With things heating up around the NBA off-season this week, it’s time to really get serious about following all of the rumors and scuttle as we head in to Thursday’s 2022 NBA Draft–which is of course not only where we’ll (probably) meet the newest Clipper rookie, but the second-busiest trade day of the year behind the deadline in February.
I personally think it’s likely that the Clippers will be working a lot of angles trying to make a trade happen in the next couple of weeks. They have a (distant) future first available, too many solid veteran role players to fit into one rotation next season, and a significant incentive to try to add a third “star” (this guy might not actually be a “star” or All-Star, but someone who would be a clear #3 or #4 on this team) as they try to win the 2023 NBA Championship in what will hopefully be a healthy season for Paul George (32 years old) and Kawhi Leonard (turns 31 this month).
The problem with trying to approach this from an analysis perspective is that the question is almost too open-ended to tackle. George and Leonard are both elite two-way players who can play multiple positions, switch across 4 or 5 positions defensively, and initiate the offense or play off the ball. There aren’t very many high-end starters in the NBA who you’d look at and go “we can’t build a lineup around PG, Kawhi, and ________.” And the Clippers’ depth, even as they thin it out a bit in this kind of consolidation trade, is pretty well-suited to adapt to whoever joins the team. I love both Reggie Jackson and Ivica Zubac and I hope both are Clippers for a long time, but I wouldn’t have major reservations about moving either to the second unit if the Clippers got the right guy to upgrade their spot in the starting lineup. So, instead of coming up with a list of 5 or 10 names myself, I figured why not approach such an open-ended question by letting you guys pick the targets? I asked on twitter and here were your ideas:
The Illegal Ones
Okay, let’s start out with some basics about sign-and-trades, especially with regards to DeAndre Ayton, who I get a lot of questions about. Acquiring a signed-and-traded player hard caps you (sending a signed-and-traded player to another team does not). The hard cap this year (if triggered) is $143M, a number the Clippers already exceed by more than 20M before presumably big raises coming for Nico Batum, Isaiah Hartenstein, and Amir Coffey. To fit in $30M for Ayton and fill out the roster after the S&T, they’d have to shed about $60M in salary first. It’s just not possible–and the takeaway here is an important one: whoever we want the Clippers to target has to already be under contract. The same principle applies for the second trade, where Jusuf Nurkic (who is reportedly staying in Portland) would be signed-and-traded to the Clippers.
Everyone wants to talk about Malcolm Brogdon this off-season, and it makes sense why. He’s a good but sub-All-Star player (i.e. gettable without a hefty price tag), versatile offensively and defensively to fit around stars, with trade value lower than his on-court value due to health (only 55 games played per season in his career), contract (a rather hefty $68M due over the next 3 years), age (already 29, limiting his market to teams that are good now), and team situation (the Pacers are probably leaning into stinking and being young for a little bit). He makes sense as a Clippers target because he’s a big, switchable, defensive-minded guard, but one wonders if his health woes and inconsistent three-point shooting (only 31.2% last season) make him slightly less attractive to LAC.
Another thing to consider is that adding Brogdon, who would presumably start at point guard, pushes Reggie Jackson to the second unit where he’d compete for minutes with Norman Powell, Terance Mann, Luke Kennard, and Amir Coffey. That’s… a lot of competition. Of the frameworks above, I think Francisco’s is best–Morris and Kennard (and perhaps that 2028 first round pick) outgoing, presumably with the younger Kennard being a piece for Indiana moving forward and Morris potentially going to a third team.
This is certainly an interesting one but to be honest, I’m just not that into Myles Turner. First of all, he’s a dreadful rebounder for a center (11.8 rebounds per 100 possessions vs Zubac’s 17.0 number), and he misses about half of his team’s games and spends most of his minutes floating around the perimeter being a below-average three-point shooter. He’s a massive athleticism upgrade over Zu as a rim-roller (if you can convince him to go into the lane and risk taking contact) and a much more mobile team defender and rim protector. As long as he’s on the court, he’s an upgrade over Zubac, but his availability and warts leave me thinking he’s still a guy Ty Lue would be benching down the stretch of key games. That’s not quite what I’m looking for if I’m going to give up that 2028 first round pick.
