Before Cleveland stole the show at the trade deadline, the Los Angeles Clippers were the ones that shocked the NBA with their trade of Blake Griffin to Detroit for Tobias Harris, Avery Bradley, Boban Marjanovic, a top four protected 2018 1st round draft pick., and a 2019 second rounder. Griffin wasn’t the Clipper everyone was expecting to be moved at the deadline but sometimes the best trade is the trade a team doesn’t make. The pieces the Clippers have can make the whole greater than the sum of its parts while hopefully getting them in the playoffs and rebuilt at the same time.
It has been a rocky season for the Clippers that saw injuries pile up as early as opening night, a shaky December when it looked like Doc Rivers might be on his way out, DeAndre Jordan and Lou Williams were on the block, and it looked like they were missing the playoffs for the first time since 2011. Credit has to be given to Rivers, who has done a masterful job keeping this team in playoff contention with all their injuries. Rivers and the organization have done so by embracing playing players on two-way contracts and their younger players, also the play of Lou Williams has certainly helped some too.
The Clippers were on the outside looking in before the trade, it is certainly possible they would have made the playoffs with Griffin. The trade though has brought in several valuable pieces that can help the team in the short term and also begin to refill their asset cupboard. Getting two picks, one that may end up in the late lottery or just outside it and a second-round pick in 2019 is a good place to start to load up their draft asset after years of not valuing first round picks.
Tobias Harris is a really important piece for the Clippers; he is easily the best small forward they’ve had in the Rivers era. Harris is having a great year, shooting 40% from three for the first time in his career. By trading Griffin and inserting Harris into the starting lineup, their roster construct is looking a bit more traditional with Danilo Gallinari sliding into the power forward slot, his natural position. Offensively Harris, can make plays in transitions, can post up mismatches either in transition or the half court, can make plays off the bounce, and adds range in the Clippers Horn set, by knocking down the three-ball.
Defensively, with his length, he can defend other small forwards like he did against Zach LaVine in Chicago. With his speed, he was able to cut off the baseline and force LaVine into a difficult fadeaway shot. He also is able to hold his own in the post when he is playing the four or switches with Gallinari like when he defended Griffin in the play below.
Harris isn’t the only player in the deal; free agent to be Avery Bradley is another important piece for the Clippers. Fairly quickly after the deal was made, there were rumors that Bradley would get flipped for a first round pick. A trade never materialized for them and though they may lose him in free agency they can certainly use him now to make a run at the playoffs.
When Patrick Beverly went down with a season-ending injury they lost their defensive bulldog, Bradley can bring back some defensive bite the Clippers will need if they make the playoffs. He can hound guards as they are setting up the offense like he did against Ish Smith in Detroit forcing a turnover with his long arms. He is quick enough to stay in front of Dennis Smith Junior on this penetration and got him to force up a difficult shot. Finally, he switched onto Dirk Nowitzki in a Pick-and-Roll, he fronted Dirk so well they couldn’t get the ball to him on two different attempts and he forced a turnover on the final attempt that led to a jumper in transition.
While in Detroit Bradley’s rebounding numbers dipped from previous years but with the Clippers those numbers are back up to his Boston levels. (Small sample size alert). Should the Clippers bring him back, they have the chance to have one of the toughest defensive backcourts in the NBA with Beverly and Bradley.
Literally, the biggest piece of this trade is Marjanovic, he is an NBA treasure just watch him on ESPN’s SportsNation, that’s all you need to know about this giant.
The Clippers made the Griffin trade ahead of the deadline and were still active on the phones looking for deals to add to the draft asset cupboard. Once it was apparent that there wasn’t a first rounder available for Williams who has been marvelous this season, so they signed him to a team-friendly deal that will continue to make him a trade asset over the summer and next trade deadline.
They also didn’t move DeAndre Jordan who has the option to become a free agent this summer if he chooses to. Jordan is in quite a tough position, he is set to make $24 million dollars next year if he opts in and it appears as though there won’t be a lot of money for free agents this year, so a big deal may not be there for him next year.
For the Clippers it is a win-win situation, if he opts in they will have an anchor for their defense and can always see what offers come for him next trade deadline. If he opts out, they can let him walk and open up boatloads of cap space, something the Clippers haven’t had in YEARS!
Cap space is important, even if they can’t land a big free agent in the offseason, it allows teams to be flexible, they could partner in future trades with teams to secure a assets like draft picks or good players who are unhappy with their teams. The new Clipper brain trust of Jerry West, Lawrence Frank, and Michael Winger has done an excellent job to put the Clippers in this position.
The Clippers made a big move for the franchise trading a star like Blake Griffin and passed on a few potential trades to open the door to flexibility when most teams are already overstretched. While doing so, they are still only a half game out of the eighth seed and have a better defensive team. The Clippers traded a key part to make the whole greater and had a great trade deadline whether they make the playoffs or not.
- Photo Credit: Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press