When it comes to the NBA’s trade deadline next month, the Lakers—as always—have been taking up much of the oxygen around Los Angeles. But around the league, it’s become known that the Clippers intend to be at least as active on the trade market as the Lakers. What’s more, four weeks before the deadline hits, they have much better available assets to make deals work.
“They’re the team that’s doing more talking (than the Lakers),” one NBA executive said. “They’re in better position. They’ve got everything you want if you’re looking to get assets back for players. They have a draft pick, they have expiring contracts they can give up, they have really good, interesting young players. They’re in a great position to help themselves.”
The Clippers do have the ability to trade their 2020 first-round pick despite the high price the team paid to bring in Paul George from the Thunder. In making the deal for George, L.A. was careful to keep this year’s pick intact in case it needed a roster upgrade here at midseason. The draft-pick obligation to the Thunder does not begin until 2022.
Under NBA rules, teams can’t trade away picks in consecutive future drafts. The Clippers can’t trade away their 2021 pick because the pick in 2022 is owed to Oklahoma City.
The Clippers are actively in search of help at power forward and the pick could be critical to securing an upgrade. Maurice Harkless has been a starter when both George and star Kawhi Leonard play, sometimes playing power forward and sometimes filling in on the wings. Harkless is solid defensively but averaged just 5.6 points and is shooting 33.9 percent on 3-pointers.
Harkless’ contract pays him $11.5 million for this year but expires at the end of the season.
Clippers Looking to Trade for Power Forward
The Clippers have expressed interest in at least two power forwards already: Chicago’s Thaddeus Young and the Knicks’ Marcus Morris. According to sources, the team believes it has the assets on hand to make a deal for Morris if it so chooses but will continue to investigate other potential deals.
L.A. would prefer to have a power forward that can stretch the floor and create space for Leonard and George. Morris is averaging 19.1 points and shooting 46.9 percent from the 3-point line. Young (9.0 points per game, 33.1 percent 3-point shooting) is a less appealing option, as he is struggling in his first season with the Bulls and is signed through 2021.
One potential target: Wizards forward Davis Bertans, who is averaging 15.4 points and shooting 43.4 percent from the 3-point line. Washington is still telling teams that inquire about Bertans the team intends to keep him in free agency this summer but he would be of interest to L.A. if that changes.
Also uncertain is whether the Clippers would pull the trigger on a deal involving big man Montrezl Harrell, who has been a valuable bench piece but is a free agent this summer. Harrell is the team’s fourth-leading scorer at 19.4 points per game but could command a contract in the offseason that puts him out of L.A.’s range.
Clippers Have Young Players to Trade
What might separate the Clippers from other contenders is the number of young players on the roster who could be included in a trade.
Two rookies, Terance Mann and Mfiondu Kabengele, have established themselves as prospects with good upside. Both have gotten limited chances with the Clippers—Mann did start five games—but have played well on both ends of the floor with the Clippers’ G-League team, Agua Caliente.
“Both of those guys are NBA players,” the rival executive said. “We had a lot of discussion about both of them at the draft, they’re strong, NBA bodies, they play both ways. How good? That would be the question but they’re both NBA players.”
The Clippers also have two second-year players, Jerome Robinson and Landry Shamet, who have value around the league. Each has been in the rotation this season but are expendable as part of an overall roster upgrade.
The Clippers, no doubt, are looking for such an upgrade. As much as any contender, they’ve got the pieces to pull one off in the coming weeks.