing a meeting with the NBA’s 2014 most valuable player represented a flag-waving moment for the franchise when other suitors such as the Lakers and New York Knicks were not given that opportunity.
Clippers players and executives pitched Durant on creating a championship-caliber roster that would also include All-Stars Griffin and Paul in addition to newly minted Olympian Jordan, a longtime friend of Durant’s.
That team would have featured ample star power but also a relatively weak supporting cast because of all the money the Clippers would have had to commit to just four players. Durant also would have had to accept less than a maximum contract in that scenario.
The Oklahoma City Thunder remained favored to retain Durant, though four other teams appeared to remain in contention. Durant met with the San Antonio Spurs and Boston Celtics on Saturday, with the Celtics bringing Super Bowl-winning quarterback Tom Brady of the New England Patriots to their pitch meeting. Boston also strengthened its positioning by reaching an agreement to sign All-Star center Al Horford.
Durant was scheduled to meet with the Miami Heat and the Thunder a second time on Sunday before reaching his decision. He also sat down with the Golden State Warriors.