I’ve always liked McConnell as a backup point guard (the caliber of guy who you trust to help you win shifts all year but can afford to trim out of the rotation in the playoffs), and I wouldn’t rule out him being available for next to nothing this summer–he’s 30, the Pacers are rebuilding, and the three years remaining on his deal are probably something they could do without. Getting him into a TPE makes sense if things up the roster shake out where you might have a role for him (otherwise, Ballmer isn’t paying like $50M in tax penalties for TJ to be your 3rd stringer). Sending Morris into Indiana’s cap space makes little sense to me, though, since he’s also in his 30s and owed a lot of money, and absorbing him would require renouncing their bird rights to TJ Warren. I’m going with a no on this deal but a maybe on absorbing TJ McConnell into the TPE depending on what happens with the rest of the roster.
Kuzma is probably my preferred “realistic” target this off-season. He has really taken huge strides as a defender, he’ll only be 27 next season, and he really fits the Clippers’ style of play as a versatile two-way forward. I also love that he’s an excellent rebounder (he grabs more than Myles Turner) and can switch defensively, which will really help keep smallball lineups viable. He’s already won a championship in a significant role, which is a nice perk. It’s possible the Wizards don’t want to move him at all, since they want to have him alongside Bradley Beal and Kristaps Porzingis next season. But he’s going to demand a lot of money next summer and the Wizards have young forwards who they took in the lottery trying to get playing time.
I don’t think Luke Kennard for Kuzma is going to intrigue Washington straight-up, although the Wizards’ evaluation of Luke could be a big factor here. @Gespacho4All’s framework, which incorporates the “Morris to Miami for Robinson + 1st” rumor we’ve heard since the deadline, has been one of my favorites to toy around with the last few weeks. I’d also be receptive to keeping Robinson on the Clippers (despite his unfavorable contract) and sending Kennard to Washington, if they prefer. The downside is that trading Morris and Kennard to bring back Robinson and Kuzma doesn’t actually help much with the Clippers’ logjams.
Rudy Gobert is another name that gets brought up a lot, with a Utah Jazz breakup this off-season feeling inevitable, and I get why. He’s been the most impactful night-in, night-out defender in the league for years, and the concerns that he’s “played off the floor” in the playoffs are mostly misattributed–teams go small and he can’t be in two places at once (both protecting the rim because his teammates can’t stay in front of a cone, and covering a corner shooter). When tasked with switches where he just has to guard a star perimeter player one-on-one on an island and not worry about covering multiple players, I actually find him impressive. My bigger issue is offensively, where he’s a substantial downgrade from Zubac. He takes fewer shots (despite being Utah’s highest-paid player while Zu is LAC’s garbage man), almost never scores outside of 3 feet, and is substantially worse from an assist/turnover perspective. Utah’s downfall with Rudy in the playoffs isn’t guarding smallball, but punishing it on the other end: he’s woefully ineffective in the post, even against smaller defenders, and his teammates have learned over the years to not even pass it to him when he has a guard sealed on the block.
The upgrade defensively is miles bigger than the downgrade offensively, but when I watch the Clippers, I am really hesitant to say their big move should be to get less offensive versatility from their center than they’re getting with Zubac. If you’re gonna go for it, though, @pm_aji has the right framework: it will take at least three of the Clippers’ medium-sized contracts to make the math work, and even including the 2028 1st might not be enough if other teams offer frameworks with stronger centerpieces.
Collins was the most popular name to come up, which makes sense because he was the guy most clearly in Clippers twitter’s sights earlier this year at the trade deadline (when Brogdon wasn’t trade-eligible due to his recent contract extension). A legit PF with enough shot-blocking chops to cover small ball C minutes, he’s young, athletic, and versatile on both ends of the court. It’s never quite all come together (overall, he’s been a pretty poor defender despite seeming like he should be able to be an elite one), and the Hawks are in a strange place as an organization with lots of money committed to players who are good, but probably not quite good enough to take them where they want to go.
I’d love Collins and would give up pretty much everything the Clippers have to give up to make it happen (although trading Terance Mann would kill me inside), but we’ve been down this road before. I don’t think the Hawks are going to move a player of his caliber for spare parts and distant future so that the wheels can spin in the mud next year with Luke Kennard and Marcus Morris instead. If I had to guess, they view him as a centerpiece to package for an upgrade (maybe even Rudy Gobert) to re-shape their team around Trae Young going forward.
Jarrett Allen is great, and was an All-Star last year and I think a legitimate DPOY/All-Defense candidate if he hadn’t gotten hurt down the stretch, which hurt his candidacy due to games missed and plummeted the Cavs in the standings. He’s one of the big three of Cleveland’s young core (with Darius Garland and Evan Mobley) and I think he’s next-to-untouchable in trade talks. If they entertain anything for him, it would be to package for a bigger star, not to get a package from the Clippers.
