The moves, which were expected, will make them unrestricted free agents July 1.
The Clippers are regarded as strong favorites to retain Griffin and Paul when they hit the open market, given their financial advantages over competing teams in trying to sign them.
But the Clippers’ nagging inability to dodge injuries and reach the conference finals even once in Paul’s six seasons has given interested suitors such as the San Antonio Spurs hope that he will strongly consider external interest.
The Spurs have indeed explored the feasibility of making a free-agent run at Paul, league sources told ESPN last month. Sources said the Clippers regard the threat of San Antonio signing away Paul as a legitimate concern, even though the Spurs, at present, have virtually no salary-cap flexibility.
The Clippers will enter free agency knowing they can outbid any suitor for Paul. At 32, Paul is eligible for a five-year deal worth an estimated $205 million from Clippers owner Steve Ballmer this summer, thanks in part to rule changes in the NBA’s most recent labor pact that are more favorable to stars in Paul’s age bracket. The most the Spurs can offer, by contrast, is a four-year contract worth just over $152 million.
The Spurs and Clippers would have the ability to engage in sign-and-trade talks if Paul were to decide he wants to continue his career in South Texas as opposed to Hollywood. Yet it should be noted that Paul, in a sign-and-trade scenario, could not get the five-year, $205 million deal; such a swap would merely allow San Antonio to clear cap space by sending assets back to the Clippers in exchange for Paul.
League sources told ESPN the Houston Rockets also have Paul in their summer sights, as well as Griffin, who would be giving up more than $40 million if he signs with a team other than the Clippers.
Griffin’s decision to decline his player option was first reported by The Vertical.
The Clippers, knowing the free-agent threat posed by San Antonio and Houston is real, hired NBA front-office legend Jerry West away from the reigning champion Golden State Warriors in the first of a series of moves they are hoping will help persuade Paul to stay put.
ESPN’s Chris Haynes, Jeff Goodman and Marc Stein contributed to this report.