Congratulations, DeAndre Jordan. You are officially the last man standing from the Lob City era.
The Los Angeles Clippers pulled off a blockbuster trade on Monday, sending Blake Griffin, Willie Reed and Brice Johnson to the Detroit Pistons for Avery Bradley, Tobias Harris and Boban Marjanovic, as well as a top-four protected draft pick and a second-rounder. Despite the fact that LA is losing the undisputed best player in this deal, it brings back enough to keep the roster competitive while occupying the West’s ninth seed.
But in today’s NBA climate, where if you can’t compete with the Golden State Warriors you question competing at all, it’s hard to imagine the Clippers are done swinging deals.
The right move from here is for LA to sell the farm. The Griffin trade should act as a catalyst for a full rebuild, which means Jordan, Sweet Lou Williams and the Clips’ playoff hopes should all disappear before the Feb. 8 trade deadline.
Or in other words: The Portland Trail Blazers officially have no excuse for not making the postseason.
So far this year, the Blazers have watched the Clippers deal with injuries to Patrick Beverley, Blake Griffin and just about everybody else. The Denver Nuggets have been without Paul Millsap for an extended period of time. The Memphis Grizzlies slipped out of contention early and have shut down Mike Conley for the remainder of the 2017-18 campaign.
On top of all that, the Utah Jazz have tried to compete with Rudy Gobert out for two separate stretches. And now, the New Orleans Pelicans are sans DeMarcus Cousins for the rest of the season.
The Blazers, as inconsistent as they’ve been, have had health on their side with the exception of a short stint without Damian Lillard. As of Tuesday, they are seventh out West and have an identical record (27-22) as the sixth-place and sliding Pelicans.
Although this team entered the season with plenty of question marks (many of which still exist), making the playoffs is no longer up in the air.
Or at least it shouldn’t be with the path ahead well-lit and free of potholes.
With an implosion currently in the works in LA, the Clippers are just the most recent team to switch into the slow lane so the Blazers can speed ahead. As of Monday night (most likely before the trade took place), ESPN’s BPI Playoff Odds, which simulates the rest of the season 10,000 times, has Portland finishing the year 44-38, good enough for the West’s fifth-best record.
The simulator also gives the Blazers an 82.2 percent chance of making the postseason, a number that should only improve going forward.
As long as the Blazers avoid the injury imp to Lillard, CJ McCollum and Jusuf Nurkic, they should be a lock to land a playoff spot. Out of the Blazers, Clippers, Pelicans, Nuggets and Jazz (the five teams competing for the West’s final three spots), Portland could and should finish the year with the best record.
This can’t be overlooked. Not only are the Blazers looking more and more likely to finish with a top-eight mark in the conference, they’re tracking toward a fifth or sixth seed come playoff time.
Getting into the postseason is cause for celebration. Avoiding the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets in Round 1 is throw-a-party-in-Pioneer-Square-and-down-an-entire-six-pack-of-Rogue’s-Voodoo-Doughnut-Maple-Bacon-Ale incredible.
For the record, a series against the San Antonio Spurs, Minnesota Timberwolves or Oklahoma City Thunder isn’t a free ticket to Round 2—far from it. But it’s not a death sentence the way facing off against the conference’s top two teams would be.
If Portland is able to find some semblance of consistency the rest of the way, it can do actual damage once the 82-game slate ends and the NBA’s real season begins.
That’s not too bad for a team that’s been a fringe-playoff squad up to this point.