This one is so boring that it might just be reasonable, though I think you would probably substitute another player in for Thybulle, who has just enough value and upside that the Sixers would probably hang on to him. I’d suggest Georges Niang, an only-fine veteran backup PF on an expiring $3.5M deal whose role would be entirely eliminated by adding Morris anyway. Green tore his ACL in the playoffs, so he’s done for most (if not all) of next season and turns 35 this week.
You’re basically just swapping Morris for some expiring dead money and a first, which actually might be better value than the Miami package (Duncan Robinson + 1st) that requires taking on long-term salary. The real question is what else the Clippers do. I don’t think they’re going to just cut Green, let Niang be a third stringer, and use the 23rd pick. Does that pick + Kennard + LAC 2028 1st do enough to get Washington’s interest for Kuzma? Now we’re talking.
We’ve got issues right off the bat here with Mike Scott’s inclusion. Would he agree to a sign-and-trade? Sure, but only because he’s probably not going to be cashing NBA checks next year and this gives him a free $10M. Bringing Buddy Hield in doesn’t move the needle for the Clippers and makes the backup wing logjam weirder since now there’s a guy making $20M, and pick #23 isn’t tempting enough to deal with all of that. The good news is that I can absolutely see the clear logic here for both Indiana (get a little younger/cheaper shooting specialist) and Philly (flip dead money + #23 to get a veteran contributor). But it doesn’t quite come full circle for the Clippers.
I’m a big Mike Conley fan and I think he would help the Clippers in spots, but at this stage in his career the defense is completely gone and the offensive burst is quickly deteriorating (though he’s still smart as hell with the ball and potent from three). I’d go as far as to say that if you assume Reggie Jackson’s efficiency is going to go back to 2020-21 levels playing off of stars instead of being the star like he was this season, Jackson to Conley is a lateral move or just a slight upgrade. Going one-for-one on rotation guys still leaves the Clippers with a crowded roster, too.
The Wild Ones
This is a pretty fun/ny trade that makes a whole mess of the Utah Jazz (between Lowry, Conley, Herro, Clarkson, Kennard, and Robinson, they’d be playing 48 minutes of 3-guard lineups with very, very little defense). Ultimately, I think Utah trades Rudy and keeps Donovan, although this is a helluva value for Miami (losing Lowry, who is old and had a dud first year there, and Duncan, who they want to dump anyway, to upgrade from Herro to Donovan Mitchell is wild).
This is a wild one to even think about, and of course it’s extremely imbalanced and unlikely. But we have seen in recent years that stars run the NBA and they control their own destinies. If the Nets spurn Kyrie and KD tells them he’s out and the Clippers are where he wants to go, then sure. Go ahead and throw in Terance Mann plus swap rights for other future LAC 1sts (it would be 2027 swap, 2028 1st, 2029 swap). I would guess that it’s unlikely, even by “star forcing his way out” standards, first of all because he has 4 more years on his contract, and second because if he did ask out and had any teams on his list besides LAC, they would for the most part be able to give more attractive packages back to Brooklyn. Combining the two, even if a team like Miami wasn’t on his list, they’d be happy to make a massive offer and then try to make it work once KD got there.
I think Timberwolves fans would yell and scream if you suggest this, but maybe it’s not that crazy. That team desperately needs to defend and I would say that overall, KAT and Gobert are pretty even. The Clippers, of course, give up a lot by adding in Norm and the 2028 1st, but if a guy like KAT becomes available you accept that the trade is going to cost you. It’s Utah who really get nothing out of this, just Morris (who is worse than their current PF Bogdanovic) and Zubac (a severe downgrade from Gobert) with no future assets. If things are truly so dire with Rudy’s trade value that that’s the best Utah can do, I think they’ll just keep him and try to make it work with Donovan, a new coach, and some tweaks to the supporting cast. But my intuition right now is that they’ll be able to get a good young player as the centerpiece of a return for Gobert.
Kind of like the Jarrett Allen trade, I think the Kings clearly indicated with the Tyrese Haliburton trade that they “chose” Fox and are hoping to have Fox and Sabonis be the stars of a squad that they believe can compete for a playoff spot. I don’t think it’s going to work, but it’ll be 1.5-2.5 years before the Kings front office gives up and they become available for trades.