According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the LA Clippers have traded Luke Kennard to the Memphis Grizzlies in a 3-team deal that will net them the Houston Rockets’ Eric Gordon:
Exact details on deadline trades can often take hours (or even days) to trickle out, especially for minor matters like “which 2nd round picks got thrown into this trade?” The current reporting on this deal suggests that the Clippers sent Kennard to Memphis for 3 second-round picks, while they sent John Wall and swap rights in the first round in this year’s draft to Houston for Gordon. Veteran wing Danny Green is heading from Memphis to Houston as part of the trade to facilitate salary-matching. Notably, the Clippers also sent out 3 second-round picks today, 2 for Bones Hyland and 1 for Mason Plumlee. However, we’ll have to wait for the dust to settle before we know if those are the same picks or if there is a value differential between what was sent out and brought in. (Update: Andrew Greif has the details on the 2nds the Clippers got in this trade–though which of them remain in the team’s war chest is unclear.)
Getting three second-round picks for Kennard is not an amazing return that blows you a way, but it makes sense–the Clippers likely missed an opportunity to sell high on Luke last summer and it was always going to be hard to move a $15M salary for a player that was only on the fringes of their rotation. It certainly has seemed for weeks that the emergence of Norman Powell meant that the writing was on the wall for Luke, and recouping some value while repurposing his salary into a player that was a better fit for what Ty Lue is searching for in the rotation. There is the element of what Kennard brings to the Grizzlies, a conference rival and potential opponent of the Clippers. While I don’t want to dismiss his shooting or the Grizzlies’ quality (they could easily beat LAC in a series with or without Kennard), I think it is probably wise that the Clippers are focused more on making moves to improve themselves than worrying about Memphis. Both teams have significantly larger concerns in the form of the Denver Nuggets and Phoenix Suns.
The real question is if repurposing Kennard’s salary slot into Eric Gordon was the move that the Clippers needed. The former Clipper draft pick is now 34 years old and makes just under $20M this year before getting a raise to $20.9M next season, and isn’t quite the scoring volume/efficiency monster that he was as a support scorer for James Harden in Houston years ago. He’s still a better scoring option than the guards he is replacing–he creates for himself far more than Luke Kennard is capable of doing and does so much more efficiently than Reggie Jackson or John Wall. However, he’s more like Norman Powell as a player than the “point guard” archetype that the Clippers had been linked to–Mike Conley, Fred VanVleet, Kyle Lowry, etc. What he does still do effectively is drive, so he brings a potential value add of initiating the Clippers’ paint-and-spray offense, even if he isn’t going to be a super dynamic playmaker.
Gordon’s contract is team-friendly, as the $20.9M salary for next season is fully non-guaranteed. Typically for a veteran deal, there would be a trigger date where he would have to be waived before free agency opens to allow him to find a new team, but Spotrac doesn’t show that for his contract–I’d take that with a grain of salt just because it’s unusual. Regardless, it’s a big expiring for next year that doesn’t have to be guaranteed if he is moved in a draft-day deal, meaning that acquiring Gordon–much like Eric Bledsoe not too long ago–might be a deal made with the next trade in mind, especially because they did not move any future first round pick capital at this deadline and are set up to be able to put pretty compelling offers together this summer.
The pick swap here hurts, in my opinion. The upcoming draft is very deep and the Clippers are starving for youth, athleticism, talent, and upside. Currently their own pick is slated to be 18th, while the Milwaukee Bucks pick that Houston will have the right to swap is slated to be 28th. The draft order will change as the standings do, but it’s going to be a notable shift backwards in the first round. Losing John Wall is a non-factor for the Clippers, as he was unlikely to play for the team again. He, funnily enough, heads to the Houston Rockets, who will buy him out for the second time in under a year. It appears unlikely that his NBA career will continue.
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