The Los Angeles Clippers have been in the rumor mill for weeks now with DeAndre Jordan and Lou Williams seemingly up for grabs. That’s why it wasn’t the least bit shocking when they completed a blockbuster trade Monday afternoon.
Except for one small detail.
The guy they traded? Pretty much the last guy anyone saw coming.
— Blake Griffin (@blakegriffin32) January 30, 2018
The Clippers traded not Jordan or Williams, but Blake Griffin—the man they wooed this past offseason in a succesful free-agent pitch—to the Detroit Pistons. The power forward, who became the official face of the LA franchise just six months ago, now makes up one half of maybe the league’s most bizarre big-man combo (with Andre Drummond), and yet Jordan and Williams still reside in Los Angeles.
At this point, you have to assume at least one of the two remaining Clips stars won’t survive the trade deadline. LA has no incentive to fight for a playoff spot, and it should continue to be one of the NBA’s biggest sellers over the next two weeks.
If Neil Olshey is smart, he’ll do whatever it takes to get in on the action.
Trading for Jordan, who has already been linked to the Blazers, comes with plenty of risk. For starters, it almost certainly means parting ways with Jusuf Nurkic and giving up on the idea that Nurk Fever can be a long-term epidemic in Rip City.
But while trading away a two-way, 23-year-old center with room to grow is scary, the idea of committing anything near the max to keep him on board is just as frightening.
So far this season, Nurkic has had flashes of brilliance, but they’ve been surrounded by too many instances of poor body language. His propensity for long twos is a problem, he’s not going to become a three-point threat and even his inside game hasn’t been as effective as many hoped it would.
With Jordan, you know exactly what you’re getting: a 7-footer who’s an elite finisher at the rim, can impact a game defensively, doesn’t need more than six to eight shots a game and plays well as a roll man.
Jordan has also proven he can stay healthy throughout his career. He just missed his first-ever games to injury in recent weeks, whereas Nurkic already has an injury history seven-plus months before his 24th birthday.
The other thing to consider about Jordan is his contract. With the ability to opt out of the final year this summer, he’s a huge flight risk knowing what we know about the Blazers and their free agency history.
The glass-half-full perspective, however, is that if he bounces, this helps clear a monumental amount of the Blazers’ seventh-highest payroll. No, creating cap space doesn’t instantly make Rip City a free-agent destination, but it does give Olshey more wiggle room when it comes to future trade markets.
As far as Williams goes, everybody in the NBA needs bench scoring, and Sweet Lou is the league’s best in that category. The Blazers are 16th in the league in points off the pine, and while getting him may prove tougher than acquiring Jordan, it’d be well worth Olshey’s time to gauge LA’s interest in a deal.
The catch in all of this is that the Blazers will struggle to put together an enticing trade package. A first-round pick will be the starting point with every team that calls the Clippers, but beyond that, what does Portland have to offer?
The two players the Blazers would like to trade above all else are Evan Turner and Meyers Leonard. This is obvious, but if you’re a fan in PDX, forget that pipe dream immediately. Nobody’s taking those deals this season—especially not a Clippers squad looking to form a new long-term identity.
As far as realistic options go, Portland has an intriguing trade chip in Maurice Harkless. He hasn’t lived up to expectations, but in a league full of bloated contracts, a 24-year-old with two years left on his deal and an average salary of $10.7 million should tempt a team starting from scratch.
The Blazers also have one of the NBA’s best backup centers on a ridiculously cheap (and expiring) contract in Ed Davis. Shabazz Napier has boosted his trade value this season, Pat Connaughton and Noah Vonleh have yet to hit their ceilings and even someone like Zach Collins or Al-Farouq Aminu, while highly unlikely, could be dangled for extra incentive.
The other key thing to note here is that the Blazers have one of the league’s largest trade exceptions. It’s a $12.9 million exception they received for essentially gifting Allen Crabbe to the Brooklyn Nets, and it could be used in situations where Portland is taking back more salary than the league would typically allow.
So the question becomes: Will Olshey toss his hat into the ring for Jordan or Williams? That, of course, remains to be seen.
The better question is: Should he?
Portland isn’t ready to compete with the big dogs as is, and as his seat gets warmer by the season, Olshey has to realize playing it safe gets you a first class ticket to Association Purgatory—the place somewhere between competing for a championship and completely rebuilding.
Rip City currently resides in a place of obscurity, but one that doesn’t belong in the tank/rebuild discussion. Getting one of these trade targets doesn’t put the Blazers in the Golden State Warriors-tier of the league, but it’s a clear-cut step in the right direction.
That’s important for a guy like Olshey looking to keep things fresh, and it’s crucial for a team desperate to hit the second round and beyond come playoff time.