When, on August 16, the L.A. Clippers traded Patrick Beverley and Rajon Rondo and Daniel Oturu to the Memphis Grizzlies for only Eric Bledsoe, some fans were perplexed.
Beverley, after all, while never considered the quote-unquote best player in L.A. during his four-year stint, was generally touted as the franchise’s lifeblood — a full-throttle point guard who played every game like it was Game 7. Rondo and Oturu were less controversial inclusions — the former more or less at the end of his lengthy NBA rope and Oturu never truly gaining the organization’s trust after being drafted out of Minnesota early in last year’s second round — but even so, just the fact that it was a 3-for-1 trade seemed to ruffle some feathers. And wide-spread skepticism over the trade still very much exists.
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Others, meanwhile, have viewed the deal as wise, especially in the context of the Clippers’ other offseason moves. Moves that, on one hand, seem duly focused on fielding a competitive team this season, while also recognizing that another legitimate title run may have to wait until next year.
Say what you will about the Beverley-Bledsoe trade, but according to The Athletic’s David Aldridge (who has been writing professionally about sports longer than many active NBAers have been alive), the Clippers have met their offseason goals this summer and then some. This week, Aldridge published a piece ranking the offseason of every team in the league, which asks, above all else, if the team is better now than at the end of last season.
And wouldn’t you know it, the Clippers landed all the way up at No. 2.
A Summer of Success
In placing the Clippers near the top of his offseason heap, Aldridge recognizes that the organization has some things going for it that others don’t. They wield an engaged and ridiculously wealthy owner, a city that players want to live in, and a team culture that players want to play within. These factors, bolstered by a thrilling run last season to the brink of the Finals, surely played a role in the Clippers’ summer success.
L.A. retained all of their most coveted free agents (Kawhi Leonard, Reggie Jackson, Nicolas Batum and Serge Ibaka), acquired Bledsoe, and used the taxpayer mid-level exception to sign not only forward Justise Winslow but also both second-round picks, point guard Jason Preston and wing Brandon Boston.
“Yes, it helps to have a gazillionaire owner who’ll happily go deep into the luxury tax. It helps to be in Los Angeles. It helps to have a veteran team that broke through to the franchise’s first-ever conference finals appearance. It helps that (Reggie) Jackson wanted to return to the team he thinks resurrected his career rather than chase the last free-agent dollar,” wrote Aldridge.
Owner Steve Ballmer, who, in December of 2020 was voted the NBA’s best owner in a survey of league insiders conducted by The Athletic, didn’t bat an eye before offering Leonard $176 million over four years, despite the superstar’s uncertain return from ACL surgery and the team being well over the luxury tax threshold.
But what impressed Aldridge most about the Clippers offseason is not so much why they were able to bring so many players back, but how. Jackson and Batum, both integral parts of the Clippers’ length playoff run, signed for a combined $13.5 million next season. And Ibaka, whose love of fashion and nightlife mesh perfectly with Los Angeles, opted in on his final contract year ($9.7 million) and seems excited for a triumphant return following June back surgery. (He also kinda had no choice.)
“For a total $62 million for next season, the Clips will run it back with Leonard, Jackson, Batum and Ibaka, alongside Paul George and Marcus Morris — and Bledsoe, who’ll be on a second tour of duty in L.A.,” wrote Aldridge. Bledsoe was a Clipper his first three years in the league (2011-13) and is a younger, more explosive scorer than Beverley. And, as a two-time All-Defensive selection himself, shouldn’t be much of a drop-off on defense.
Furthermore, in acquiring Bledsoe while unloading Beverley, Rondo and Oturu, the Clippers reduced their tax bill by approximately $30 million, and they obtained an $8.3 million traded player exception, which should pay dividends at the trade deadline or during the next offseason. All of which dazzled Aldridge.
“As the Clips weren’t likely to put any more money into any of the guys they moved to the Grizzlies, saving luxury tax coin and getting Bledsoe is first-rate stuff,” he wrote.
Clippers ‘Maxed Out Their Contending Window’
Further justifying the Clippers’ lofty ranking, which Aldridge was careful to distinguish from the usual “power rankings” (the Rockets were No. 1, after all), is the relative longevity of their moves. Instead of signing a bunch of guys to a bunch of one-year deals, with the exception of Ibaka and Batum the Clippers now control the rights to every player on their roster for at least two more years.
For talented teams like the Clippers, it’s a luxury to know what your roster will mostly look like beyond one season. But L.A.’s emphasis on longer deals may also suggest that they have doubts about Leonard returning this season. Leonard has never been one to take his health lightly, and given that his procedure can take up to two years for full recovery, it would be surprising if Leonard made his way back sooner than later.
As much as Clipper Nation may not want to hear it, particularly after coming so close last season, this year could be more springboard than arrival — getting the rookies acclimated to the game, continuing to develop some of their young veterans (i.e. Terance Mann and Luke Kennard, Ivica Zubac and Winslow) and making sure all the pieces are in place for a (hopefully) healthy Leonard in 2022-23.
For a veteran sportswriter like Aldridge, who understands the benefit of patience and sees a bright future for head coach Ty Lue, this is a feature, not a bug.
“The Clips are deep and well-coached, and they’ve now maxed out their contending window through 2024, which should give them five seasons (four, if you discount next year because of Leonard’s likely season-long absence) with the Kawhi-PG13 core in its prime,” wrote Aldridge.