Clippers figure to keep draft pick

LOS ANGELES -- The Los Angeles Clippers officially earned the No. 8 spot in the NBA draft lottery on Tuesday night.

They're also a lot more likely to keep the pick than they were about a month ago, before the NBA released its latest -- slightly higher -- projection on where the NBA salary cap will be set next season.

Team president Andy Roeser said the team might have had to trade its No. 1 draft selection this year had the salary cap dropped to between $50.4 million and $53.6 million, as initially forecast.

"It is worth noting, a couple months ago, as we were doing our projections on where we'd be in the draft, where we'd be in terms of cap space, we actually thought we'd have to move our No. 1 pick in order to have enough cap room to have a maximum spot [for free agency]," Roeser said.

"And that's when we were picking 10th. But now you look at it with the cap projected to go higher, now we're going to have enough cap room to sign the eighth player in the draft and still have a maximum slot for free agency."

Last month the NBA revised its previously dire projections on where the 2010-11 salary cap would be set, projecting a cap of $56.1 million. That is still lower than the $57.7 million cap from this season, but far less precipitous of a drop than initially feared.

The Clippers are one of a handful of teams who've cleared enough space to pursue one of the elite players who will become free agents on July 1.

Los Angeles has only five players -- Baron Davis, Chris Kaman, Eric Gordon, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan -- under contract for next season. The Clippers have $39 million committed to salary for next season, including six minimum cap holds for their own free agents and $2.1 million slotted for whomever they choose with the No. 8 pick.

As for who will be coaching that draft pick next season, Roeser says the team is moving deliberately but quietly in its search.

Mike Dunleavy was fired midway through last season. Interim head coach Kim Hughes was relieved of those duties April 15, though he has stayed with the team as an assistant coach.

"All in all, I think ours will be an attractive spot for a coach," Roeser said. "We haven't hired a coach in quite some time. The challenge for us is to find the right coach for our group. It's an important hire for us and we want to make sure we do it right."

While the team has no official timetable for hiring a coach, Roeser said he thought the team would have a coach in place before the free-agent signing period begins July 1. He added that he didn't believe it was necessary to hire a coach by the June 24 draft.

"Not so much for the purpose of assisting us in the draft," Roeser said of the importance of hiring a coach before the draft. "That's what [general manager] Neil Olshey and [director of scouting] Gary Sacks have been working on the last 12-24 months. I'm very comfortable we're in very good position that way.

"But I think it'd be good as we plan for free agency, which is essentially five minutes after the draft. I think that's something we probably will have accomplished by then."

As for who the team will pick at No. 8, both Roeser and Olshey said the team was focused on drafting for talent, not positional need.

"You get yourself in trouble when you reach for need at times," Olshey said. "The draft is about adding talent to your roster, not necessarily positional needs. I think that's what free agency is for.

"We've got nine open roster spots and whoever we add will be a quality guy who will start the building process of the 2010 roster. I think there's a lot more depth and versatility in this draft [than last year]."

Ramona Shelburne is a reporter and columnist for ESPNLosAngeles.com.